Ross Douthat wrote a column arguing that contemporary, socially liberal sexual mores are so traumatic for women (evidence: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., a novel), it’s enough to turn protective fathers of girls into Republicans.
Tellingly, actually inhabiting this romantic hellscape does not seem to have the same effect on women, whose significant preference for Democrats does not change with age. And some real-life women (including mothers of daughters) responded incredulously to Douthat’s argument. Yes, rejection and heartbreak sometimes make women sad, they explained, but their careers and their marriages work out better the longer they put off getting married. In the meantime, they would like to get laid. I’ll be fine, Dad!
Yesterday, Douthat defended himself thusly: These women are kidding themselves. They really do hate casual sex, “in the aggregate,” and we must not ignore this reality.
“If you look at the sociological literature on premarital sex and the attitudes surrounding it … you see fairly clear gender differences: In the aggregate (note: I said aggregate), women’s stated preferences incline them toward a somewhat longer period of dating before sex and a closer link between intimacy, monogamy and commitment. And then you also see a significant correlation between female happiness and the fulfillment of those preferences: The risk of depression, for instance, is much lower for women with stable relationships and a low number of overall sexual partners, a correlation which doesn’t appear to anything like the same degree for men.”
It’s only logical that women would state a preference for commitment — they will otherwise be socially ostracized as sluts, which can be depressing. Douthat admits that this is a “plausible-enough” explanation for the hookup happiness gap — it is in fact empirical — though, he argues, “somewhat incomplete.” Another study that may complete the picture for him: Some women may not like casual sex because their college one-night stands, weaned on porn, were technically inept. Maybe fathers would do their daughters a bigger favor by becoming sex educators instead of Republicans.
But Douthat’s biggest misconception is that his socially liberal and feminist critics believe all women should act like stereotypical men or be treated as “self-deceived and borderline pathological.” (I am incapable of the intellectual gymnastics, to borrow one of Douthat’s terms, necessary to project this argument onto their rebuttals.) On the contrary, plenty of men seem pretty messed up about sex, and I would not trade my hang ups for Nathaniel P.’s. All women want, in this debate, is for their sexual choices to be understood in terms of their specific social and economic circumstances, rather than prescribed to them at birth, on the basis of what parts are inside their diaper. And, more important, to be believed when they say that’s what they want.