The Demand and Supply of Sex

Alternet: The idea that men are naturally more interested in sex than women is [so] ubiquitous that it’s difficult to imagine that people ever believed differently. And yet for most of Western history, from ancient Greece to beginning of the nineteenth century, women were assumed to be the sex-crazed porn fiends of their day. In one ancient Greek myth, Zeus and Hera argue about whether men or women enjoy sex more. They ask the prophet Tiresias, whom Hera had once transformed into a woman, to settle the debate. He answers, “if sexual pleasure were divided into ten parts, only one part would go to the man, and and nine parts to the woman.” Later, women were considered to be temptresses who inherited their treachery from Eve. Their sexual passion was seen as a sign of their inferior morality, reason and intellect, and justified tight control by husbands and fathers. Men, who were not so consumed with lust and who had superior abilities of self-control, were the gender more naturally suited to holding positions of power and influence.

Early twentieth-century physician and psychologist Havelock Ellis may have been the first to document the ideological change that had recently taken place. In his 1903 work Studies in the Psychology of Sex, he cites a laundry list of ancient and modern historical sources ranging from Europe to Greece, the Middle East to China, all of nearly the same mind about women’s greater sexual desire.

The ancient belief is consistent with the well known fact that in ancient times when a man went to a bordello the women would line up and bid for the right to sleep with him.

In other words, the ancients believed a lot of strange things at variance with the facts (which isn’t to say that the switch in belief and its timing isn’t of interest or that these kinds of beliefs no longer sway with the times). More at the link.


Demand and supply are not necessarily the same as level of enjoyment; the man can enjoy sex less than the women yet still have to pay for it due to supply and demand.

Nothing much has changed. Women are still the more sexualized beings.
Never in history has the supply of female sexuality been as high as today. I don't know about enjoyment, but the sexual market today is as efficient as it gets.

The guys who pay today don't spend that money to get sex, they spend the money to safe the time it would need to get the sex for free.

But even that might change... Tinder anyone?

I don’t know about enjoyment, but the sexual market today is as efficient as it gets.

Doesn't make sense to me. If the SMP is "efficient" then efficiency implies enjoyment. First-best solution. If the SMP is less enjoyable, that just means hyper-competition makes people less happy, which is the OPPOSITE of efficient. By saying "efficient" you are saying we are in a pareto-optimal world.

Nothing much has changed. Women are still the more sexualized beings.

One thing has changed at least since the Ancient Greeks: we no longer regard pederasty as a good thing.

Speak for yourself. Pedophilia is alive and kicking.

I am not entirely sure you wanted to use the phrase "speak for yourself" here.

I think the change occurred due to the elevation of the status of women as vessels of divinity with the rise of christianity and the mystery religions in the Hellenistic world. The development of courtly love in the 12th century basically sealed the deal and you get a straight shot to Victorian notions of the chaste angel of the parlor.

The idea of physical sex as degrading that flows from Platonism was a necessary precondition too, but literary sources are just not there for this issue before the 5th century.

Maybe the old belief that women had greater sexual desire was just an excuse for men's bad behavior -- "It's not my fault that I cheated on you. She tempted me -- by the way, this is why women should never be in charge of anything."

Right, because only men behave badly when it comes to sex.

I didn't say that was the case -- nor does it matter. Men, however, did write the history books.

Great point. Another way to express your idea is that "sexual desire" was demonstrated by the divergence from from societal expectations and actual behavior.

I lack the all-encompassing knowledge of ancient literature that you possess, but I've read of old Judaic texts that explore the interests and desires of women--in particular the duty of the husband to please his wife regularly.

Since female emancipation, society has become more sexualized. The ancients were right.

Given some of the decorations on Ancient Greek vases I've seen, I find the idea that society is *now* more sexualised a bit doubtful.

Indeed, it is well known that before the puritans came around, there were many more male prostitutes then female. Is it April 1st? Or is Alex just trying to convince some woman somewhere that she actually does want to sleep with him, it's just this puritanical patriarchal society holding her back?

