The Real Price Of “Low-Cost Sex”

The sexual liberation movement taught us that it’s empowering and fun for women to treat sex like men do — to have lots of it, often with men we barely know, with no strings attached. This, we were told, is true freedom.

By Julie Mastrine5 min read
The Real Price Of “Low-Cost Sex”

Yet many women who have lived out the ideals promoted by a sexually permissive culture have realized it comes with a heavy cost: the failure of men to commit. 

By sacrificing love and marriage, women end up feeling demoralized and used — essentially the opposite of empowerment. Regaining female sexual power actually means refusing to sleep with men who haven’t first committed to us.

What Is “Low-Cost Sex”?

In his book Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, Mark Regnerus says, “Sex is cheap if women expect little in return for it and men do not have to supply much time, attention, resources, recognition, or fidelity in order to experience it.” 

Low-cost sex is a tenet of our culture today. Women regularly sleep with men who have done little to earn it. They’ll sleep with men on the first or second date, often knowing full well that he is sleeping with other women, hasn’t spent much time with her, and hasn’t demonstrated a willingness to be a protector and provider.

Women may find themselves binge drinking heavily just to handle this culture in which men use them. Gone are the days of courtship rituals — of men bringing a woman flowers, taking her out on dates, holding the door open, or putting in any effort at all to show he values her and is committed. Today, people go to parties, get drunk, pair off, and have sex.

Far too many young women have fallen into the trap of sleeping with men too early, only to later watch him leave.

Sex has been totally torn out of any ethical framework. Having failed to receive any message of when and why to have sex, far too many young women have fallen into the trap of sleeping with men too early, only to later watch him leave. This doesn’t empower women — it disempowers us, preventing us from getting what most of us will eventually want out of life: marriage, a husband, and children.

In our 20s, women think we have all the time in the world to find someone to marry and have children with. The culture tells us to focus on our careers, anyway. Yet when we find ourselves reaching 30, things look a lot different. We’re ready to leave the nightclubs behind, to have a husband and family. Yet we find the majority of men aren’t willing to settle down. A slew of hot young women are still willing to sleep with them — they, like we did in our 20s, are offering low-cost, commitment-free sex. Why would a man settle down under these conditions? He has no incentive to.

It’s only when women hold the line and refuse to have cheap sex that all women are empowered to get men to commit.

Low-Cost Sex Makes Women Powerless

“Empowered” is probably the last feeling that comes to mind the first time a young woman realizes a boy she truly cares about has no plans to see her after he’s done satisfying his own sexual needs.

Sexual “liberation” turns out to be a misnomer. Young women are actually under serious cultural pressure to provide men with low-cost sex because all the other women are doing it. Even young women who don’t want to have sex early on when dating feel they have to in order to compete with other girls who are offering it. If we don’t give a man sex, he’ll just go get it elsewhere.

Young women are under serious cultural pressure to provide men with low-cost sex because all the other women are doing it.

We’ve been sold “liberation” and “choice,” but women really don’t have much of a choice in this culture. We figure we might as well sleep with him in the hopes he’ll stick around — and he rarely does. We give up our power, and wind up feeling undervalued and used. 

“The desire to be pursued and courted, to have sex with someone you love as opposed to just barely know, to be certain of a man’s affection and loyalty — these are deep female cravings that did not vanish with the sexual revolution,” author Danielle Crittenden writes.

If women want to gain back our sexual power, we need to start refusing men sex until they have demonstrated virtue and commitment. By refusing to provide low-cost sex, we can create a culture where men actually have to prove themselves and commit to us in order to access sex, and alleviate this demoralizing pressure on all women.

Women and Men Form Long-Term Bonds Differently

While all of our sex ed classes taught us how to use birth control and condoms, none explained how male and female bonding hormones work to form long-term relationships. Understanding this makes it even clearer why women ought to wait longer to have sex if they want marriage and children.

