No Satisfaction

November 28, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross-posted at Sociological Images

Liberal women want more sex. 

Mark Regnerus has been fooling around with the New Family Structures Survey. (His blog post is here.)  Back in June, Regnerus used the NFSS data to conclude that gay parents are bad for children.  Now, he runs the regressions and finds that liberalism leaves women sexually dissatisfied.
Question:“Are you content with the amount of sex you’re having?”
The possible answers:
  • Yes
  • No, I’d prefer more
  • No, I’d prefer less
The differences were clear.

Those liberal women, they try and they try and they try; they can’t get no . . . satisfaction. Hey, hey, hey – that’s what they say

The differences held even with controls for how much sex the woman had had recently.  Nor did adding other possible explanatory variables dampen the effect
the measure of political liberalism remains significantly associated with the odds of wanting more sex even after controlling for the frequency of actual intercourse over the past two weeks, their age, marital status, education level, whether they’ve masturbated recently, their anxiety level, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, depressive symptoms, and porn use.
Regnerus says he was puzzled and asked an economist friend for her explanation.  She, like Regnerus, is a serious Christian, and saw it as a matter of seeking “transcendence.”  Liberal women want to have more sex because they feel the lack of sufficient transcendence in life and seek it in sex.  Conservative women find transcendence in the seemingly mundane – “sanctifying daily life” – so they do not need sex for transcendence.  Or as Regnerus puts it, “Basically, liberal women substitute sex for religion.”

To test this idea, Regnerus controlled for religious attendance.  When he did,  “political liberalism finally went silent as a predictor.”  Churchgoing liberals were no more insatiable than were their sexually content, politically conservative co-worshipers.

So here’s the scenario.  All women want transcendence.  Since liberal women are not religious, they seek transcendence in sex and don’t find it. They’re dissatisfied, but they cling to the idea that sex will bring them transcendence if only they have more of it. So they keep looking for transcendence in all the wrong places. Conservative women seek transcendence in religion and in everyday activities.  And that works. 

Conclusion: Religion is deeply satisfying; sex, not so much.

This explanation, with its attribution of psychological-spiritual longing, makes some huge assumptions about what’s going on inside women’s heads.   

The sociological explanation is much simpler. It looks not to deep inner longings for transcendence but to social norms, beliefs, and values.  It rests on the assumption that people’s desires are shaped by external forces, especially the culture of the social world they live in. In some social worlds, sex for women is good, so it’s OK for them to want more sex.  In others, sex for women has a lower place on the scale of values.  It is less of a “focal concern.”

These differences make for differences in who is content with what – a liberal, East Coast man and a WASP woman from the Midwest, for example.

On one side, three times a week is “constantly.” On the other, three times a week is “hardly ever.” Can we really say that the difference here is about spiritual transcendence?

In some social worlds, a woman can never be too thin or too rich. In those worlds, women diet and exercise in a way we might find obsessive. But that’s what their culture rewards. They want more thinness, more money. Some cultures hold that sex is a good thing – certainly more pleasurable than dieting and exercising – therefore,  more is better.  In some social worlds, that’s the way some people feel about money (never too rich). Are these desires really about seeking transcendence, or they about cultural values?

And there’s one other explanation that may not have occurred to Regnerus: maybe conservative men are better lovers; they satisfy their conservative bedmates in ways liberals can only dream of. 

(UPDATE).  Lisa Wade of Sociological Images has suggested a much better explanation:  Liberal men are such good lovers that when you ask their liberal partners if they want more sex, the answer is, “Do I ever. Wouldn’t you?” But conservative men are so incompetent in bed that when you ask their partners if they want more, the answer is, “No thanks.”

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