Christianity Today has a fascinating discussion with sociologist Mark Regnerus about his latest research on young adults’ sexual attitudes and behavior:
You frame your research using sexual economics theory: Sex is a transaction in which men pay, via economic stability or education or as little as dinner, to get access to sex, while women pay with their sexuality to get goods that men can offer. Describing sex this way seems pretty cynical. Why use this theory to explain your research?
Because it’s accurate. There are lots of lenses to use to evaluate how people make decisions about sex and relationships. Some of them are far more idealistic than realistic. I find the economic theory [developed by psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs] to be remarkably astute in its general description of how people make such decisions. My students—who can spot a pathetic argument on this stuff a mile away—almost always confess that this way of understanding relationships is consonant with their experience.
People will cringe to listen to it, but when they think about it, it’s remarkable how accurate it can be. It works because it’s rooted in basic differences between men and women and basic different interests in sex, marriage, and long-term relationships. As a Christian, none of it surprises me or discourages me. There’s an inherent good and functional tension between men and women in this domain. Historically, sex was a key motivator for men to marry. Try to reduce that tension, that function, and all hell breaks loose—which is what we are witnessing.