Pauline Gaines and the Economy of Sex

Does a goldfish know it's living in a fishbowl? I've brought up this pithy metaphor numerous times to succinctly describe our own state of affairs. We live in a world defined by tradition, by religion, by the force of our peer groups and the moral codes passed down to us by our parents all without understanding what that world is or objectively assessing whether the world is the way it should be. Our society, rightly or wrongly, is the way it is. We must accept the status quo and do our best to live within those rules or face the consequences. When in Rome, do what the Romans do.

Nevertheless, we do sometimes question the status quo. We do sometimes realise things aren't quite right. Something smells fishy in the fishbowl and we'd like to change it. That can turn out to be a nearly insurmountable task: one person against the seven billion plus other people on the planet. Inertia is quite a force to be reckoned with. However the way water slowly wears down rock, one person's voice can become two and those two voices can become four. Yes, change can happen but it usually is a very, very slow process. Patience and persistence eventually will pay off. Unfortunately, it may not always be in one's lifetime. How many have put themselves out there, bucking the trend and ended up being stoned by the unruly mob? Yes, they are the sacrificial lamb but hopefully at some point in the future, as I said not necessarily in their lifetime, their ideas will be vindicated.

In a 2011 Washington Post article "Economy of Sex: It's cheap these days", the author Cheryl Wetzstein (disturbingly?) describes that love has little to do with how we collectively pair up. Sex is a commodity and Adam Smith's theories of supply and demand are determining the value of goods and services. Sex is an exchange and a woman holds out for the best price. Ms. Wetzstein points out, referencing academic sources, how sexual markets are linked to marriage markets: men want sex; women want commitment. While the sexual revolution has skewed traditional values, this idea of exchange persists and sex can be used by women to get what they want, presuming long-term commitment and marriage are their ultimate goals.

Is this idea of sexual economy farfetched? I can't help thinking of this cliché: "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free." As Pat Benatar sang, "Love is a Battlefield" and whether you are a man or a woman, you want something and you are going to plan your strategy to get it. Romance? Hearts and flowers? This is war!

Okay, I'm being a little tongue in cheek here, some wording to make this a tad melodramatic. But the authors cited in Wetzstein's article are serious about looking at sex as part of an exchange between men and women which drives how our relationships work. We may not want to admit to something other than true love, but standing back to look at the collective we and you start to see patterns of behaviour which can be explained in a manner less romantic and more scientific. Does a goldfish know it's living in a fishbowl? When we think of "love", are we even the slightest bit aware of how we barter with each other to satisfy our own demands? It's another cliché that men are hunters and women are gathers, that men want to spread their seed far and wide while women want to create a nest to raise children. If any of these concepts are remotely true, would we know it? Magazines print articles about how to romance your partner. Should we instead be taking courses in economics and business negotiations? Where is Desmond Morris when you need him? (author of The Naked Ape)

Take everything off the table
In one corner we have a man: a regular job, his own place, totally independent. In the other corner, we have a woman: a regular job, her own place, totally independent. He doesn't want to get married and raise children. She doesn't want to get married and raise children. He wants to enjoy life, have a good time, and possibly have sex. She wants to enjoy life, have a good time, and possibly have sex. They arrange to have a date: dinner, sparkling conversation, a libation or two, some entertainment such as a movie or show, maybe some live music in a bar with dancing, and, if things are clicking, some personal time together.

Anything wrong with this? Sounds good to me.

But.

What about the economics of sex? What about the barter? What about the negotiations to get what one wants? In other words, we fall back on our traditions and the dictates of our society.

Pauline Gaines
This is the pseudonym of a 50 year old divorcee. She runs the blog The Perils of Divorced Pauline where she talks about divorce, being a mother, raising children, and living her life. Her articles also appear in online publications such as The Good Men Project and Huffington Post. Her Alexa score currently stands at 833,731. You can also find her on Pinterest and follow her on Twitter @divorcedpauline. FYI: Ms. Gaines explains why she blogs anonymously in her About.

What I’m Thankful For: My Younger Man
On September 22, 2013 as part of an on-going series of articles "What I'm Thankful For", Ms. Gaines published this piece about her current interest.

