Sexual economics: sex as female resource for social exchange in heterosexual interactions

Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2004;8(4):339-63. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr0804_2.


A heterosexual community can be analyzed as a marketplace in which men seek to acquire sex from women by offering other resources in exchange. Societies will therefore define gender roles as if women are sellers and men buyers of sex. Societies will endow female sexuality, but not male sexuality, with value (as in virginity, fidelity, chastity). The sexual activities of different couples are loosely interrelated by a marketplace, instead of being fully separate or private, and each couple's decisions may be influenced by market conditions. Economic principles suggest that the price of sex will depend on supply and demand, competition among sellers, variations in product, collusion among sellers, and other factors. Research findings show gender asymmetries (reflecting the complementary economic roles) in prostitution, courtship, infidelity and divorce, female competition, the sexual revolution and changing norms, unequal status between partners, cultural suppression of female sexuality, abusive relationships, rape, and sexual attitudes.

MeSH terms

  • Courtship / psychology
  • Economics*
  • Extramarital Relations / psychology
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Heterosexuality / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Psychological Theory
  • Rape / psychology
  • Sex Work / psychology
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*