Have Sexual Economics Changed in the Digital Age?

Applying economic concepts to sex is one of those things some people find downright repugnant; however, no matter how unromantic you might find the thought, the mating market is not immune to economic logic. The heterosexual dating scene is a marketplace in which both males and females come together to exchange resources for sexual access. It can be assumed that both parties are trying to mate with the best genetically fit partner they can attain (in other words, maximize their sexual utility). Partner selection strategies (both long-term and short-term), then, are really just a seductive application of microeconomics.

In evolutionary terms, men have a very low cost to spreading their seed and thus are much less picky about who they’ll have sex with. Men, economically speaking, have an incentive to have sex with virtually any woman that is willing due to the low cost of copulation.

As economists say, ceteris paribus (all other things equal), men should prefer the most genetically fit (think “hot”) woman that is willing to mate with them, but having sex with a genetically unfit woman really does not cost much in the reproduction game. In a similar, albeit different vein, women prefer the most genetically fit man if given the choice. Women, however, face significantly higher costs when mating with genetically unfit men. The perceived cost of having sex with a genetically unfit man can actually be astronomical (lugging his baby around for nine months).  Sexual economics tells us, then, that women clearly have an incentive to be very picky about who they have sex with and men don’t. Visit your neighborhood bar on a Saturday night to see this phenomena in action.

In my opinion, some of the more complex cultural dynamics surrounding sexual economics have certainly changed in the digital age, but the basics remain the same.