IS CHEAP SEX CAUSING MEN TO GIVE UP ON MARRIAGE?

I’ve been a marriage and family counselor for more than 40 years. My wife, Carlin, and I have been happily married now for 37 years. There are five important things I’ve learned in my personal and professional life:

  1. A joyful marriage is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have.
  2. Too many marriages go under, just when the couple could be enjoying their lives the most.
  3. Most people would like to have a joyful, juicy, relationship that lasts through time.
  4. Many people are reluctant to marry given the risks of unhappiness and divorce.
  5. An increasing number of men are choosing easy sex over marriage.

There are many reasons why men and women are having a difficult time with marriage these days. One reason may be the increase of cheap sex. The term “cheap sex” is an economic term meant to describe sex that has a low cost in terms of investment. If a person doesn’t have to invest a great deal to get the sexual return they want, the sex is cheap.

Of course, men, like women, don’t just want sex. In my popular article “The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex,” I say that more than the sexual pleasure of “getting off,” men want a safe harbor, a place where we can feel nurtured, care for, loved, and appreciated for who we are. Of course, developing the relationship skills to develop and maintain a caring, trusting, relationship between the members of a couple takes time and skill.

Generally, relationship skills are more easily developed by women than men. Further, men may start off with a disadvantage. According to Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, author of The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male & Female Brain, “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”

The qualifying word “predominantly” is important. It’s not saying that all women have brains that make them more empathic than all men. But just as we can say that most men are taller and stronger physically than most women, we can recognize and accept that women are more skilled at developing and maintaining close relationships.

The number of young, married, Americans between the ages 25-34 dropped 13% from 2000 to 2014.  A new book, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, by sociologist Mark Regnerus blames this declining rate on how easy it is for men to find a willing sex partner. According to Regnerus, “When attractive women will still bed you, life for young men, even those who are floundering, just isn’t so bad. This isn’t to say that all men direct the course of their relationships. Plenty don’t. But what many young men wish for—access to sex without too many complications or commitments—carries the day.”

Based on what I’m seeing in my practice as a therapist, this isn’t just true for young men, but for older men as well. More older men are finding that the demands and challenges of an intimate partnership and family life are difficult to maintain. More are seeking out women who are willing to accept a much lower level of commitment and involvement.

Regnerus blames cheap sex for the decreasing education and employment rates among men as greater numbers of women get college degrees and enter the labor force. There are many reasons that men are falling behind women in education, including a school environment that often favors women’s emotional intelligence and de-emphasizes men’s need for physical education and action. But if men are less motivated to work hard to get educated, that is another important factor. In past generations, women generally made men wait until marriage to have sex. Women wanted a man who was educated and had a good job. As a result, more men were motivated to follow the societal rules that made them good marriage material.

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