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Sociologist Mark Regenerus on hooking up, marrying down, and the effect of women's success on our sex lives. By Kate Lunau February 9, When it comes to having a career and education, women have more opportunity than ever. But their chances of finding a stable, long-term relationship have actually declined, argues Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin.
A: Sex is, at bottom, an exchange between a man and a woman. They often mean different things by it. Women tend to prefer sex that comes with commitment, attention, conversation, love and, sometimes, material gifts. As the price of sex diminishes, that commitment becomes harder to get. When you look at the college campus, 57 per cent of American college students are women. Q: You argue that when women out men on campus, it gives men more power to dictate the terms of sex. Your book notes that virginity, for example, is more common on campuses where men out women. When men out women, women tend to get more commitment in exchange for sex.
And women tend to like to marry someone of a comparable education status. Q: In your book, you talk about young women prepping for law school or med school while the boyfriend is glued to the Xbox. A: That was a real person, and that seemed like a gross imbalance to me. She was nursing him along.
She eventually dropped him, and I was happy for her. One thing I see at the University of Texas is college women dating men who are not in college. But I think in the future, women will find themselves doing a lot of explaining about their boyfriends. Q: Is it possible that high-achieving women are looking for a mate who can stay at home, just like the stereotypical businessman might have done a few decades ago? People talk about [how] maybe there will be a move to stay-at-home fathers. This is a bit speculative, but on average, I think women like the idea of the stay-at-home dad in theory, and they prefer an egalitarian orientation.
Is that impacting the price of sex? This sort of makes sense. College students are more stressed today than ever: they have a gun to their head from kindergarten these days, it seems like, in terms of achievements. The average college student is not in a fraternity at an elite university. The average sexual act is occurring in some form of relationship, but the definition of what counts as a relationship, and how long it lasts, does seem to be comparatively brief. People talk about friends with benefits. Those happen, of course. They tend to be short-lived, generally because it gets awkward.
Long-term friends with benefits, long-term being a year, for about one per cent of all sexual relationships that are going on. But settling down is easier in concept, I suspect, than in reality. Q: You find that, for most people in their twenties, marriage remains a goal. A: Marriage offers several obvious benefits, like the pooling of resources, emotional support, and a secure relationship for child-bearing and child-rearing. Generally speaking, we see better mental health—even more so for men than women. Marriage tends to pay more benefits to men than women. Cohabitating men and women were the most likely to say that.
Travelling is a big narrative, too. But if you stand back, none of those should inherently block marriage, if you want it. It puts you bed-side. Classically, women have been concerned about whether [her mate will] be able to relate to a real woman. But economically, it seems more likely that here is another thing that diminishes the value of what she has to offer him.
It can put them in a position of a lack of power. We see women being more like men, and trying to have sex like a man. Women tend to prefer sex within some kind of relationship. I do think that some things are more tweakable, one of which is: we can work to bring men back into college, even if we have to do an affirmative action program for men, which sounds kind of funny.
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