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40 Best Quotes From “Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage & Monogamy” by Mark Regnerus

Cheap Sex by Mark Regnerus
“The presumption of cheap sex has become normative, taken for granted.” (Photo source:

This week, I read Cheap Sex on the recommendation of a friend, written by Mark Regnerus, sociologist and professor at the University of Texas-Austin. Overall, the author’s take on the troubled state of sexuality in the US is insightful and provocative. I agree with Regnerus’s main thesis — detailed below in the book’s Amazon blurb — that technology has brought about a cheapening of sex and a myriad of associated ills. The author admittedly goes to great lengths to diagnose the problem, citing various statistics, surveys, and interviews, while offering few solutions. (Maybe you can think of some of your own?)

Regnerus’s states “In the domain of sex and relationships men will act as nobly as women collectively demand.” Regnerus contrasts the present-day permissiveness of women, owing to various social changes, with their historic role as sexual gatekeepers (“controls” or “stops” keeping male sexual desires in check). However, my view as a man is that men can also do more to regulate sexual behavior in keeping with their individual and collective interests. (In a world of cheap sex, there are no real winners, even if men generally prefer easy sexual access). Pornography isn’t going anywhere, and so the modern man will encounter no shortage of temptation under any circumstance.

While some of the author’s viewpoints are controversial, Regnerus cites data and presents perspective that anyone can find useful. Below is a copy of the book’s Amazon blurb, followed by ~40 of the most interesting quotes I curated while I was reading!

Cheap Sex Book Blurb

Sex is cheap. Coupled sexual activity has become more widely available than ever. Cheap sex has been made possible by two technologies that have little to do with each other – the Pill and high-quality pornography – and its distribution made more efficient by a third technological innovation, online dating. Together, they drive down the cost of real sex, and in turn slow the development of love, make fidelity more challenging, sexual malleability more common, and have even taken a toll on men’s marriageability.

Cheap Sex takes readers on an extended tour inside the American mating market, and highlights key patterns that characterize young adults’ experience today, including the timing of first sex in relationships, overlapping partners, frustrating returns on their relational investments, and a failure to link future goals like marriage with how they navigate their current relationships. Drawing upon several large nationally-representative surveys, in-person interviews with 100 men and women, and the assertions of scholars ranging from evolutionary psychologists to gender theorists, what emerges is a story about social change, technological breakthroughs, and unintended consequences. Men and women have not fundamentally changed, but their unions have. No longer playing a supporting role in relationships, sex has emerged as a central priority in relationship development and continuation. But unravel the layers, and it is obvious that the emergence of “industrial sex” is far more a reflection of men’s interests than women’s.

The Audible cover for Cheap Sex

40 Best Quotes From “Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, & Monogamy” by Mark Regneris

Cheap sex has been mass-produced with the help of two distinctive means that have little to do with each other—the wide uptake of the Pill and mass-produced high-quality pornography—and then made more efficient by communication technologies. They drive the cost of sex down, make real commitment more “expensive” and challenging to navigate, have created a massive slow-down in the development of long-term relationships, especially marriage, put women’s fertility at risk—driving up demand for infertility treatments—and have taken a toll on men’s marriageability.


Sex is cheap if women expect little in return for it and if men do not have to supply much time, attention, resources, recognition, or fidelity in order to experience it.


Solitary sex—masturbation—is now able, by use of digital pornography, to mimic coupled sex more realistically than ever before. That, too, is a source of cheap sex.


Men, I argue, work best under pressure—from women—but social constraints upon what motivates men are rapidly disappearing today, with little sign of a return. And yet many eventually fall in love and commit, but later than in previous eras.


Economically speaking, women would never need to pay for sex. She need only signal, since men are willing to provide it for free. So in the heterosexual mating market broadly understood, there is demand—interested men—and supply: women.


Citing Anthony Giddens: We have found no evidence to contradict the basic general principle that men will do whatever is required in order to obtain sex, and perhaps not a great deal more. … If in order to obtain sex men must become pillars of the community, or lie, or amass riches by fair means or foul, or be romantic or funny, then many men will do precisely that.


While I hold that the modern mating market plays more to men’s advantage than to women’s—that is, he gets what he wants more readily and consistently than she does—that does not mean women are uniquely prone to experience the mating market’s negative externalities. Men, too, get dumped, hurt, infected, and depressed. They feel guilt. And they complain. But what men seldom complain about is the price of sexual access, as Giddens discerns: “Men mostly welcome the fact that women have become more sexually available.” Put differently, men gravitate toward cheap sex.


Men provide the social support for cheap sex, while women provide— on average, but far less today than in previous generations—the social control against it. The double standard around sex has weakened but not disappeared. That is in part because women do not gravitate toward cheap sex but can learn to accommodate it. A minority even appreciates it, at least for a time. What neither men nor women tend to apprehend are the unintended consequences of cheap sex.


