So observes University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus in his great and deeply unsettling new book Cheap Sex, which is about changing practices of mating and marriage. He doesn’t really phrase it like that, but he does point out sociological data showing that “more politically liberal young-adult women report wanting more sex than they have been having.” Regnerus says the percentage of women who said they would prefer to have more sex is as follows:

  • 16 percent of “very conservative” women
  • 30 percent of “conservative” women
  • 38 percent of moderate women
  • 44 percent of “liberal” women
  • 53 percent of “very liberal” women

Why is this? Regnerus writes:

[P]olitical identity today likely captures embeddedness in distinctive worldviews, sets of meanings, and ideas about the self and relationships. With regard to sex and sexuality in America, being politically liberal tends to mean valuing sexual expression as a good-in-itself, not only as a means to an end or contingent on the context (such as being in a relationship or being married). Talk of “sexual health” is also more common among them and typically takes acts of sexual expression for granted. In this perspective, it is a moral good to express one’s sexuality in actions of one’s own free choosing. Pleasure is reached for and should be. In keeping with this, liberal women are more than twice as likely as conservative women to report past-week and past-day masturbation.

More (I photographed this passage from the book):

That was Regnerus’s hypothesis. So,  he crunched the numbers to account for religious service attendance, importance of religion, “and a unique measure of having become less religious in the past decade” to see if the hypothesis could be grounded in data. What he found was that among young adult women, it’s not really political liberalism that correlates with wanting more sex (no matter how much one is having), but rather one’s loss of religious belief. 

Regnerus continues:

In a world increasingly bereft of transcendence, sexual expression is emerging as an intrinsic value. Sex is the new opium of the masses, [social psychologists Roy] Baumeister and [Kathleen] Vohs claim, a temporary heart in a heartless world. Unfortunately, something so immanent as sex will not — and cannot — function in the manner in which religion can, has, and does. (To be sure, some replace it with an appreciation and devotion to nature.) Sex does not explain the world. It is not a master narrative. It has little to offer by way of convincing theodicy But in a world increasingly missing transcendence, longing for sexual expression makes sense. It should not surprised us, however, that those who (unconsciously) demand sex function like religion will come up short. Maybe that is why very liberal women are also twice as likely to report being depressed or currently in psychotherapy than very conservative women.

You’ll have to buy Cheap Sex to read the whole thing, but I strongly recommend it.