Thursday, October 21, 2004

Sex & Politics

According to a new survey, Republicans have better sex than Democrats. That is, when asked about their satisfaction with their sex lives, R’s give better responses in higher numbers than Democrats. Now, the obvious and probably correct explanation for the phenomenon is that men are both more likely to identify as Republicans and more likely to say they enjoy their sex lives, whereas women are more likely to identify as Democrats and less likely to say they enjoy their sex lives.

But why settle for a simple and correct explanation when you can have a more complex economic one? Naturally, I have a theory. It seems reasonable to assume sex has diminishing marginal returns within a given time period. Your first act in a week brings the highest added satisfaction, your second act less satisfaction, your third even less than the second, etc. Each act is still satisfying, and thus increases your total satisfaction – but at the same time, it will decrease your average satisfaction per sex act. For instance, if your first and second sex acts brought satisfaction of 9 and 7 respectively, your total is 16 and your average is 8. But if you have a third sex act with a satisfaction of 5, your total rises to 21 while your average falls to 7.

So here’s my hypothesis, for which I have no evidence whatsoever: Democrats have more sex than Republicans, and when surveyed people tend to report their average satisfaction per sex act rather than their total satisfaction. Alternatively, people might report their satisfaction as a function of their most recent sex acts. Republicans, having had fewer sex acts, are likely to report a high marginal value, whereas Democrats, having had more, are likely to report a low marginal value.


Steven Horwitz said...

I always enjoy wrong and complex economic explanations, so let me give you an equally complex but possibly correct one. :) I can't speak for anyone else, but as far as I'm concerned, sex as increasing marginal utility!! The more I have, the better it gets.

More seriously, are you confusing marginal utility with subjective satisfaction? Sure, the first hour of sex each week will deliver the most MU on economic grounds, but that's not the same thing as the hedonic notion of utility. There it may well be that those who have more sex report it being more enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

It's common knowledge that guilt interferes with one's enjoyment of sex. Therefore, it is no surprise that Republicans, particularly the Bush gang members have guiltlessly screwed the American people much to their glee and satifaction. Alright, if you are talking about screwing literally, then the same phenomenom holds. Need proof? Jews are overwhelmingly Democratic and everybody knows about the Jewish guilt complex. I rest my case.

Illy said...

Damn, Steven took the words out of my mouth!
Glen, I think you're confusing marginal utility with attributed value. If you haven't had sex in a while, you are likely to consider sex a much bigger deal *and* be more dissatisfied with your sex life than if you are getting your nookie on a regular basis. But the question concerned satisfaction, not attributed value.
Also, to put a thong-feminist spin on the results, the fact that more men (R.) report satisfaction with their sex lives than women (D.) might suggest that men are bastardly insensitive to women's needs. And how could women possibly be satisfied by such insensitive bastards?
My personal favorite is the fact that more Ds are likely to fake orgasms than Rs. Maybe that should tell the voting public something...

Steven Horwitz said...

In a private email, Glen asked me to clarify my comments about utility. Let me give it a whack.

For Austrian types like me, marginal utility does not refer to the psychological feeling of happiness that people feel. The old Econ 101 example of the first piece of cake tasting really good, etc, is not what MU is about. It is simply about the ranking value of the ends that a particular means satisfies. It's not about how the cake tastes but the importance of the hunger you address.

I suspect that when people report "satisfaction" with their sex lives, they ARE talking about the hedonic (psychological) notion of utility. If I'm asked "how happy are you with your sex life?" and even if, as Glen assumes, I report on my last enounter, it may be the case that I report higher levels of satisfaction the more sex I'm having, not because I'm confusing totals and marginals, but because I'm reporting on how the last sexual encounter FELT rather than the importance of the sexual want it fulfilled.

Put more crudely, if I'm really horny, the first hour of sex will have higher MU than the second hour, because the importance of the end, hence the importance of the mean, is greater. However, if you ask me how satisfied I am with my sex life, I'm going to talk about how I FEEL about it, which is something different than its marginal utility. In such a case, the second hour may feel better than the first. But that's not MU as Austrians understand it.