Like seriously this is a blog about economics. What is the business model of a bordello where the resident ladies pay the visitors for sex? 1) line up. 2) spend house money on men. 3)????? 4) Profit!!!

Somebody missed the joke...

...and the following paragraph that hit him over the head with it.

Oops! They throw enough slate pitches out here, I guess I wiffed on that one.

They lose money on each transaction, but they make it up on *volume*.

And the collapse of that business model led ineluctably to the Panic of 1873, presaging the dot-com crash of the early 2000s.

>>The ancient belief is consistent with the well known fact that in ancient times when a man went to a bordello the women would line up and bid for the right to sleep with him.

You seem to believe that for women in the bordello, prostitution is about sex - it's about money and survival, and most people would say that in many cases this is the only option for earning open to these women. This example has nothing to do with the demand for sex.

If the vast majority of people who are supplying sex in the (small) commercial markets are female, and the vast majority of people who are demanding sex in those markets are male, what does that tell you about the ratio of demand between genders?

That you have completely ignored male prostitutes?

Because there are so many male prostitutes who make a living having sex with women.

No - male prostitutes having sex with men.

Because that is not an insignificant market, and says nothing about women at all.

And one can safely assume that whether one views women as either voracious or unwilling sexual partners has little to no bearing on the market for sex among men, who one can safely assume are similar to each other.

That there are limited earnings opportunities for women, especially women who cannot own property?

It was a sarcastic statement by Alex. Ancient brothels didn't operate that way - in ancient brothels men paid for sex implying their demand for it was higher than women's, regardless of what they wrote.

And it's remarkable how dense readers of this post were to miss that

I missed it. I thought it was literal but it meant that the women were doing a reverse auction to offer their services for as cheap as possible. Like woman 1 says, "I'd charge you $200." Woman 2 says, "I'll only charge you $150."

I didn't think that it meant that the women paid the men, which would make no sense.

I'm not saying the following is true, but it's consistent with the observed data:

Both women and men enjoy sex, women enjoy it more and it has a higher subjective value for them than it does for men. But also, for women sex is fraught with danger (pregnancy, social stigma, violence). Only because of this danger is there a lower supply of women offering the sex that they would otherwise want to have. Men like sex too, just not as much, but in the absence of the above-mentioned dangers, the men who are willing to have sex are actually in much higher supply.

Who knows how the demand curves would shift if all the dangers of sex were erased?

Orthogonal to this: The ancient view about women might be right, but it doesn't mean that women prefer *any sort* of sex. The sort of sex that happens in a bordello might be the kind that only men are into, but that doesn't mean that women are less into sex in general. The bordello might not be the best place to judge relative libido. How much demand is there among men to read about sex? Why isn't *everyone* bored by 50 Shades of Gray?

OK, but what about sex within marriages? There sure seem to be more married women who are fine with celibacy within their marriages than married men - or, at least prefer it to the available alternative. That's totally not-dangerous sex. If that's the case, on both ends of the spectrum in terms of danger, women are functionally less into it.

Men and women age differently.

You'd almost think that millions of years of these things could somehow affect the sexes differently to the point where they'd have different innate tendencies.

If you wanted to test this, you'd look for natural experiments. The obvious one is the rather sudden added availability of pretty effective birth control, within a reasonably short time of the advent of pretty effective antibiotics. This deals with two of the bigger dangers for women who sleep with a lot of men--that they'll have an unwanted baby or get an STD. (HIV wasn't known when this change happened in the US; I'm not sure about herpes or other STDs.) My impression is that this change coincided with women becoming a whole lot more willing to have sex before marriage in the US, but I don't really know that for sure. But this same change must have happened across the world at around the same time, and it would be interesting to see what happened to sexual mores or sexual practice at the same time.

The other side of that is the spread of HIV, which put a really scary potential cost on sexual promiscuity. And while the cost mainly lands on gay men, there is some risk to straight women, and I think for many years it wasn't all that clear that the disease *wouldn't* start spreading rapidly in the straight community. (As it seems to do just fine in Africa.)

