Young Adults’ Sexual Relationships Increasingly Favor Men, Research Finds

Jan. 18, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — While young women's educational and career opportunities have skyrocketed over the past two decades, their opportunities for stable, long-term relationships have declined, according to new research from sociologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

In their new book "Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying," (Oxford, 2011) researchers Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker detail the sexual attitudes, behaviors and experiences of Americans between the ages of 18 and 23. The research goes beyond the clichés about salaciousness within the largely white Greek system to provide a nuanced view of the experiences of a much wider swath of young adults.

"Hooking up gets all the attention but most sex occurs in relationships," says Regnerus.

In an era when marriage is often far from the minds of young Americans, the book provides a fuller understanding of why that is, how the place of sex in romantic relationships has shifted and what that means for young adults. The outlook for relationship security, he claims, is more grim than ever.

"There have been many changes in romantic and sexual behavior over the past 30 years," says Regnerus. "One is that the 'price of sex' among unmarried Americans has dipped to an all-time low."

Regnerus and Uecker describe the "price of sex" as the cost — to men — of romance, status, stability and commitment that men exchange for access to sex in a relationship. They argue that despite women's successes, contemporary relationships are becoming more male-centered than ever, with men gaining access to sex earlier and more often, yet providing fewer and later commitments than a generation ago.

"It is, in part, one of the unintended consequences of women's educational and professional success," Regnerus says. "Women no longer need men. When that's the case, how relationships develop will change. And they have.

"Men's economic and educational successes have stalled, creating an environment in which fewer educated and financially stable men are selecting mates from a larger pool of educated and financially stable women," he says. "It's created an imbalance that tips relationship power in the direction of the men. Instead of men competing for women, today women feel like they must compete for men."

The authors used data from four national surveys and dozens of face-to-face interviews to compile this unprecedented study.

Men also generally display few emotional consequences in their sexual choices, while women have a harder time dealing with "no strings attached" sex, the authors write. "For them, the strings are often what makes sex satisfying," says Regnerus. Women, he notes, also "seem to be happier when they’re in a relationship than when they’re not."

The book also looks at differing sexual attitudes and practices among conservatives and liberals. Conservatives tend to marry earlier but also divorce earlier, while liberals often exhibit a longer period of sexual experimentation before marriage.

Regnerus is an associate professor of sociology and a research associate with the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin. He is also the author of "Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers" (Oxford, 2007).

Uecker earned his Ph.D. in sociology at The University of Texas at Austin in 2010 and is a postdoctoral scholar with the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

For more information, contact: Gary Susswein, Office of the President, 512-471-4945.

39 Comments to "Young Adults’ Sexual Relationships Increasingly Favor Men, Research Finds"

1.  Andrea said on Jan. 18, 2011

"The research goes beyond the clichés about salaciousness within the largely white Greek system to provide a nuanced view of the experiences of a much wider swath of young adults."

And by "nuanced view" we mean "two dudes continue to perpetuate outdated stereotypes about women, the gatekeepers of sex, only being important when men confer status on them with sexual attention, which they obviously only do in exchange for sex."

2.  DERRICK said on Jan. 20, 2011

It isn't ironic that sex, being used for power over the last few decades rather than it's intended purpose (the loving renewal of the wedding vows), actually results in the loss of power and dignity of women. Women, to you I would like to apologize on behalf of all of us men who have used you solely for our pleasure while ignoring the dignity you were given by God.

3.  Neil said on Jan. 20, 2011

This article seems to carry quite conservative presuppositions about what "favors men". If women voluntarily engage in this sex, doesn't that indicate a *shift* in what favors them (that is to say, what their preferences are)? If indeed their preferences have changed, then it may be quite incorrect to say that it "favors men" because it doesn't indicate shifting power relations but rather changes in society. Further, if, as briefly suggested in the article, this change is a result of the increased income of women, then it would most *certainly* be incorrect to say that this change "favors men".

4.  E said on Jan. 20, 2011

"They argue that despite women's successes, contemporary relationships are becoming more male-centered than ever, with men gaining access to sex earlier and more often, yet providing fewer and later commitments than a generation ago."