Somehow I fear I've confused things more. ;)

Damn Austrians.

Anonymous said...

The Sex in America survey found being married to be a big determinant of happiness w/ one's sex life. Republican are a lot more likely to be married. So not only gender, but also marital status could be explaining it.


Steven Horwitz said...

Perhaps this example would clarify my distinction between hedonic satisfaction and marginal utility. For an Austrian, there's nothing contradictory about someone saying that the second glass of water they drink *tastes better* than the first one. For Austrians, the first one would still have higher marginal utility as it was devoted to a more valued end, but it's possible that the second glass just *tastes* better (perhaps because the thirst was so urgent with the first glass that it wasn't even "tasted.")

For Austrians, marginal utility is not the first derivative of total utilty. If I may quote from a paper of mine on "The Austrian Marginalists" chapter 17 in *The Blackwell Companion to the History of Economic Thought,* Warren J. Samuels, Jeff E. Biddle, John B. Davis, editors, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003, pp. 262-77.

<<“Menger’s margin” involves a notion of “marginal” that is clearly ordinal and not cardinal. Beyond that, it does not refer to the first derivative of a hypothesized utility function. Utility, for Menger and the Austrians more generally, is not a measurable quantity of pleasure (White 1995). Utility is the “capacity,” ascribed to a good by humans, to satisfy some need, not the hedonic sensation that a good produces when it satisfies that need. Thus, the “marginal utility” of a good is the the capacity of a “concrete quantity” of that good to satisfy the least important specific need that it can satisfy. Faced with several buckets of water and several possible uses of that water (bathing, human consumption, animal consumption, washing clothes), the marginal utility of water will be equal to the value of the least important of those needs it is believed to have the capacity to satisfy. It is not a “feeling” nor is it the first derivative of a total utility function. It is the value attached to the specific need fulfilled by the specific amount of a good believed to have the capacity to satisfy that need.>>

Glen Whitman said...

I concede that utility is not synonymous with hedonic pleasure, though I do think they have a tendency to track one another. Hedonic pleasure is one important source of utility.

As for your Austrian definition of MU, defined as the value of the need/want met by the last unit, I think this definition leaves out an important source of disutility -- namely, the reduction in value of all units that results from increasing consumption, which I dub "diminishing typical utility" or DTU in my next post. Although I ultimately concluded that DTU is a special case of DMU under the neoclassical definition of MU as the change in total utility, apparently your Austrian definition would indeed regard DTU as a distinct phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

I think we are leaving out something very simple here. If one values their relationship very high then they wouldn't be longing for other options. What lowers our value on our relationships and which carries over to our sex lives is that of other options. When people begin to look other places, not cheating, but wishing for that girl in the magazine or that hot sex in that one movie, that is when we start to value or relationships less and then our sex less. So I would say that the Dems need to enjoy and value what they have and in turn they will enjoy the whoopie even more. The opportunity cost of sex with your partner decreases with the more options you begin to long for. It's as simple as that.

Anonymous said...

OK, there are two factors going on here. So far as sexual satisfaction either increasing or decreasing with repeated performances, you are probably assuming that each time it's with the same partner. For me, monogamy is like eating the same meal day in, day out, 365 days a year, which is likely to decrease the satisfaction factor, even if the "meal" was originally your favorite meal of all time. Having variety in our meals is likely to increase satisfacton in eating in general, and will also make us appreciate that favorite "meal" more. And so it is for me when it comes to sex....variety is the spice of life.

Secondly, in previous sex studies, it's been shown that women tend to be less reticent in reporting their true sexual experiences and desires only when total anonymity is assured. When the study is set up so that the researchers will know who gave which answers, the "good girl" factor is likely to come into play and women will tend to minimize their sexual experiences and attitudes. Thus, this would affect the male/Republican, female/Democrat skew.