I'm not sure what natural experiments would work w.r.t. womens' fear of violence (being date-raped), but if you could find some situation where a population of women seriously increased or decreased their fear of being date-raped, and also had information about their sexual activity, you'd have some data that could lead you somewhere. I suspect there is survey data about this somewhere from university students, but who knows.

The issue isn't the "type" of sex, it's the quality of the sex partner. The analogy would be that women have a larger appetite for meat, but only for the prime cuts of beef; while the male appetite is not quite as high, but they'll be pretty satisfied with hamburger or stew meat most of the time.

This doesn't directly answer Emily's question about sex within marriages. Anecdotally, I know a number of long-term heterosexual relationships where the man is less interested in sex than the woman (presuming that in most cases, neither partner is getting any outside the relationship), so the issue does cut both ways. Returning to the analogy, a woman may become less interested in sex with her husband if she begins to perceive him as hamburger instead of filet mignon.

In other words, the ancients believed a lot of strange things at variance with the facts

That's rather arrogant and presentist. A hundred years from now whoever is around will be saying the same things about us.

All told the ancient Greeks and Hebrew prophets probably had a better handle on human nature than we do.

Wrong. Try reading some Aristotle, it's a joke with regard to the facts and he was by far the greatest philosopher of his time

"... the ancients believed a lot of strange things at variance with the facts." Is this a Straussian sentence? Wait a minute, this is Tabarrok. Is he supposed to write Straussian sentences? Regardless, shouldn't one's first reaction to such information be a decrease in one's confidence about the accuracy of what the modern believes, or at least the extent to which it reflects innate and immutable facts?

That's what I got from it. I might have had a couple hypothesis going into the read, but coming out of it, they all felt like the same just-so stories the author had. Interesting, but hardly authoritative.

The Greeks also gave us Lysistrata, which works exactly because the idea of women withholding sex is very threatening to men. It's very difficult to imagine that story with the roles reversed.

Hang on a second. In Lysistrata, the women claim they'd "rather die in fire" than give up sex, and only go along with Lysistrata's scheme because she assures them that they won't actually have to give up sex, their husbands will immediately fold. But in fact the men don't fold, and lots of the women break the strike - the very next scene after they call the strike, in fact.

The play doesn't work the way you suggest.

That is a rather mendacious reading of the play. I'd call it mood affiliation.

It isn't as if people cannot read it for themselves - Lysistrata by Aristophanes

Very true, and read the quote again it says women take more pleasure but that does not mean greater appetite. That an economics professor would confuse quantity with quality is no surprise.

I do not believe that Alyssa Goldstein is an economics professor.

"the ancients believed a lot of things at variance with the facts"... People of our times believe a lot of things at variance with the facts, too. Including the idea that women have less desire for sex than men.

Women working in brothels are generally doing so for money, not pleasure. But I could well believe that a man visiting a brothel would like to believe that the women competed for his attention because he was so gorgeous. Indeed, competition between the ladies might have been encouraged by the madam. It's all part of the customer service.

The actual article has a seriously feminist slant. How Alex managed to conclude what he did I don't know. Unless he was being sarcastic, of course.

Yes indeed.

The ladies may well put on a parade, pretending to "compete" for the man's attention, but they certainly aren't competing on price.

This just sounds like a reverse auction – a guy with a reputation for sadism doesn't get women bidding, so the one who wins gets to keep more of the fee, at a physical cost. And if no one bids the brothel might even have to up the fee or (if turning away bad clients is judged bad business) compensate the women out of the house's pocket. A guy with a reputation of not abusing and being quick about it might get more bids / women keep less, but then the winner has the potential of having an additional client that day...

What if the winners write the history books, and the men reporting on womens' sexuality from ancient times tended to be higher status with multiple wives/concubines/etc. that they could not all satisfy.

What a problem to have....

Paging King Solomon....

In related news, puritanical Americans have trouble accepting human sexuality.

And water is wet. And the Sun rises in the East.

Most of this alleged human sexuality was created in a lab.

thank you for proving my point

In related news, puritanical Americans have trouble accepting human sexuality.

No, puritanical Americans do not accept sex out of its appropriate time, place, and circumstance.

