A few days ago I read an article over at Salon.com on a study about the sexual cost of female success. As you all know I’m wary of studies that attempt to ascertain why successful women are single. I’ve found they tend to be built on a number of faulty and archaic assumptions. Researchers work from the assumption that all women desire long-term commitment. We don’t. For many women being single is an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. The recommendations of such studies rarely advocate an alteration in male behaviour. Instead advice is given to women, because being single is obviously our fault! Finally, I rarely come across rigorous research conducted by women. I think you need insight into what it is to be a woman in order to draw firm conclusions about our behaviour, especially in relation to sex and relationships.
Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker (who collaborated on the study and wrote a book on their findings), claim women’s ‘success has come at a great cost to women's sexual bargaining power’. Consequently the price of sex has ‘hit an all time low’. At the core we have a paradox; women have greater financial freedom, but fewer romantic options. This means when it comes to relationships, men call the shots, resulting in less commitment and more sex.
I found myself torn whilst reading the interview. I agree that ‘the price of sex’ has hit an all time low. Although I don’t think sex was the victim of sudden overnight deflation, its value has been decreasing for decades. We’re simply in a cultural space where it’s acceptable to openly express what was once repressed or took place in private. On the other hand some of the advice made me uncomfortable because I found it to be regressive and simplistic. Then again my discomfort could be because it contained inconvenient truths. For example:
The idea of a woman avoiding playing the field just because she’s a woman horrifies me. Contrarily I’m seeing a lot of older women ‘settle’ instead of ‘settle down’. Suddenly they’re marrying men they once scorned. Of course they fool themselves and claim it’s love but it’s blatantly desperation. Witnessing this trend has meant that I’m embracing the notion of dating strategically with some sort of vision in mind (a whole other blog post). I don’t want to play the field for so long it means I get to my mid-thirties, panic and marry a man so bland he’s the human equivalent of magnolia paint.
Regnerus recommends that women ‘reacquire control over the direction of relationship.’ The best method of doing so is by ‘the artificial restriction of sex until later in the relationship’ Why? It’s great for a future goal and ‘men who have sex early in a relationship feel little impulse to make strong commitments. Women desperately want that to not be true, but it is’
Do I agree with Regnerus’s advice? Yes. In theory it makes sense yet in practice it’s a very different matter. Plus unless women collectively implement the ‘restriction rule’, the strategy is pointless.
The focus of the study itself points to a wider issue; the fact that our society is obsessed with sex. As a result when discussing the dynamics between men and women, sex is placed at the centre of analysis, even when it shouldn’t necessarily be there. Furthermore research like this only reinforces the dangerous message that a woman’s key ‘bargaining chip’ is sex. That sex is all women have to offer and all men want from us.
Most women will attest to the fact that from the age of about 13, what we have (or haven’t) done with our bodies becomes the yardstick with which people judge our ‘suitability’. No girl wants to gain a reputation for being promiscuous because such labels stick. Like bonding glue to a track.
Sidebar: First and last weave reference of the year. Promise.
Before we know it we’ve internalised society’s judgement and the insidious message that what we do with our bodies will always outweigh what we achieve with our minds. We begin to connect our sense of dignity with what we do with our bodies. What results is an unfortunate situation where sex has the power to make and unmake us.
What irks me about sex-centric analysis is it distracts from the conversation we need to have. That conversation is certainly not about the ‘price of sex’ or which sexual strategies women should employ to ‘keep’ men. What we need to be researching and probing is whether enough women have a sense of worthiness. Some will argue that a woman’s sense of worthiness is often reflected in what she does with her body. This is true to a degree. However there are women who abstain that are crippled with low self-esteem. They've priced sex as "high" as our society traditionally expects them to, yet this hasn’t resulted in a sense of fulfilment or security.
By placing sex and ‘singleness’ at the centre, we put the things that matter at the periphery. In my eyes worthiness should be the focus. You can follow all the rules, be as chaste as you need to be and marry the perfect man, but if you don’t truly believe you’re worthy, it’s pointless and potentially dangerous.
I don’t meet enough women who believe they’re worthy. I’m meet a lot of women who apologise for their strengths and feel uncomfortable accepting compliments. I also meet a lot of women who are way too hard on themselves, whether it’s with regards to their physical appearance or career achievements. I think many women reading this will empathise, because most of us are that woman or have been.
If all single women followed the advice given by Regnerus and Uecker would more of them be married? Probably. But would we have more women with a deep unshakable sense of worthiness? No. And that’s what I'd love to see. A movement of women with such a deep sense of their worthiness, scrutiny around their sexual activity and relationship status ceases to be relevant, because they know they’re more than enough.
Best, Christiana xxx
P.S I have an article in this month’s issue of ‘The Super Super’. The magazine is dope and the issue’s dope. My article’s entitled ‘A New Approach to Dating’. In it I moan about my dating inertia and propose a solution to boringdates.com/Regret. Considering recent events in my life I’m not sure if it’s ironic or prophetic... : ) Anyway! It’s available at WH Smith and other mainstream retailers. Please buy it and let me know what you think!