The Female Cartel

Andrea Castillo analyzes sexual restrictions such as prostitution laws, porn censorship, and slut-shaming from an economic perspective:

Sex is a female resource. While both genders certainly enjoy and depend on the act, natural constraints on female sexuality create scarcity—and value. The high costs of female fertility—in terms of time, mental and physical health, and opportunities forgone—impel women to act as suppliers in the sexual market. Male sexuality, on the other hand, is ubiquitous and cheap. What’s more, men tend to place a higher value on sexual gratification than do women. Men, therefore, comprise the demand for sex.

To consume their desired quantity of sex, men must offer women something of equal subjective value in return. The aggregate supply of willing women and aggregate demand for a roll in the hay in a given market will converge to an equilibrium “price” for sexual access. The price need not be literal, as is the case with prostitution. Historically, this bundle of goods offered to women included resources for child-rearing, material comfort, and protection for their families. When the supply exceeds the demand, the price drops, and women’s producer surplus declines. When men seek more sex than women are willing to supply, producer surplus increases, and women rule the roost. …

Slut-shaming, prohibitions against paid sex work, censorship of pornographic images, and gender segregation are all tools that restrict supply in the sexual market. Anxieties and incentives cause women facing sexual competition to psychologically exhibit similar, although uncoordinated, cartelistic behaviors. Thrill-seekers and erotic entrepreneurs that buck the sexual syndicate find themselves at the mercy of moral indignation and exclusion. A review of the literature on sexual suppression [pdf] suggests that the evidence is more consistent with the female cartel theory than the patriarchy theory: Periods of sexual restraint coincide with sellers’ markets. Although men historically enforced sexual norms, female self-interest shapes them.