I have a new paramour. He is a complete romantic departure for me: younger (by eight years), blue-collar, and unfettered by children. We have absolutely nothing in common except for smouldering chemistry and a genuine fondness for each other.
 

What does nothing in common entail? Pauline is 50 while Nick is 42. Nick seems to be a "free spirit" with multiple piercings who smokes and occasionally does drugs. He is non-monogamous. In other words, he may be considered a bit of a bad boy. Pauline goes on to describe this relationship in terms of "now".

One of the reasons I love hanging out with Nick, besides the obvious, is that I have no illusion, nor desire, to wind up his life partner.

I don’t wonder “where we’re going.” I don’t worry if my kids will like him, because they’re never going to meet him. I don’t storm around the house seething with dashed expectations, because I have none. There is something positively exultant about needing nothing from a romantic partner. There is just wanting in its most distilled, erotic form.

The entire article is charming. It is fun; it is exciting. It is erotic. In her own words, she talks of a "seize the day" attitude and that is precisely what this is about. As the rock band Jesus Jones sang, "Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.

Who would have thought that at 50, I would discover myself in perhaps the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had. We really, truly enjoy each other’s company.

This isn't a story about tomorrow or next week or next year or forever. This is a story about today. Today's weather report says it's sunny. Obviously tomorrow will be a different story.

On September 22, 2013, Ms. Gaines published this piece on both her own blog and on Huffington Post. As of this writing, September 28, her blog posting has received 22 comments and the Huffington Post reprint has 265 comments. Oops, I note that Ms. Gaines herself has responded to some commentators so I suppose her comments are part of those counts.

While Ms. Gaines' article is a delightful read (You go girl!), it is the comments which truly bring an interesting perspective on the entire question of our relationships, our views on what's acceptable and not acceptable, and this (odd) idea of the economy of sex. In other words, the commentators are mirroring our society.

As I scan down the entries, I find that people are, for the most part, supportive. This is an adventure and yes indeed, carpe diem. The term "friends with benefits", FBW, crops up periodically.

Robin Young
“The best relationship I've enjoyed in my life, was as a 'Friend With Benefits.' We had no agenda or expectations, and thus…no disappointments. Both of us looked forward to spending time together, because we wanted to, NOT had to. When the relationship ran it's course, we parted ways, and…remained friends.”

But not everybody saw this is a good light.

wittyusername 29
“Is there something wrong with me that I don't want to have sex with someone who doesn't think I'm "good enough" to date? Surely if they cared about me and respected me, they'd want more than just sex? Chaps, help me out please :)”

This woman is concerned about something. A good time just for the sake of a good time? Sex for the sake of sex? Pauline and Nick are dating in a fashion. It is just that Pauline is keeping her family and Nick totally separate. Does everything we do, does a relationship have to be regarded in terms of a long-term goal such as marriage? Is sex itself an integral component of this social model?

Hemmingplay
I work at a Uni. and know the sexual habits of college students is more casual about this, and less-guilt-ridden, than it was when I were a lad. To many of them, having sex with random people they meet in a bar is no more odd than having lunch with someone.

Nobody would complain if Pauline had lunch with Nick. But people are questioning this because of the sex. Why?

AZ85283
“Yeah but those college women who have sex with everyone, then when they find NO one wants to marry them because all the man's friends have slept with her, then they're mad at anyone who will speak to them. Double standards abound, but I wouldn't want a man who had 100 women in bed and betcha he doesn't want a woman who does that either. So when these college women can't find a serious relationship because everyone in their group has been to bed with them, they whine.”

What? Where is that coming from? Do I hear the voice of Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut?

The Trolls
Geesh, how some people love to go nuts in their comments, their negative comments.

EinChicago
“"He spends his days doing Hot Yoga and his evenings rolling on Molly" And yet more evidence why this woman needs to be kept at least 500 yards away from her kids. Wow. He may be a drug addled loser, but he is young and wuilling to bang her in exchange for whatever pampering she can provide him by siphioning finances away from supporting her kids. What an awful excuse for a parent. But wait, it's all her ex's fault, right. We keep hearing how he is controlling, narcissit, blah, blah blah. Meanwhile, only one person blogs hate rants on a weekly basis in between banging her promiscuous STD incubating drug using tattooed and unemployed toy boy….sheesh.”