A woman tends to think that if she sleeps with a man, he’ll want to stay with her. She projects this, because this is how women form commitments.

Women release the bonding hormone oxytocin when they have sex. This is why women typically fall in love with a man they have sex with. Men, on the other hand, don’t work this way. They make their long-term bonds by releasing the hormone vasopressin. Men have to release vasopressin over a long period of time, and they have to release it before they orgasm with her. If a man has sex with a woman too early, his vasopressin level drops, and the bond is inhibited

If a man has sex with a woman too early, his vasopressin level drops, and the bond is inhibited. 

Men are biologically hardwired not to release bonding chemicals with women who sleep with them too early. Sure, they’ll still sleep with you — but it will almost never lead to commitment. They won’t see you as a wife and mother. Understanding this can help us create a dating culture where men and women end up happy together long-term instead of bouncing from one hookup to another and ultimately feeling alone.

Empowered Women Refuse Low-Cost Sex 

Women as a group need to look out for each other by not sleeping with men too early. This empowers all of us, because when men can’t flit around from woman to woman, they will have to make a commitment in order to access sex. When too many young women don’t hold the line and are willing to let men have sex with them for cheap, men will exploit this to their advantage — doing whatever they want and never making a promise to become a husband and father.

Far from making us free, casual sex has us chained to shallow, fleeting hookups and Tinder swiping. Short-term flings never lead to a house, husband, children, or the deeper meaning we enjoy when we have someone to serve and care for. Like eating junk food for every meal, our sexual and dating culture makes things quick, easy, and convenient — but far from nourishing. 

In our current culture of normalized casual sex, when a woman says no because she likes a man, hopes to see him again, and wants him to commit to her, he often takes that as a sign that she’s not interested. It goes for men, too — I know men who have refrained from sex early on because they were seeking a committed relationship that would lead to marriage. Yet the woman took his unwillingness to jump into bed as a sign he wasn’t interested and broke it off. 

We have a broken culture, in which wanting a commitment before sex is seen as a lack of interest.

All of this is a sign of a deeply broken culture, in which wanting a commitment before becoming intimate is seen as a lack of interest, when it really should be an indicator someone is truly serious. 

Author Danielle Crittenden explains

Men and women, by the very nature of their biology, have different, and often opposing, sexual agendas. Eventually most women want children and, with them, a committed husband and father. Yet so long as there is no readily understood and accepted way for women to say no to men they like and hope to see again, women lose their power to demand commitment from men. In that sense, as women, we are all equal — in our powerlessness. The woman who holds back from sex, waiting for the right man to come along, will find that no right man does — because he can get what he needs elsewhere — just as the woman who gives herself freely discovers that she holds no firmer grasp over him, either. The sexual revolution, from a male point of view, could be summed up as, “You mean I get to do whatever I want — and then leave? Great!”

Women need to start holding the line en masse and refuse to give men low-cost sex so that men aren’t incentivized to leave. This will empower all women by creating a culture where men are expected to commit. It will also protect women from men who would use and discard them. It’s time to bring boundaries back.

Refusing to give men low-cost sex will protect women from men who would use and discard them. 

“The unfair, ugly fact about the mating dance is that so much of female sexual power depends upon withholding oneself,” said writer Lisa Schiffren in a 1997 essay for The Women’s Quarterly.

Closing Thoughts

The sexual revolution didn’t do away with the innate female desire for marriage and family — it only made these things harder to achieve. While many women think sexual freedom is the embodiment of their independence, sexual restraint is the only thing that can bring a husband, marriage, and family into existence. 

If women want our sexual power back, we have to stop giving men sex for free and demand commitment first. This is how we empower other women, too. Our current culture of hookups, one night stands, and endless Tinder swiping is demoralizing and exhausting. It leaves women powerless and unable to hang on to men for the long haul. Lifting other women up means harnessing our sexual power so that men have an incentive to commit to us instead of using us.