Are Women Pressuring One Another To Have Sex Like Men?

In a new book, two sociologists say they are -- and that it's a very bad idea.

woman and men with pants down
(Image credit: Teresa Guerrero/istock)

During their time as undergrads, do women learn to undervalue themselves sexually? Do they learn to have sex on a man's watch? Do they take those early sexual lessons out into the "real world" with them?

In a new book, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying, two sociologists argue that lady co-eds do exactly that. Because there are typically fewer men than women on any given college campus at any given time (in recent decades, women have consistently outnumbered men in higher education) the idea that men are more scarce and therefore more "valuable" than women dominates the collegiate "sexual marketplace." As a result, college women feel pressure to agree to the sexual demands of men. The thinking goes that, since women are so plentiful, a man who isn't getting what he wants from one girl could easily move on to the next.

The problem, however, is that research has shown young women often feel unhappy when they have sexual encounters on a man's timetable. As such, the authors urge young women to wait to have sex until they feel completely comfortable doing so.

Co-author Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, opened up about some of the interest topics in his book.

Why Women Have Sex

Women pursue sex for lots of reasons — including because of simple attraction and arousal. But for women, as opposed to men, there's almost always more going on than simple lust. Many of them hope that a relationship will begin or endure as a result of a sexual encounter. And that kind of longing intensifies as they move further into their 20s.

Why Men Have Sex

Men, as Billy Crystal once joked, don't really need a reason for sex — just a place. That oversimplifies them, to be sure, but they lean more in that direction.

The "Myth of the Sexual Double Standard"

We think it's important for women to recognize that the sexual double standard won't disappear by their efforts. It's bizarre to watch women challenging each other to act — sexually — like men. Women and men are inherently different, sexually. To reduce that difference by suggesting women ought to try to act, think, and feel like men is kind of sad.

How Men Make Long-Term Relationship Decisions

Another reason to come to grips with the double standard is that men make long-term relationship decisions differently than women, and easy access to sex does nothing to accelerate their desire to commit. I'd like to say that whatever women decide about sex in their relationships won't alter how those relationships mature. But it's just not true. Men will do amazing things — including being patient, winsome, and productive — in pursuit of sex. But they won't if they don't have to.

How Women Can Resist Sexual Pressure

If women pursue friendships with other women who likewise share a common vision for waiting till later to have sex in romantic relationships, those friendship networks can be powerful forces. The behaviors of the people we know and like matters a great deal. For example, a fraternity plays a part in securing access to easy, cheap sex in the lives of the brothers. Peer groups can contest that vision. When a majority of women agree to sex relatively early in a relationship, the minority who wishes for security and commitment before sex will simply find it difficult to accomplish. They're being underbid. It's a market out there, not a set of independent relationships. There's no such thing as discreet. Our choices now — and the choices of others around us — shape how we get to conduct our next relationship. It's not at all surprising that men are slow to commit. Like I said, men can be great about doing so, but only under pressure.