Does Paying For Condoms Make Safe Sex Cost Money?

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A wonderful bit of research on hooking up is making the internet rounds today. It is from a Psychology Today blog written by John Buri, a psychology professor and author of the book How to Love Your Wife. It’s a really powerful, important book: research has shown that 78% of men who purchase the book self-report higher levels of love and satisfaction in their marriage. And that number jumps to 93% if you only include the men who actually read it!

Of course I made that up, but it is probably just as methodically rigorous as his argument here, in which he claims that “hooking up” has direct negative consequences for maintaining a stable marriage.

“For example, having just 2 non-marital sexual partners reduces the probability of an intact marriage to just 44%. And once the number of non-marital sexual partners has gone up to 5, then the probability of an intact marriage dips under 30%…Another researcher (working with data from over 10,000 women) reported that non-marital sex with just one partner other than the man you marry triples the risk of divorce compared with those who have only had sex with the man who has become their husband.”

I know what you’re thinking: Holy crap! I’ve slept with more than just my wife/husband/domestic partner/ocelot! My marriage is doomed! But do you know anyone who has only ever slept with their current partner? Unless you hang out with a bunch of deeply religious people, probably not. And, uh, what group is it that is ideologically anti-divorce? Not the same people who believe in sleeping with only one person in their lifetime?

Alright, fine, so obviously that number is bogus, but what about the first statistic? That’s disturbing, right? Well, it might be if it said “having just 2 non-marital sexual partners before marriage.” But it just says having more than two.

“Wait, are you implying that people might increase their number of sexual partners after divorce? And that means people who are divorced are almost definitely going to have more sexual partners then their happily married peers?”

A little further down, we get this little nugget:

“Findings from this latter study also revealed that as the number of sexual partners went up, life satisfaction for these women plummeted. In fact, the evidence was clear — as the number of sexual partners went up, depression levels among these women began to soar.”

Hmm, yes, so women who have slept with more people are less happy, that makes sense. It all connects back to that one sentence I remember hearing about Freud in a freshman art history seminar, something about how well-being is tied to past sexual experiences? So obviously it’s the slutty behavior that makes them unhappy, not the unhappiness that makes them sleep around.

And if that wasn’t enough, he then makes the incredibly egregious leap that ‘disposable hook up culture’ is to blame for our horrible divorce rates. Correct me if I’m wrong, but at 25 years old I think I’m among the oldest people to grow up in the ‘hook up’ culture, and I’m pretty sure the majority of people getting divorced have got at least five years on me. I can’t imagine the median age of the 10,000 divorced women in this study is any lower than 35, and that’s lowballing it. I could tell you with more accuracy if Professor Burl had linked to the original study rather than just citing it, because I’m sure as hell not gonna Google Scholar this to prove an incredibly obvious point. I’m also pretty sure (again, correct me if I’m wrong) that our divorce rate has been high for decades.

Disposable hook up culture has some serious, dangerous problems- it increases self-objectification and equates sexual pleasure with the number of different vaginas orgasmed in, thus turning sex into a question of quantity and consumption, and it can certainly be hostile to trusting relationships when said ‘relationship’ starts with drunk climaxing arrived at by lies and gamemanship. But I think it’s a little premature to start blaming it for bad marriages. We have to wait about ten years before that lie rings less false. 

Related posts:

  1. Coldplay fans are least likely to have sex, ever, under any circumstances, as per science.
  2. WSJ to Women: Only Have Sex With Winners
  3. Warner Brothers Officially New Expert Source On Relationships
  4. Males like it when a woman ovulates. (No they don’t.)
  5. Promiscuous Boy, Get to the Point

13 Responses to Does Paying For Condoms Make Safe Sex Cost Money?

  1. Pastabagel says:

    Nice post. Another population not cited are people with successful second or tertiary marriages. Furthermore, ignored throughout all of these types of “marriage is doomed” articles is the possibility that marriage as an institutional structure is the problem, not people. True, the divorce rate is high, but it became high the moment getting divorced became socially acceptable. Divorce rates have never been low anywhere where divorce was also not stigmatized.

    • philtrum says:

      Or difficult/impossible/prohibitively expensive to get.

      IIRC, the divorce rate is lower than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s still high, but the much-repeated 50% figure isn’t accurate any more.

      Personally, I think the “hookup culture” is overhyped. Sure, it exists, but if you believe all young people are participating in it, you’ve been watching too many music videos.

  2. Guy Fox says:

    Unrealistic expectations seems to be a factor that could link both marriage-as-institution and people-in-marriages. I’m not sure what reasonable/realistic expectations are, but it seems that they would have to be negotiated among the parties concerned. Without negotiation, each is free to pursue his/her illusions about the institution, which they probably get from watching too much TLC/Disney movies.

    “But do you know anyone who has only ever slept with their current partner? Unless you hang out with a bunch of deeply religious people, probably not.”

