[Paleopsych] Tyler Cowen: Why don't people have more sex?

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Sun Jun 26 18:34:29 UTC 2005

Tyler Cowen: Why don't people have more sex?

Loyal *MR* reader Michael Vassar writes:

     ...all forms of consequentialism have a great deal of difficulty
     interpreting sexual behavior.  To put things short, there is an
     inexplicable shortage of sex.  Given that studies show that women
     and men enjoy it more than most other activities (on average, not on
     the margin I'll grant), and given its intrinsically low cost, it
     appears that even a crude approximation of a utility maximizing
     person would probably spend much more time having sex than most do.
     Do you know of any economic discussion of this?

We need not just reasons, but rather gains-from-trade-defying reasons.
I can think of a few:

1. The long-run lifestyle costs of being "more open to sex" involve a
loss of integrity and control.  (OK, but I know many married couples,
not all of whom hate each other, who don't seem to have much sex.)

2. The average utility of sex is high but the marginal utilities are
falling off a cliff.  You just don't want any more.  But how many people
are at this margin?

3. Freud was right and we are all repressed.  The will is not unitary
and the utility-maximizing part is not always in control.

4. There has been a market failure, but the Internet is remedying it.
People are having more sex and this will only go up.

5. Sex stops being fun when you do it to close a gap between your
marginal utilities.  It requires spontaneity or some other quality
inconsistent with the classical model of the consumer and the equation
of marginal rates of substitution.

6. Sex isn't as much fun as the studies indicate.  Perhaps people lie
about their quality of their sex or remember only the better experiences.

7. People want their sex to consist of peaks, rather than seeking to
maximize lifetime utility.  Tom Schelling once told me this is why he
did not listen to Bach more.

8. The market-clearing price for more sex is positive, and people feel
shame about paying too explicitly; see also #5.

9. We are biologically programmed to "stick to our guns," rather than
just kiss and make up; read more here
<http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/mg18624981.300>.  Or perhaps
your wife has read my earlier post
on why it is hard to avoid torture.

10. People are having sex in other ways
Maybe that is really good too.

11. Everyone else *is* having sex *all the time -- *Michael Vassar
simply doesn't know about it.

12. You're all addicted to reading blogs.

*My wife's question*: "Should you be flattered or insulted that you are
considered an expert on this?"

Posted by Tyler Cowen on May 9, 2005 at 07:08 AM in Economics

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