This statement itself is male-centered. Doesn't this also mean that women are "gaining access" to sex earlier and more often? Women today are independent, so don't need to trade sex for a provider, as this article suggests (which is a whole separate issue). Rather than saying men are "favored" here, I'd say that women have now achieved a state in which they can have access to sex as they like without worrying about whether their partner is going to provide for them.

Why do women need to regulate the "price of sex"?
Maybe they just want sex.

5.  Daniel said on Jan. 20, 2011

I don't normally respond to posts for anything, but...

Does this study seriously presume that "romance, status, stability and commitment" are only present in a male for the purpose of exchanging "access to sex in a relationship"? That the only reason a man might be interested in a woman is for sex? And that a woman's only interest in the man is for the "romance, status, stability and commitment"?

Perhaps the article as written misrepresents the study, but that just seems to be a very narrow minded, flawed premise upon which to base a study of sexual relationships.

6.  Nicole said on Jan. 20, 2011

I agree with the above comment. I expect better from UT.

7.  alumni said on Jan. 20, 2011

This whole premise is outdated. This assumes men are paying for sex by providing commitment, romance etc. assumes that sex is something the female owns, controls and barters to the male. The reason this is changing is attitudes are changing such that it no longer is bartered but represents a sharing of enjoyment. Men can't pay a lower price when they aren't buying something.

8.  Ashley said on Jan. 20, 2011

I totally agree with the above comments. Also, hasn't "the price of sex" gone down for women as well? Birth control has become healthier and more convenient, pregnancy outside of marriage is more accepted, and it is much easier for women to get jobs to provide for their family. I know it seems completely radical, but maybe women want and enjoy sex, too. Crazy, I know.

9.  Amyna said on Jan. 20, 2011

This is what happens when two men write a book about the effect of changing statuses of women on sex and who it favors. It's the same reason women struggle to write about men in their own research-based self-help books. My arguments are the same as those who commented before, so I won't take up space. But this whole view just places women on this pedestal as the gatekeepers of their precious virginity. Times change, and this book's premise is quite outdated.

10.  Joe said on Jan. 20, 2011

I agree with some of the previous comments that the article seems to suggest that the researchers may have an outdated view of what women want. It's interesting to note that they seemingly tried to get at women's preferences, finding that "women have a harder time dealing with 'no strings attached' sex, the authors write. 'For them, the strings are often what makes sex satisfying,' says Regnerus." So it can be argued that sexual relationships favor men. I think the problem with the study is that the prevalence of this attitude in women should have been compared to its prevalence 20 or 30 years ago. I think then we might see that although sexual relationships may still favor men, the degree to which they do is smaller. But it's important not to get carried away with the idea that all women are totally liberated and equal partners in sexual relationships. This may be true in many cases, but the take-away from this study is that men are still generally favored.

11.  Rohan Ravishankar said on Jan. 20, 2011

oh jeez, Regnerus was social research professor, no wonder he used sex among teenagers so often as an example...
well, I guess he's got it right based on how my current relationship is going...

12.  Kay Stearns said on Jan. 20, 2011

It is beyond sad when a young man or woman has to define himself/herself with sex under any condition. This most intimate act between two people, truly a gift from our Creator, should be made with some commitment on the part of both; otherwise, it is merely a biological act that has no meaning other than the taming of physical urges. With commitment there is a deeper satisfaction and understanding between the two participants.

13.  Anne said on Jan. 20, 2011

It sounds to me like they're coming from an evolutionary psychology perspective. I don't think they were making any assumptions about what women today consciously want; instead it sounds like they're referring to the idea that as we evolved, women who didn't get things like commitment in return for sex were left pregnant with little help in foraging/hunting and caring for offspring, so their offspring were less likely to survive and their genes were selected against.

I can see how people might be offended by this, but I feel like it's more of a comment on how our behaviors today don't always reflect the innate behaviors we would expect if we made our assumptions based solely on evolutionary psychology. It's a testament to the fact that, while fun to think about, evolutionary psychology just doesn't cover everything--we're a complicated species.

