The economy of sex

This week’s New Yorker has an article by James Wood about Michel Houellebecq, a French writer of some fame who often writes about, among other things, sex.  I won’t recapitulate, or even respond to, the article here, except to say it’s an intriguing read.

But it got me thinking.

Wood quotes the narrator of Houellebecq’s novel Whatever saying:

… sex truly represents a second system of differentiation, completely independent of money; and as a system of differentiation, it functions just as mercilessly…. Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization. Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never…. It’s what’s known as “the law of the market.”

This is a typically abstruse, French way of making a fundamentally valid point (although eliding the interesting question/s of the differences in the operations in this “market” between the sexes, and sexualities).

I’m often struck by this market:  it’s sort of the whole point of natural selection, but applied to the modern sexual marketplace, it’s kind of, well, odd.

And there’s another dimension to it that is particularly irksome to me, as a good-looking, intelligent, financially successful guy:  we men, even if we are evolutionary winners, don’t exactly have free rein (or free reign, for that matter).  Even us hot guys have to really work to get laid.

As a male slut, the effort I expend to behave in a slutty manner is vastly greater than, the effort that you, as a slutty woman, expend to bed a man.  Even at the extremes – for women who are not “conventionally attractive,” whose bodies are dysmorphic, who are sick, who are covered with festering sores – there exists the possibility of sex at all times, in all places, if one is simply willing to make oneself available.  It may not always feel this way, and the risks to which women may have to subject themselves are real, and not particularly appetizing.  But still.

Us straight guys have a much different challenge.  I won’t say “harder,” or “worse” – there are all sorts of challenges of being a (straight) woman that I wouldn’t dare presume to characterize.  But it is true that if you (straight woman) want to get laid, you may.  I’ll give you an hour, and I bet you can….

Even the most accomplished among us straight guys has to work just a bit harder than that.  It just doesn’t work the same.

(Postscript:  the market in sex among gay men is different, as it is among lesbians.  And the market in/for sex among people who don’t fit easily into any of the gender or sexuality categories I’ve described also is different.  I’m not particularly familiar with those sexual marketplaces, though I am interested.  My silence on them isn’t a result of my not seeing those communities; it’s a result of my not being part of them.)

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