Certainly men are more interested in indiscriminate sex than women. It's like a guy will hit every fast food joint between here and there, while a women will hold out for a nice restaurant. Who likes eating more? Poorly framed question.

I'm not aware of a gay male analogue to lesbian bed death.

And I'm unaware of the parallel lesbian equivalent to the punchline of this joke -

'What does a gay man bring on a second date?" and the answer is "What second date?'

What does a lesbian drive to the second date?

A moving truck.

Man... supply and demand of sex is such a misplaced concept!

I know it form experience that's why I can write so confidently about it.

I remember when I was around 18 I met this psychology student, Eva, man she was hot!... So I figured that an intellectual strategy might had some results with Eva, who was older than me, and I came up with the 'sex equilibrium theory'.

According to the theory men were buyers and women suppliers, I made this assumption due to extended experience in Madrid clubs, were around three to five guys a night would get dumped by the same girl. These girls were suppliers because they had monopoly power: they could charge any price to the potential costumers. Being the quantity of goods fixed to one in the model, a large part of the buyers would be dumped as showed in the field experiments.

I went further in the theory claiming that marriage or not cheating while in a relationship reduced total utility in a society. I said this because both men and women would leave the market once they promised to be faithful to one another, hence, hampering competition. This would not be consistent with girls having monopoly power, I didn't think about it then, but a monopolistic competition model would still fit nice.

Eva listened carefully to my sex economics mumbo jumbo, and coldly rejected the theory with the spanish equivalent of: 'that's fucking bullshit!'. Yet she gave me her rebuttal; -Dude, it's not like that, there are no producers and consumers. What girls generally do, though, is sort out their options and be with the best guy they can, for the context they are in. (I didn't know about rational-choice back then, but I learned it the hard way). She sentenced: -and you aren't that guy.

I'm still fascinated by the topic, but after this I changed my perspective and turned to literature and psychology for answers. I haven't found anything worth a theory yet, but I keep working on it... jajaja

It's not like guys willingly choose less appealing options when more desirable ones are available. The reason you don't see drooling ladies beseiging, and being turned down by, studs in your field experiments is that it's less socially acceptable for a girl to approach a boy. Ditch the social norms, and you have Magaluf.

In some countries it is the reverse, women have to approach guys (Scandinavia, Netherlands). Still, regarding desire, I think more important than men-women variance is within person variance. It really depends a lot of the girl and the guy. Some people just seem to able to "find what they want" and some don't. Some people do not care, and some seem not to be able to live without it.

They have a name for this phenomenon. It called "hypergamy." You're welcome.

A few thousand years ago, wasn't this still the case?

"Being property, female slaves could be required to engage in sexual intercourse and become pregnant against their will. The perpetrator could be their owner, or anyone that their owner designates":

Genesis 16:1-2: "Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai."

Genesis 30:3-4: "And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her."

Genesis 30:9-10: "When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife. And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a son."

> The ancient belief is consistent with the well known fact that in ancient times when a man

> went to a bordello the women would line up and bid for the right to sleep with him.

This modern (smug) comment disregards many historical facts. For instance, women were mostly property (first daughters, then wives). A lot of demand (men) and tiny supply (free women), what does economic science say?

Way to go to get the under 25 audience.

This is an economics website.

Time for natural experiments.

You're looking at ancient times for answers? Dear God, man.

Most of the males without power lived in misery and died horrible deaths by 25. Your typical male was slightly more interested in climbing the ladder so he could eat than hitting the local dance club to get his freak on.

There's a lot more interestingness on this and other related subjects here.

I clicked, found no interestingness.

The entire range of opinion thus far falls within the framework of "Men are like this; women are like this." Seems abusive to the notion of the individual; this thread largely leaves me wondering if academics have sex.

Where do you think grad students come from??

Academics don't have sex, they have gender.

In ancient times, as now, the literature reflects what men fantasize not reality.

In movies, but not reality (unless you happen to be a rock-star) hot women endlessly chase men. Especially the geeky/plain male protagonist, that we can identify with.