Maybe I'm way off-base, but that was my first impression.

14.  Darren said on Jan. 20, 2011

I agree with DERRICK's comments wholeheartedly ... and add that men were given dignity by God, too. If both men and women recognized their dignity and didn't think of others as objects to get something from, then sex would be elevated back to its rightful place - a gift from God to be enjoyed by a married couple. It sounds paradoxical, but that's real freedom.

15.  PATTERSON said on Jan. 20, 2011

I have watched male female relationships for the past 3 decades. I personally have expierenced the rise of women in both education and in positions of athority with in the workplace. While watching them lose on the relationship front. Anyone can have sex, but most women want a relationship. Unfortunantly most of the young men today are not equiped to provide a committed realtionship. Upon reading this report, it makes sense in many areas. Next time you think more sex with more partners makes women happy ask your mom for her opinion.

16.  Kay Nilsson said on Jan. 20, 2011

Why has no one mentioned that females are STILL the ones who get pregnant. There will NEVER be equality, and I pity you poor deluded youngsters! Sex is great, but it still leads to pregnancy, even in this brave new world.

17.  Sue said on Jan. 20, 2011

I agree with most comments above. As a woman, I would say, a lot of men are also looking for romance, possibly status (if say, the woman earns more), stability, and commitment. These elements are essential and universal to most people as we all are humans. Sure, the traditional line is blurred. I've noticed a lot of stay-home dads and husbands in our neighborhood these days, it's not uncommon.

18.  Kimberly said on Jan. 20, 2011

It seems most of the above posted comments come from a more enlightened place than the article/book itself (unless we're just not getting a clear overview). One of the changes that has taken place, along with women becoming self-reliant, is that women are more aware of their own desire for, need of, & absolute right to pleasure. This was believed to be a man's domain in earlier generations. Could it be that this shift has simply not balanced itself culturally yet?

Men enjoy emotional relationships as much as women - just expressed in different ways. Things will always change & re-balance in new ways.

I was recently invited, by a group of TCU students, to speak to them about "Heaven", a novel - a story about spirituality & sexuality as told by an exotic dancer. The students, male & female, were highly engaged in the discussion & invested in their thoughts regarding the combination of these two very prominent aspects of our lives.

Based on this one discussion, these students didn't give the impression that "The outlook for relationship security...is more grim than ever." I'd like to think they represent plenty more like them. It's definitely time for pleasure to be fully realized & enjoyed by both sexes - THAT will make for better relationships! http://www.HeavenTheNovel.com

19.  d said on Jan. 24, 2011

when will women wake up? the article is right. pre-marital and casual sex favor men. men get pleasure and can move on quickly. women are more emotional and could end up distracted, heartbroken or even with an unwanted pregnancy.

20.  p said on Jan. 24, 2011

Interesting that the main concern in some of these posts is the threat of pregnancy. Pregnancy is very easily controlled these days by responsible women. I think a bigger issue would be one that is equally threatening to both men and women, STD's. The numbers are outrageous which would indicate that neither the young men, nor the young women are acting responsibly.

21.  bewestbrook said on Jan. 25, 2011

How is it that women are the emotionally and financially stable ones and are yet at a disadvantage somehow? This does not make sense at all. What if roles are just shifting? Men are earning fewer and fewer college degrees, fewer and fewer honors degrees, and the advanced degrees are going to more women than ever. Maybe men can now be the ones to stay home while women provide. Maybe we could call the whole notion of masculinity=sex=emotionally stunted equation into question.

22.  Nathan said on Jan. 25, 2011

I don't necessarily agree. It seems that women with more power and education, are more likely than before to be looking for sex with no strings attached. This research seems to assume that men are pigs and women are pious. While women are becoming more powerful and needing men less, they still have basic needs to fufill (and now with power they have more means to go through with it). So in a sense, it looks like women are actually just becoming more like men in the sense that sex does not have to have as much meaning as it did before (though one could argue the 70s was a much more promiscuous time).

