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Interview With Author of Premarital Sex in America

Premarital Sex in America: Better For Men?

How does casual sex impact men and women differently? Why are Americans waiting longer to marry? How is the Internet changing modern relationships? These are some of the questions sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker set out to answer in their new book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying. According to them, as it's increasingly easier for men to have sex with no strings attached, it becomes harder for women to find long-term relationships.

We report on sex and relationship studies all the time, but this time we decided to go straight to the source and ask the researcher Mark Regnerus some questions. Here's what he had to say:

TrèsSugar: Women have been warned before that one-night stands and casual sex won’t lead to serious relationships. What does your research add to the conversation that hasn’t already been said?

Mark Regnerus: With individual persons, anything is possible. I deal in the realm of the probable. Sleeping with someone just because you want to isn’t terribly empowering, and frankly it’s probably not very difficult, either. The sex may be great (or not), but casual sex makes getting commitment — when you want it — harder to get. Think about what happens to men as a collective when they can stably access sex without strings. Sex with strings comes to be seen as unnecessary. Men have to want to commit. Plenty eventually do, thankfully. But enough don’t, or they stall for years. This is why what other women do matters for what any given woman can expect.


TS: Some think that gender equality means women can have sex whenever they want, like men do. But you say that we value sex for men and women differently. How so?

MR: Again, I didn’t make this stuff up. Our book basically tested various pieces of the theory and find the data fit it pretty well. At its simplest, think about the value of men’s sexual behavior. Does any woman pay a man for it? No. But plenty of men pay women.

TS: Based on your research, what crucial piece of dating advice would you give a young woman?

MR: It’s not a quick step from data analysis of groups of people to personal advice. But the fact that people remain thirsty for advice suggests the problem is a very poignant one. Given that I primarily study sex, I suppose I would suggest to remember that sex is valuable. Men want it. Men will travel the globe to get it. They’ll fight for it. For the right woman, they’ll make all sorts of commitments to acquire it. And they’ll be patient for it. They’ll woo women. They’ll get to know them. But they won’t if they don’t have to. Attractive women often forget that they have so much power. Trading it away for little or nothing — or just because you feel like it — is foolish, in my observation. It’s a real waste. But this power is best wielded en masse, as a group. Women used to have each other’s back, but not anymore. Now they compete with each other.

TS: So what do you make of cohabitation before marriage? Find out after the jump!

MR: One of the problems with this question is that not all cohabitations are alike. The reasons people choose to do it matter, as does the timing. Cohabiting after engagement (rather than before it) appears to have the best success, in part because significant commitments have already occurred. As I say in the book, in the majority of cases, moving in together doesn’t achieve permanence. And yet most emerging adults will cohabitant.

First experiences with cohabitation have the best shot at ending in marriage, but it’s hardly a certainty. (People who live together multiple times with different people have the poorest shot at getting and staying married.) For lots of young adults, cohabitation is inviting because it mimics some of the more attractive aspects of marriage.

But like so many aspects of contemporary relationships, cohabitation is easier on men, and its popularity is a reflection of their strength in the sexual marketplace. Cohabitation is a win-win situation for men: more stable access to sex, without the expectations or commitments of marital responsibilities. The more difficult relationship problems don’t even have to be solved. (You’re not married, after all.) The impulse to spend more time with each other and to become more intimately familiar with each other is understandable. I get it. But cohabitation is still fundamentally about uncertainty and risk management. It’s holding back to see how things go. It feels logical in an era of relatively short relationships and plenty of family experiences with divorce. But few people like to dwell for long in uncertainty, so cohabitation has an inherent instability to it.

Come back tomorrow to find out what Mark Regnerus has to say about social networking, porn, and divorce.

