‘Cheap sex’ is making men give up on marriage

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By Larry Getlen,

Thanks to cheap sex, marriage may be doomed.

The share of Americans ages 25-34 who are married dropped 13 percentage points from 2000 to 2014. A new book by sociologist Mark Regnerus blames this declining rate on how easy it is for men to get off.

Regnerus calls it “cheap sex,” an economic term meant to describe sex that has very little cost in terms of time or emotional investment, giving it little value.

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Regnerus bases his ideas, in part, on the work of British social theorist Anthony Giddens, who argued that the pill isolated sex from marriage and children. Add online pornography and dating sites to the mix and you don’t even need relationships.

The result is “two overlapping (but distinctive) markets, one for sex and one for marriage, with a rather large territory in between comprised of significant relationships of varying commitment and duration,” Regnerus writes in “Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy” (Oxford University Press).

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In generations past, women generally made men wait until marriage to have sex. To get a wife (and, therefore, sex), men had to be clean and presentable and have a good job. This, Regnerus reasons, gave men all the motivation they needed to become respectable members of society.

Now with porn on demand and greater reproductive freedom, sex is a commodity available at any time. This has left men with little motivation for marriage, writes Regnerus, who cites demographer Steven Ruggles’ prediction that one of every three people in their 20s will never marry.

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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. Six percent more women than men in the 25-34 age group have a bachelor’s degree.

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