23.  JC said on Jan. 25, 2011

Wow, this is so poorly written; the review itself is even male-centered! And UT wonders why it can't compete with certain other institutions...

24.  l said on Jan. 25, 2011

Is this the "research" our tax and tuition dollars pay for?

25.  kaycast said on Jan. 26, 2011

In some areas and aspect, the report makes some sense, but one thing man has failed to realize is that, complexities of man cannot actually make it possible to get an accurate explanation for its behavior; both men and women want something from a relationship, what makes us think a woman who is ready to give commitment and romance does not also have sex on her mind? And not all men are out there hunting for sex. Yes a larger percentage of women want commitment before sex, that doesn't exempt the fact that both sexes enjoy it. I don't think our creator would have been so partial to make one party enjoy sex more than the other. When research likes this are made, it might only be applicable to some percent of people.

26.  Lauren said on Jan. 26, 2011

SOCIOLOGY IS FAKE. DUH!

27.  elizabeth said on Jan. 27, 2011

I agree that this article's findings are outdated and sexist. I don't think that womens hard work and educational levels are the problem. Patriarchy is a real system and IT is what favors men. Thats why men, although not as well educated as women, still earn more money. Educated, independent women are not to blame, and we are not ruining everyone's chances of finding a good man!

28.  Kim Ho said on Jan. 27, 2011

Respond to Neil,

I guess to fully evaluate the situation, the research should combine the quality of sex as well.

It is well known that less than 30% of females can enjoy organisms through intercourse only. Also, the ratio between receiving oral sex also favors men.

As a result, females are generally inferior to conduct sex just for pleasure. What I don't understand is, with the improvement of social-econ status for females, most women are still willing to sacrifice during sex even without a relationship. This phenomenon only only happens in US buy also happens a lot in East Asian including China, Korea and Japan.

29.  Ankhesen Mié said on Jan. 29, 2011

Bewestbrook demanded, "How is it that women are the emotionally and financially stable ones and are yet at a disadvantage somehow? This does not make sense at all" and I think that says it all.

This is an androcentric article. It's no different from when white people write condescending articles about how China's "not really" that powerful, and POC haven't "really" contributed anything to the world.

This article posits that women at heart are all emotionally fragile, needy, heterosexually inclined, and that no matter what we achieve in our lives in terms of careers, education, and accomplishments, it'll never come close to simply being married. Like with insisting that we all need/want to have children, this article is tries to subtly discourage us from pursuing our own ambitions and fails miserably.

And that's the most disappointing part about this article. That degree-holding individuals produced this rubbish and that we know this research project cost actual money. It's sickening.

30.  MAC said on Jan. 30, 2011

It is to be hoped that the book is not as trite as the article portrays it. The posted comments are interesting.
Indeed things have changed in the last 50 years... Promiscuity has been rampant since the mid 1960s. The 1960s women's movement appeared to preach that women were only equal to men if they could equal men in their bad behaviors, i.e., drinking, cussing, sexual escapades, etc. I've never seen a happy "Bad Boy" or "Bad Girl" -- run into one 20 yrs later and find a pathetic loser who constantly whines about how life has not been fair to them. Life is what one makes it. Making it about the pursuit of sexual pleasure, with numerous partners, leads to the practice today of giving every baby, within 2 hrs of birth, a Hepatitus B shot because, apparently, Society must step in and protect the newborn from, the apparent certainty of its parent's, STDs. If one wants to talk evolutionary sociology, there were good reasons societies developed values and standards.
Just for the record, your Great Grandmothers were told that they should expect sexual pleasure in 1920s women's magazines.
Also, the woman professional who "sleeps" her way to the top is accorded the same respect as the man who marries the boss's daughter...

31.  Dr. David Vandenberg said on Jan. 31, 2011

While upon occasion UT sponsors excellent research, this study is not one of them. Men today realize that the cards are stacked against us. We are reluctant to enter into relationships with liberal women, because they believe they can kill our children with impunity, and they can--this is abortion. Then they can divorce us for no reason, take the kids, and the house--this is called empowerment--and we have to engage a lawyer to defend our natural rights. Poor men cannot defend themselves; wealthy ones, like me, do not want the risk. This is the result of the feminist agenda, and liberal institutions are loathe to examine the true consequences of their destructive policies. This is the real study that should be conducted.

