Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Liberal women want more sex.

Controversial sociologist Mark Regnerus has been fooling around with the New Family Structures Survey.  Back in June, Regnerus used the NFSS data to conclude that gay parents are bad for children.  Now, he runs the regressions and finds that liberalism leaves women sexually dissatisfied.

Question:“Are you content with the amount of sex you’re having?”

The possible answers:

  • Yes
  • No, I’d prefer more
  • No, I’d prefer less

The differences were clear.

Those liberal women, they try and they try and they try; they can’t get no… satisfaction. Hey, hey, hey — that’s what they say.

The differences held even with controls for how much sex the woman had had recently.  Nor did adding other possible explanatory variables dampen the effect:

[T]he measure of political liberalism remains significantly associated with the odds of wanting more sex even after controlling for the frequency of actual intercourse over the past two weeks, their age, marital status, education level, whether they’ve masturbated recently, their anxiety level, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, depressive symptoms, and porn use.

Regnerus says he was puzzled and asked an economist friend for her explanation.  She, like Regnerus, is a serious Christian, and saw it as a matter of seeking “transcendence.”  Liberal women want to have more sex because they feel the lack of sufficient transcendence in life and seek it in sex.  Conservative women find transcendence in the seemingly mundane — “sanctifying daily life” — so they do not need sex for transcendence.  Or as Regnerus puts it, “Basically, liberal women substitute sex for religion.”

To test this idea, Regnerus controlled for religious attendance.  When he did,  “political liberalism finally went silent as a predictor.”  Churchgoing liberals were no more insatiable than were their sexually content conservative co-worshipers.

So here’s the scenario.  All women want transcendence.  Since liberal women are not religious, they seek transcendence in sex and don’t find it.  They’re dissatisfied, but they cling to the idea that sex will bring them transcendence if only they have more of it.   So they keep looking for transcendence in all the wrong places.  Conservative women seek transcendence in religion and in everyday activities.  And that works.

Conclusion: Religion is deeply satisfying; sex, not so much.

This explanation, with its attribution of psychological-spiritual longing, makes some huge assumptions about what’s going on inside women’s heads.

I can offer a contrasting sociological explanation for Regnerus’ findings.  It looks not to deep inner longings for transcendence but to social norms, beliefs, and values.  It rests on the assumption that people’s desires are shaped by external forces, especially the culture of the social world they live in.  In some groups, sex for women is good, so it’s OK for them to want more sex.  In other social worlds, sex for women has a lower place on the scale of values.  It is less of a “focal concern.”

These differences make for differences in who is content with what — a liberal, East Coast man and a WASP woman from the Midwest, for example:

Can we really say that the difference here is about spiritual transcendence?

In some social worlds, a woman can never be too thin or too rich.  In those worlds, women diet and exercise in a way we might find obsessive.  But that’s what their culture rewards.  Some cultures hold that sex is a good thing — certainly more pleasurable than dieting and exercising — therefore,  more is better.  In some social worlds, that’s the way some people feel about money.  Are these desires really about transcendence, or they about cultural values?

Oh, and on the sexual discontent matter, there are two other possibilities that may not to have occurred to Regnerus: (1) maybe conservative men are better lovers; they satisfy their conservative bedmates in ways liberals can only dream of.   Or (2) conservative men are so bad at sex that when you ask their partners if they want more, the answer is, “No thanks.”


Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University.  You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.