Join The Conversation
Sweet-Words Sweet-Words 6 years
I'm somehow not the least bit surprised by this dude's writing. Sure, it may hold truth. But I'm in a serious relationship which includes great sex and whether it leads to marriage is too early to tell. I'm not even interested in marriage yet since I'm 19. So if it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'm just enjoying the ride....haha get it? In fact he was the first of the two of us who wanted a monogamous arrangement and I soon agreed. I was afraid of feeling stifled based on my last boyfriend who was often jealous and possessive. I say roll with the tides and don't look too desperate and it works. And if it doesn't, fuck that, he ain't the first and he ain't the last. Plenty of fish in the sea.
MSucre MSucre 6 years
Choco-cat, he doesn't seem to be "telling" people to do anything. He does research about men and women as a collective, studies trends through data analysis. If you all actually read his interview, he qualifies all of his statements in response to questions regarding individuals. Can't wait for the second installation Tres!
MSucre MSucre 6 years
Anonymous, how do you know that?
Choco-cat Choco-cat 6 years
The author (so I'm assuming the book as well, although I have not read it) appears to be of the conservative slant and wants to tell women how to behave, not up my alley. That said, I don't think casual sex is good for women - but I don't think it's good from men either!
MSucre MSucre 6 years
JessRose- I see what you're saying. One thing that the interview made me think about is that cohabitation doesn't have to be (and often isn't) a step towards marriage as in "pre-marital," but it's also not always a satisfactory alternative (especially for women, in my non-scientific experience). Maybe men and women both need to just be honest with themselves about what they really want from their sexual partners? Anyone going to see that new Natalie Portman movie?
JessRose JessRose 6 years
MSucre - I was mostly thinking about the pre-marital aspect of the article too... what I took away from the ending question was - it's ok to test the waters of marriage with cohabilitation - however, it might not be the best idea to replace marriage with cohabilitation. Just a random thought: Maybe couples should go into cohabilitation with marriage in mind - as if they could both agree that they would be serious about getting married some day... within the next year or so or whatever they can agree to, etc. etc. I know it's a stretch... (But I also don't buy into the mumbo-jumbo that cohabilitating ruins the engagement period...)
MSucre MSucre 6 years
Just did a bit of my own research and found a positive review for Regnerus's previous book "Forbidden Fruit" in the (peer reviewed) American Journal of Sociology which is published by some university in Illinois (U of Chicago)! Anthony Paik writes: In conclusion, Forbidden Fruit is a solid piece of social science, accompanied by a revealing yet intellectually honest postscript, and is a must‐read for those seeking to understand sexuality in adolescence. In his "unscientific postscript," Regnerus reveals his own perspective—that "sex is a moral act" and that humans yearn for more than just sexual gratification—arguing that "there is no value‐free perspective on sex" (p. 211). Now that we have proof of the authors' credibility and "intellectual honesty", can we talk about WHY everyone considers his findings so objectionable or sexist?? What are the implications?
MSucre MSucre 6 years
Whether or not he has an agenda, he also has a PhD like girlgreen says. As an academic myself, it's a dream to have my research reach a popular audience. But the context will determine the number of footnotes as well as whether or not it's peer reviewed. It's a trade off. And in terms of spacekatgal's outrage over Annie (not Anne) "serving [such a story] to us," since when does every story on tres need to be backed by a PhD? I come across enough dry writing in my day job. Personally I think it's interesting to get even a "conservative" sociological analysis of the eternal cow and milk dilemma. What do YOU people think about "non-marital" sex and non-marital cohabitation? That's what I'm interested in!
girlgreen girlgreen 6 years
Um, spacekatgal, if you'd spent more than "all of two seconds" on his website, you'd have gotten to his CV which says he has a Ph.D. in Sociology from UNC Chapel Hill. And his current "college in Texas" is UT Austin. If you're going to attack someone's credibility, do your own research first. And why did everyone just take skg's word for it that this guy might not be credible?
a-million-suns a-million-suns 6 years
UGH. This is totally unfair to BOTH genders. You're not only assuming that all women want is a commitment but also that all men want is sex. You're saying that as far as marriage goes, really the only draw for men is "stable access to sex." That's laughable. Men fall in love and have shmoopy feelings just like women do, and they crave emotional support just like women do. Why are you belittling your own gender and implying that men are really just brainless/heartless walking penises?
IdeaOfOrder IdeaOfOrder 6 years
The problem with the book is that it perpetuates the current sexual standard where men get to ascribe whatever they want to sex and women. I don't doubt that premarital sex may lead to less commitment from men.. this is an attitude toward women (why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free) that needs to change. We shouldn't just accept it as fact; it's borne of a set of cultural beliefs that have persisted, it doesn't make it right.
Annie-Gabillet Annie-Gabillet 6 years
Hi everyone. I'm loving the debate here. Just to clarify, my interview with this author was not meant to convey anything about my personal beliefs about casual sex or sex before marriage. The book has been cited in tons of articles, like these from CNN, The Guardian, and Consumer Reports, and I thought it would be useful to go straight to the source. Whether or not I agree with all his arguments, I still think that the book brings up some interesting ideas about casual sex. I thought it would spark an insightful discussion.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 6 years
Hahaha... I love that you've done some in depth research into this guy, since it appears TresSugar didn't have the forethought to do so. I may be speaking too soon, though. We'll see what the questions look like tomorrow.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 6 years
I have a lot of friends from Texas who are incredibly intelligent, lovely people, spacekatgal. That said, from a cultural standpoint, many Texans are proud of their far-right, Bible-belt attitude, so I'm still not surprised.
AgainAnew AgainAnew 6 years
Of course nowhere is *all* right-wingers. But I agree with spacekatgal and mondaymoos: Using "premarital" sex in the title and the fact that this guy is from Texas is pretty telling. It screams hidden agenda.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 6 years
Well, he is from Texas.
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