Later on I read the following comment and response.

Tracy Schorn
“More power to you, Pauline!”

EinChicago
“Because if she has power, maybe she won't notice the complete lack of self-respect, self-worth, or value as a person?”

Excuse me for being perplexed, but how did anybody arrive at the conclusions EinChicago makes?

But EinChicago is not alone. He is part of a tradition which sprang from the patriarchal mindset of our forefathers. The double standard is very much alive. Slut shaming is still the norm. Nick can be sexual but Pauline as a woman cannot. She shouldn't. But why?

FYI: I looked up the comments of this EinChicago on other articles on Huffington Post. This gentleman – I use the term loosely – could use some therapy. Pauline herself in a response to a comment from EinChicago, says, "You're doing an awful lot of projecting here.". Yes, indeed. Commentators don't seem to realise their comments say more about themselves than about the target of their criticism. People have issues and they show them in public with their unwarranted attacks, acerbic remarks, and illogical conclusions. As I have said about trolls elsewhere, in my experience happy people are kind, generous, and sympathetic if not empathetic. Unhappy people are angry, mean spirited, and critical of anybody other than themselves.

Drugs
Since a few commentators brought this up, I have to comment. Nick has admitted that he occasionally uses drugs, specifically Ecstasy. Pauline is a smart woman; I have no doubt she will properly deal with this situation.

I know people who do drugs. I, myself, do not. What they do in their private lives is their business. I only ask that they respect my wishes and keep that aspect of their lives away from mine. But let me point out, I did have my wild years so I am sympathetic and pass no moral judgement on anyone who indulges. I think the war of drugs is a misguided and unfruitful exercise in social control and another example of how society makes something illegal and fails horribly in dealing with an issue. Prohibition is a perfect example of how out of sight out of mind does not work. But I digress.

Oh, and by the way, I don't want to know about you driving when intoxicated, cheating on your taxes, smuggling purchased goods across the border, stealing office supplies from work, or your infidelity. Drugs? Let he who is without sin…

Casual Sex
If I haven't made my point clearly, let me reiterate. I am not proposing, as critics may insinuate with hyperbole, that everybody should mindlessly start having sex with everybody else. I am proposing that sex does not have to be a commodity as dictated by our traditions and sex between two people does not have to happen strictly within the confines of marriage.

Stanley Siegel is a psychotherapist, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), and author. As a minor point of interest, he is gay. In the November 2012 issue of Psychology Tomorrow, Mr. Siegel penned the article "In Favor of Casual Sex" in which he explains how at the age of 65 he has shared extraordinary tenderness, generosity and affection without long-term commitment.

Among the greatest myth is that sexual intimacy can only exist within marriage or a committed long-term relationship, an idea that has entered into popular culture in the form of the ultimate prescription for happiness. How many times have you heard marriage advocates cite research purportedly showing that spouses are happier than single people or its corollary, single people are “damaged” by their fear commitment.

But long-term relationships or marriage do not guarantee a satisfying emotional life or sexual intimacy. Everyone knows someone stuck in a barren marriage, whose members have lost their autonomy and in which sex has disappeared. Despite this, many of us still cling to the belief that sexual fulfillment and happiness can only be found through commitment. As a culture, we refuse to consider any alternatives to traditional relationships as meaningful or valid.

It is thought-provoking to realise that our traditions, very much marriage-oriented, may have been preventing us from fully living our lives.

Final Word
The collective we stands astride the gulf between the past and the future, between tradition and a brave new world. We think there is something wrong and we think we need to change something but we have one foot stuck in the safety of the familiar, our traditions, while the other foot is tentatively exploring the unknown. Women are not supposed to be sexual creatures. Women are not permitted to be sexual creatures. Sex can only exist within the confines of marriage. A woman who does not follow these rules is of a lesser quality and looked down upon by everyone else.

Why?