    -Be careful that you don’t try to lower the bar for everyone to a level you feel comfortable jumping. My wife and I are both non-religious (not even ‘spiritual’), but we (at least I, and I have every reason to believe she too) just passed 10 years of monogamy. It might not be for everyone, and sidestepping is fine so long as everyone concerned is hip to the rule, but monogamy is neither impossible nor necessarily undesirable.

    • fraula says:

      I don’t think they’re talking about monogamy, but only ever sleeping with one, single person your entire life. Which, yes, is monogamy, but “monogamy” has a wider sense, too. People who have more than one sexual partner can have been monogamous with each of them, and value monogamy.

  3. fraula says:

    “But do you know anyone who has only ever slept with their current partner? Unless you hang out with a bunch of deeply religious people, probably not.”

    I thought of this right away, too, but then I grew up in a highly religious household and area.

    It would be very interesting if the researcher had controlled for religious beliefs surrounding dating, marriage and divorce. I know an awful lot of unhappy marriages (*cough* my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) that self-report as blissfully content to have married before sleeping together and in-the-clouds delighted with their partners when anyone asks. They can’t reply otherwise, it would be treasonous to their beliefs. (I am not saying all religious people are like that. There are also many who are genuinely happy. But those who aren’t, will never get divorced nor admit to their unhappiness, no matter how widely accepted it is in society outside their religion.)

  4. The premise of the new movie, “What’s Your Number?” is that if a woman sleeps with 20 men, she’ll never get married. Anna Faris slept with exactly 20, and hilarity, no doubt, ensues.

    The odd thing about the divorce statistics is that it’s rarely linked to the age. 80% of divorces happen to people who got married under 30. I don’t think the hooking up part is the core of the problem, but those who see the need to get married early.

    But should divorce even be a metric? In other words, why would you want a terrible relationship to remain intact? If hooking up 20 times leads you to choose a terrible mate, but also leads you to dump them after three years, I say fine.

    • foxfire says:

      I think you are on the right track here. I talk to a lot of people who got married early, and they talk about the struggle of trying to figure out who you are, and becoming a mature person while juggling the needs of your spouse and/or children. Meanwhile, I got married at the age of 30, and both my wife and I are glad we waited, because we had time to mature and figure out who we were before throwing another person into the mix.

      • mwigdahl says:

        Anecdotal evidence FTW. Here’s mine: I married my wife when I was 21 and she was 20. I fully believe being married early in our lives allowed us to grow together and made me a better, more complete person than I would have been had we not done so.

        We also have three kids, including a child with both autism and Tourette’s Syndrome, so we should be at double-whammy risk for divorce according to the statistics, but this year we’ll be celebrating our 20th anniversary. YMMV.

    • JohnJ says:

      Divorce can and probably should be seen as something of a measure of the number of people who commit to relationships they later regret. While people should have the freedom to change their minds, the ability to make a better decision in the first place is still a good thing.

  5. JohnJ says:

    Of course, I got married at 18 and divorced after twelve horrible, horrible years, so maybe I’m the last person who should give marital advice.

    On the other hand, I’ve made all the mistakes, so maybe I can serve as a warning to others.

  6. stiffbreeze says:

    Divorce rates in the U.S. peaked in the early 80s when divorce laws were liberalized and (coincidentally?) the waterbed neared its peak market penetration. (I’d be curious to know if divorce rates were higher in San Fran (waterbed epicenter) than other parts of the California during that period.)

    But as the LastPsychiatrist said above, what really does a divorce rate measure? Perhaps one generation gets too many divorces so the next gen stays together (for the kids) when in fact many of those marriages should be terminated (for the kids)? There are measurement issues as well, with so many people cohabitating as a marriage alternative which skews both the marriage and divorce rate figures as well as creates selection issues into both.

  7. Psychohistorian says:

    I’ve taken this research apart before in a few places. I’ll do it again now. Not conceptually taking it apart – the actual data does not mean what it says it does. This article is entirely correct in that it assumes causation without even a semblance of proof for it.

    But the “less likely to be in stable marriages” claim is particularly odious. What this did is it looked at women over 30 who were in stable marriages, then defined stable marriages as having been married for 5 years. It then concludes that women with 0 prior partners are at 80%, 1 at 53%, and so on up to 21+ at 20%. The two categories are, “Woman who is over 30 and has been married for 5 years” and “all other women.” That includes lesbians, women who have no desire to marry, women who recently married, women who are cohabiting but decided against marriage, women who are engaged, etc. Interestingly, a woman who married at 18, 21, 22, 22 again, 24, and 27 would be counted as in a stable marriage so long as her marriage at 27 was still ongoing. It’s also worth noting that, for example, if every single person who married as a virgin got divorced at 36 and slept with everyone in sight, they would show up in the “unsuccessfully”

    In other words, the information that it is looks at is, “What are the odds a woman will meet specified criteria, based on no information other than her number of sexual partners.” Not, “how do the number of sexual partners a woman has had affect her ability to be in a successful marriage if she wants to be,” which is the actual question everyone cares about.

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