Sexual Economics: Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchangein Heterosexual Interactions
Roy F. Baumeister
Department of PsychologyFlorida State University
Kathleen D. Vohs
Faculty of Commerce, Marketing DivisionUniversity of British Columbia Aheterosexualcommunitycanbeanalyzedasamarketplaceinwhichmenseektoac-quiresexfromwomenbyofferingotherresourcesinexchange.Societieswillthereforedefine gender roles as if women are sellers and men buyers of sex. Societies will en-dow female sexuality, but not male sexuality, with value (as in virginity, fidelity, chas-tity). The sexual activities of different couples are loosely interrelated by a market- place, instead of being fully separate or private, and each couple’s decisions may beinfluenced by market conditions. Economic principles suggest that the price of sexwill depend on supply and demand, competition among sellers, variations in product,collusion among sellers, and other factors. Research findings show gender asymme-tries(reflectingthecomplementaryeconomicroles)inprostitution,courtship,infidel-ity and divorce, female competition, the sexual revolution and changing norms, un-equal status between partners, cultural suppression of female sexuality, abusiverelationships, rape, and sexual attitudes.
Sexual activity is often regarded as among the mostprivate of activities, negotiated by two individuals onthe basis of their own individual desires and values.Idealistic treatments describe the two individuals aspotentially equal and interchangeable. In this article,weplacesexualnegotiationsinthecontextofaculturalsystem in which men and women play different rolesresembling buyer and seller—in a marketplace that isineluctably affected by the exchanges between otherbuyers and sellers.In recent decades, two main theoretical approacheshavedominatedthefieldofsexuality.Oneoftheseem-phasizes biological determinants, especially as shapedbyevolutionarypressures.Theotheremphasizessocialconstruction, especially as shaped by political forces.Both have proposed to explain differences betweenmen and women. The evolutionary approach stressesthedifferentreproductivestrategiesofmenandwomenandthedifferenceastowhatpatternofsexualresponsewould have led to the highest quality and number of successfuloffspring.Thesocialconstructionistapproach,generally based on feminist theory, has emphasizedmale subjugation of women and how women respondto their oppressed position in society. Thus, the disci-plines of biology and politics have been most promi-nent in guiding how psychologists think about sex.This article turns to a different discipline, namelyeconomics,toelucidateatheoryofsexualinteractions.Aneconomicapproachtohumanbehaviorwasdefinedby (subsequent) Nobel laureate Gary Becker (1976) ashaving four main assumptions. First, the behavior of individuals is interconnected in market systems inwhichindividualchoicesareshapedbycostsandbene-fits in the context of stable preferences. Second, scarcebutdesirableresourcesareallocatedbypriceshiftsandother market influences. Third, sellers of goods or ser-vices compete with each other (as buyers also some-timesdo,butnotasmuch).Fourth,peopleseektomax-imize their outcomes. Although economists initiallyfocused on material goods and material needs, manyhave begun to look at nonmaterial goods (such as ser-vices) and nonmonetary media of exchange (such astime or emotion). In adopting such an approach, ourtheory will therefore be primarily cultural in the sensethatitlooksathowindividualbehaviorisshapedbythemarket and other aspects of the collective network, but just as economic exchange is based on what nature hasshaped people to want and need, natural motivations
Personality and Social Psychology Review2004, Vol. 8, No. 4, 339–363Copyright © 2004 byLawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
We thank Janet Hyde for comments on an earlier version of thisarticle.Requests for reprints should be sent to Roy F. Baumeister, De-partment of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee,FL 32306–1270 E-mail: email@example.com Or toKathleen D. Vohs, Sauder School of Business, Marketing Division,University of British Columbia, 2053 Main Hall, Vancouver, BritishColumbia V621Z2,Canada.E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org