32.  Cory said on Jan. 31, 2011

I'm definitely not sure all the logic stacks up here. It seems women are favored even more than before due to their increased financial status. How does not needing a man make conditions more favorable for men? I guess it's because now women really only need men for sex, which is actually much more in line with men's sexual mating preferences. I think the real change or "shift" that's happening is that (due in large part to their increased/increasing economic status) women are much more interested in men's physical appearance. They don't need men for financial security anymore (even though they still make less money on average than men) so they at least want a guy who looks good. And they're not as concerned about relationships with those men. If you look at recent television shows, advertisements, and movies it's pretty clear that men's bodies are being objectified the way women's have been for years. I also hear women talk a lot these days about whether a certain guy is "cute" or "hot"...something that was much less important prior to the last decade or so.

33.  John said on Feb. 2, 2011

I got a real kick out of not only the article, but a lot of yalls responses. Look at response #31 "Dr. David Vandenberg". Some things he wrote make sense, yes? But some is laughable too. Same thing applies with this research...the more things change, the more they stay the same...just keep thinking for yourself and we (men and women) will all be just fine. I promise. In the meantime, have fun, bang out some randoms, but be responsible. Ok, ok, that last part was a joke. I keed, I keed.

34.  Nirav M Dave said on Feb. 2, 2011

That's actually really right that people is happier while they are in relationship....

How To Make a Guy Fall In Love With You

35.  BK said on Feb. 2, 2011

I'd reserve judgement on the research until actually reading the research.

What are assumptions and what are products of the sociological research process is not given in this news piece, so labeling the piece as male-centered and bias is not justified if the knowledge of "women being happier with sex with strings", so to speak, came from the current research.

For those who would expect "more from UT", this is exactly what I expect from UT. Research that challenges the assumed idea based on solid, well-planned methods of research.

36.  Amy said on Feb. 2, 2011

I wouldn't turn in this piece of "writing" for an assignment in an undergrad class - it's a total mess and fails to make a point. What were their methods and who did they sample? It's unbelievably incoherent. I also expect much better from Texas.

37.  Amy said on Feb. 2, 2011

The dynamics of relationships have changed because women are becoming closer and closer to being a man's equal, and this is threatening to the egos of many men, but some of them value this newly gained confidence among the opposite sex. These are the men that enter happy relationships and stay together - because it is a relationship based on friendship, respect, and equality—all things that make for great sex as well.

38.  Soc Grad Student said on Feb. 2, 2011

What the article doesn't emphasize is the study's reliance on sexual economics theory - thus the whole "price" talk. I've read the book and while the authors do have their own opinions, what they're doing is testing the theory through statistical analysis. And their results show the theory to hold up. It doesn't mean it's true for everyone - for instance, I do believe there are guys out there who want commitment and stability, regardless of whether or not sex is present. I also think this article overemphasizes the female income aspect. That isn't focused on as heavily in the actual study. But whether you think you fall completely into, out of, or in the middle of this study's findings, there is some truth to pretty much all of it, even if it's an unfortunate truth.

39.  Kate said on Feb. 3, 2011

The research and the vast majority of these comments are also heterocentric. I appreciate the thoughtful comments, but I resent that by "women" we are referring to heterosexual women only, and by "men" we are referring to heterosexual men only. Once you think more inclusively about the full range of sexuality and gender in our society, it's natural to want to shed those outdated views about relationships and sex. I think the survey instrument used for this research was flawed, because it accommodates only heterocentric responses from the subjects who were surveyed. It carries (and emboldens) the very assumptions that many young adults carry into their relationships (e.g., that each person in the relationship has pre-defined sexual and emotional needs, based on their sex/gender, and that they will only feel satisfied if those needs are met in the traditional way). It would be hard NOT to feel disappointed if you entered a relationship without having control over your own expectations.