If Pauline had lunch with Nick, nobody would say anything. Pauline has sex with Nick and people, okay some people, are scandalized. At the end of August, pictures were posted on social media of a young woman performing oral sex on a young man at a rock concert in Scotland. (my blog: #Slanegirl: sex, (double) standards, and sluts) The young man remained out of the spotlight while a number of slut shamers piled on vilifying the woman to no end. While this cruelty was certainly surprising, it was a measure of hope to see the extensive condemnation of the slut shamers by those who want to get rid of the double standard, who want to stop slut shaming, and who want to foster sexual equality. Female sexuality is a good thing not a bad thing. Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut but he was soundly trounced for it.

Pauline is a responsible adult. Pauline is a good parent. Pauline is also a woman but more importantly, she is a sexual creature. I do not in any way roll out any of the traditional views of sex and relationships in some attempt to categorize this situation as good or bad. I judge it on its merits alone, the merits as defined by Ms. Gaines in her article.

"I'd rather regret the things I've done than regret the things I haven't done." -Lucille Ball

If Pauline has lunch with Nick, nobody is going to ask if lunch is going to lead to dinner, a proposal, then a wedding next spring. A lunch is a lunch to be enjoyed such as it is without asking the question as to whether Nick is going to be having lunch with Pauline thirty years from now. Sometimes a good time is just a good time. It should be enjoyed as such. And that includes sex.

"The greatest thing in life is finding people that turn small moments into great moments. Nothing in life must be eternal only unforgettable." -Unknown

References

Wikipedia: Sexual economy
Sexual economy is in reference to the resources men offer to women in order to acquire sex. In this sense the heterosexual community is considered as a marketplace where sex is bought and sold. The marketplace is defined by your gender role, and in the sex economy men are the buyers, and women are the sellers.

PsychCentral – Mar 21/2013
How Common is Cheating & Infidelity Really? By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
In any given year, it looks like the actual likelihood of your relationship suffering from cheating is low — probably less than a 6 percent chance. But over the course of your entire relationship, the chances of infidelity may rise to as much as 25 percent. Twenty-five percent — over the course of an entire relationship — is a far cry from the 50 percent number we hear from many so-called professionals.

The Pervocracy – June 18/2011
The invisible dick of Adam Smith
[This now 30 something woman offers an interesting dissection of the Washington Post article.]
re: Washington Times: Economy of sex: It's cheap these days: See, if you say "all women are whores," you're a misogynist or something, but if you say "all women participate in the economy of sex," then it is a penetrating insight.

Amazon: Jan 2011
“Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying.”
by Mark Regnerus (socilogoy professor, University of Texas) and Jeremy Uecker
The period of young adulthood, from ages 18 to 23, is popularly considered the most sexualized in life. But is it true? What do we really know about the sexual lives of young people today? … Regnerus and Uecker pay special attention to two important concepts: sexual scripts, the unwritten and often unconscious rules that guide sexual behavior and attitudes; and sexual economics, a theory which suggests that the relative scarcity of men on college campuses contributes to the "hookup" culture by allowing men to diminish their level of commitment and thereby lower the "price" they have to "pay" for sex.

Wikipedia: The Naked Ape
The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal is a 1967 book by zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris that looks at humans as a species and compares them to other animals.

The Guardian – Sep 28/2009
Why Women Have Sex by Tanya Gold
Cindy Meston, a clinical psychologist, and David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist… have interviewed 1,006 women from all over the world about their sexual motivation, and in doing so they have identified 237 different reasons why women have sex… Masters and Johnson observed people having orgasms for most of the 60s. But they never asked why. Why?

"People just assumed the answer was obvious," Meston says. "To feel good. Nobody has really talked about how women can use sex for all sorts of resources." She rattles off a list and as she says it, I realise I knew it all along: "promotion, money, drugs, bartering, for revenge, to get back at a partner who has cheated on them. To make themselves feel good. To make their partners feel bad." Women, she says, "can use sex at every stage of the relationship, from luring a man into the relationship, to try and keep a man so he is fulfilled and doesn't stray. Duty. Using sex to get rid of him or to make him jealous."

"We never ever expected it to be so diverse," she says. "From the altruistic to the borderline evil." … Who wants to have their romantic fantasies reduced to evolutional processes?

"The degree to which economics plays out in sexual motivations," Buss says, "surprised me. Not just prostitution. Sex economics plays out even in regular relationships. Women have sex so that the guy would mow the lawn or take out the garbage. You exchange sex for dinner."

 
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