Cheap sex has made some things more accessible—including but not limited to diverse sexual experiences—and some things more difficult, like sexual fidelity and getting and staying married (long a predictable pathway to greater economic, social, and emotional flourishing).


Cheap sex does not make marriage unappealing; it just makes marriage less urgent and more difficult to accomplish.


Confluent love is active, contingent love, and therefore jars with the “forever,” “one-and-only” qualities of the romantic love complex. The “separating and divorcing society” of today here appears as an effect of the emergence of confluent love rather than its cause.


My grandfathers may or may not have married the first women they slept with—I do not know—but it is safe to say that they did not approach their twenties in quite the same way that many American men do today. To them, sex implied commitments because it risked pregnancy.


It is a basic economic idea that relative scarcity or abundance affects human behavior in lots of important ways. So why in the world would anyone think that newfound abundance and scarcity in the modern mating market does not affect our relationship decision-making? Probably because the dominant liberal and conservative interpreters in this domain have been more concerned with (feminist and romantic) idealism—how they think our relationships ought to form, proceed, and conclude—than with realism about how they actually do come to be, what they look and transpire like, and when and why they end as they do.


The sex-ratio difference prompts an oversupply of women searching for a marriage partner, compelling them to compete for marriageable men in a far more evident fashion than among prior generations. This competition prompts some women, economist Tim Reichert claims, to cut poorer deals. That is, to marry and then regret it.


Cheap sex, however, is poorly adept at generating love, if the interviewees are to be believed. It can, however, harm or unravel love, as countless breakups and divorce proceedings attest.


Commitment—a pledge of monogamy, acts of self-sacrifice, and investment in growing a relationship with one woman—seems unattractive to him [interviewee], and unnecessary.


But truly free choice does not exist here. It never has. We have exchanged an older set of challenges for a newer set now that the general mating market has morphed into two distinctive components and given rise to vastly different power dynamics within each. Talk to most any thirty-something woman who wishes to marry and you are apt to get an earful, a window into the vagaries and frustrations of finding a mate today.


Rather, what has happened is that each side of the model—the supply of sex and the supply of resources—is increasingly being met outside of a relationship between persons in a manner that is perceived to be less costly or risky to each, rendering their sexual unions less consequential and less stable.


Citing Baumester and Vohs: Men’s access to sex has turned out to be maximized not by keeping women in an economically disadvantaged and dependent condition, but instead by letting them have abundant access and opportunity. In an important sense, the sexual revolution of the 1970s was itself a market correction. Once women had been granted wide opportunities for education and wealth, they no longer had to hold sex hostage. 


To imagine pressure-free, sex-positive, egalitarian utopias is to ignore the real world of men and women who, for all their fine qualities, nevertheless experience and demonstrate no shortage of brokenness, lying, cheating, deception, and aggression. Collectively, we remain unwilling to wrestle with the dark side of human personhood, concluding instead that enforcing speech laws will reform people’s motivations and actions. We want men to act better, but are unwilling to admit that men are more apt to do the right thing when they are socially constrained, not just individually challenged.


Citing Jane Ward: If we all really believed that sexual orientation was congenital—or present at birth—then no one would ever worry that social influences could have an effect on our sexual orientation. But I think that in reality, we all know that sexual desire is deeply subject to social, cultural, and historical forces.


Citing David Buss: When there is a surplus of women, or a perceived surplus of women, the whole mating system tends to shift towards short-term dating. Marriages become unstable. Divorces increase. Men don’t have to commit, so they pursue a short-term mating strategy. Men are making that shift, and women are forced to go along with it in order to mate at all.


Then Sales wonders aloud, “Could the ready availability of sex provided by dating apps actually be making men respect women less?” However, apps don’t provide sex, people do. The apps simply make more efficient the historic male pursuit of sex. That smart people continue to misunderstand this is befuddling.


When relationships start with sex, the odds that women will flourish and enjoy a long-term relationship are dramatically lowered. It is not impossible, just rare. It reminds me of social network scholar Duncan Watts’s assertion that people are “always convincing ourselves that this time we are going to get it right, without ever learning what it is that we are doing wrong.”


The question to ask is not why double standards exist or why women’s strides in the private arena have not matched their gains in the public arena. The question to ask is why women demand so little of men in return for offering men what they want—what they are willing to sacrifice a great deal for. And the answer is economic: it is because many do not need what men can offer. And that is not going to change.


Online dating could simply be a more efficient way to meet potential romantic interests and democratize the marriage market, maximizing the likelihood of locating a spouse who is more desirable to you (and vice versa) than to most other people. I have seen it work that way. But more often, we are allowing ourselves to treat human beings as commodities, even while we purport to be better than that.