My assumption is that the ancient Greek literature (written by men and for men) was aimed at entertaining men. A story about how a beautiful woman goes to great efforts to attract a normal guy (who could be me), is far more entertaining than a story reflecting the normal effort/success ratio in the romance game.

My hypothesis is that urbanization and the attendant divorce from nature is as much responsible for the idealization of woman as it is for some of the other nutty beliefs about nature held by city folk. The anecdotal evidence driving my induction comes from my mares. They spend a staggering amount of time winking at gelding and stallion alike and, almost immediately after being mounted (by the latter), scandalously begin winking again at every passerby; and kicking at and biting the other mares for the place at the fence closest to the stallion.

PS It just dawned on me that I can write things about animals that would be most un-PC if said of humans.

Trolling is the world's second oldest profession.

The "reading of the ancients" is simply wrong.

Ancient Greek brothels were for-profit enterprises that serviced men. Indeed, Solon was venerated for setting up state- regulated brothels with standardized prices that were staffed by women (and men) lacking family resources. This was major source of revenue for the Athenian state, amongst others.

One could do worse then check wikipeda

There is, apparently, no level of trolling obvious enough that some putz won'tthink you're being serious.

Mencken went to a bordello one time in LA and made all the ladies pay cash.

Apparently when the topic turns to sex, Alex's grasp of basic economic principles and plain old horse sense goes out the window. How else can we explain forgetting that demand isn't only a measure of desire, it's also a measure of means? Or that one group's higher demand for one type of service does not mean that group has higher demand for all services?

Tabarrok assumes that just because people in the past were "obsessed" with the sexual desire of women they somehow thought that women had more sexual desire. I see no reason to assume that. Why would they if it's so obviously untrue? I have never sympathized with the idea that people who lived before Enlightened Modern Western 20th Century Civilization were complete morons. They simply feared(rightly) that female promiscuity had more consequences. If you have a daughter and a son and it's 1600(or even, for many of us, 2014) of course you are going to be more concerned about your daughter having sex before marriage than your son. And if you are a religious leader who wants to preserve chastity within your group, of course the main target of your propaganda will be women, not men, as it is for religious fundamentalists today. Is it because women are the gatekeepers of sex.

Men, who were not so consumed with lust and who had superior abilities of self-control, were the gender more naturally suited to holding positions of power and influence.

Male desire is more predictable, less emotional than female desire.

I'm not sure you are helping your argument. Women may get paid to have sex, but they chose to get a job having sex all day. I enjoy my job otherwise I would get another job.

Women and Men consume engineering in roughly equal amounts. Would you say women enjoy engineering more because more men are engineers and therefore women are paying men for engineering as a gender when they consume the results of engineering labor.

I am quite sure that within-person variance is much higher than the between-group (men/women) variance... Is the average different? Huum depends on how you frame it.

Tell me, what was the reasoning that led to you model this as "one party demands sex and the other supplies it" instead of, say, "both parties want it, but need another party to take part, how is the coordination problem solved"? Was there any, or was it just a great big unexamined assumption? I mean, it's not as if economics doesn't have interesting things to say about coordination problems...

I wonder how Tyler feels reading this. He's gone to all that trouble for years to subtly troll his readers, and then Alex tries to beat them over the head with something and a large percentage can't see it.

Men have generally been seen to have a higher sex drive, while women have generally been seen to be more sensual, more driven by feelings and sensory perceptions, in all things, including sex (hence the fairly accurate idea of "effeminate sensuality").

Tough to argue this isn't true, generally. Men generally don't seem go in for all that sensual moaning business, they're much less interested in massage, spas, petting animals, etc. they care less about look and feel compared to functionality and status in goods - the exceptions where men do care more about sensory experiences always involve power, risk and mastery.

In general (with diversity in preference), men want sex more, and have more risky attitudes to sex (risks in having sex, risks in chasing after partners, risks in dropping an acceptable partner for something "better" or new) as they do generally, but women seem to want to (and perhaps are able to) experience sex more deeply and intensely.

This is what the ancients are talking about. It's a small part of why women are much more "choosy" with sexual partners, i.e. don't visit bordellos. It's not necessarily a "good" thing, just a difference in preference.

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