And according to most observations, as well as Duke economist Peter Arcidiacano’s research on “habit persistence,” once sex commences it is very unusual for a couple to intentionally cease having sex without jeopardizing the relationship itself.


Likewise, the Relationships in America survey data reveal that those who masturbated recently were less likely to be happy with life in general—and less happy with their current romantic relationship—than those who had not.


Pornography and masturbation are nothing if not the cheapest forms of sex. Men, as Roy Baumeister notes, used to toil for days, weeks, months, even years, in order to earn a glimpse of a shapely woman naked in front of him. Now they can do that in seconds in a way unanticipated by their genetic material. Men can see more flesh in five minutes than their great-grandfathers could in a lifetime.


Women are entirely correct when they perceive, as [Naomi] Wolf does, that pornography creates competition. It lowers the price of sex among sexual gatekeepers… Men are apt to disagree with Wolf here and assert that there is no competition. But what men fail to understand is that the competition is for their monogamous attentions.


The young women who talk to me on campuses about the effect of pornography on their intimate lives speak of feeling that they can never measure up, that they can never ask for what they want; and that if they do not offer what porn offers, they cannot expect to hold a guy.


Citing Christopher Ryan: It’s the same pattern manifested in porn use,” he says. “The appetite has always been there, but it had restricted availability; with new technologies the restrictions are being stripped away and we see people sort of going crazy with it. I think the same thing is happening with this unlimited access to sex partners. People are gorging. That’s why it’s not intimate. You could call it a kind of psychosexual obesity. 


Citing two neurosurgeons: This is no casual, inconsequential phenomenon, yet there is a tendency to trivialize the possible social and biologic effects of pornography. The sex industry has successfully characterized any objection to pornography as being from the religious/moral perspective; they then dismiss these objections as First Amendment infringements. If pornography addiction is viewed objectively, evidence indicates that it does indeed cause harm in humans with regard to pair-bonding


Using two waves of survey data collected from the same people, University of Oklahoma sociologist Samuel Perry notes that pornography use predicted subsequent growth in religious doubts and declining personal importance of religion.


The 1992 NHSLS data noted that 29 percent of men aged 18–24 reported masturbating, on average, at least once a week. The 2014 Relationships in America data, meanwhile, finds that 25 percent of 18- to 24-year-old men report having masturbated in the past day—either today or yesterday. When expanded to encompass the past six days, that figure rises to 49 percent.


Contentedly sexless persons are less apt to masturbate. Thus masturbation seems to have much more to do with subjective contentment and unmet desire rather than any fixed need for periodic sexual release. All this reinforces the claim I made earlier that whatever shapes subjective perceptions of desire or discontentment—media and pornography both come to mind—are powerful forces in shaping solo sexual behavior.


At bottom, polyamory means a great deal of trust is constantly required of people who openly resist the idea of fidelity. It is pretty ironic, and it’s also why such relationships almost never last. Unlike with marriage, most of which involve childbearing and rearing, there is little incentive to continue polyamorous relationships.


Cheap sex—that is, the wide availability of sexual access—is arguably diminishing men’s marriageability, since the quest for sex was long a key motivator for men to marry. No more. Cheap sex has transformed modern men (and women), undermined and stalled the marital impulse, and stimulated critics of monogamy, who fail to recognize the goods historically secured by it and polyamory’s reliance on a male-dominated mating market.


The fact that so many women work today has certainly altered the criterion of marriageability to include not just the economic prospects of men but other latent traits as well. Since women can now be pickier about a spouse, personal traits like affability, flexibility, “personality,” social support, and ideological homogeneity matter more than they once did.


Citing Baumester and Vohs: Nowadays young men can skip the wearying detour of getting education and career prospects to qualify for sex. Nor does he have to get married and accept all those costs, including promising to share his lifetime earnings and forego other women forever. Female sex partners are available without all that. … Sex has become free and easy. This is today’s version of the opiate of the (male) masses.


Sex, of course, is not the only male motivator and perhaps not even the most important one, but it is an underestimated one. (For example, men are powerfully motivated by competition in sports and business, but seldom over women anymore.)


Good husband material doesn’t occur naturally, but is instead the product (in part) of socialization, development, and social control. The same is true of the “douchebags” Debra keeps meeting. They too are made, not born. In the domain of sex and relationships men will act as nobly as women collectively demand. This is an aggravating statement for women to read, no doubt. They do not want to be responsible for “raising” men. But it is realistic. 


Women are learning to have sex like men. But peel back the layers, and it becomes obvious that this transition is not a reflection of their power but of their subjugation to men’s interests. If women were more in charge of how their relationships transpired—more in charge of the “pricing” negotiations around sex—we would be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts by men, fewer hookups, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on (and perhaps even at a slightly earlier age, too). In other words, the “price” of sex would be higher: it would cost men more to access it.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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