Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels introduced us to the idea of Produktionsverhältnisse, the thought that social relations are determined (or, in a weaker form, influenced by) the methods of production. They did mean it to cover all parts of life too, the way we work, the way we marry, the way we trade and so on. All of which leads to an interest in this:
Women who have several sexual partners before getting married have less happy marriages – but men do no harm by playing the field,a study has found.
According to new research by the National Marriage Project, more than half of married women who had only ever slept with their future husband felt highly satisfied in their marriage.
But that percentage dropped to 42 per cent once the woman had had pre-marital sex with at least two partners. It dropped to 22 per cent for those with ten or more partners.
But, for men, the number of partners a man they appeared to have no bearing on how satisfied they felt within a marriage.
Researchers said the study showed that sex with many different partners ‘may be risky’ if the woman is in search of a high-quality marriage.
It concluded: ‘Remember that what you do before you say ‘I do’ seems to have a notable impact on your marital future. So decide wisely.’
The findings were published in ‘Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?’, published at the University of Virginia.
Well, yes, there’s more than a modicum of special pleading going on in that. One explanation for it all is that the more experience of men a woman has the more she realises that most aren’t very good at this sex thing, leading to possible unhappiness with the Chosen One.
Being less cynical (and possibly less amusing) about it though it is true that one of the great societal changes of the last couple of generations has been the change in attitude towards virginity, pre-marital sex and so on. And that’s where Mark and Engels might well have been right: for the technology surrounding reproduction has changed in that time period too.
Time was when the only reliable method of knowing that a man was bringing up his own children was if his wife had been a virgin at marriage and chaste since then (no, not celibate, obviously). These days that’s simply not true: and the reference is not to DNA testing. Effective and reliable contraception has meant that, by and large, pregnancies are the result of an active decision. Thus that value of virginity and or chastity has fallen.
This is all allied with Gary Becker’s work on why the wages of prostitution are so high: it’s not, at root, a highly skilled job after all. But it does involve a high expenditure of social capital: thus the wages to compensate for that.
In a world where highly desirable men would insist upon having virgin wives then virginity had a high value. In a world where this is not so, for virginity is no longer the only valid assurance of not being pregnant by another, the value of that virginity has fallen.
And we can most certainly see this as being true in the society around us. Outside certain highly religious groups there simply is no value placed upon the virginity of a woman of marriageable age (something that has risen by about a decade as well).
So we might well say that the change in the technology of reproduction has led to those changes in social relations. Which would be interesting, to find something that the Bearded Ones were actually correct about.
This is not certain though, not certain that we’ve identified the correct technology. For the rise in pre-marital sex didn’t actually start with the pill, in the sixties. Rather, in the fifties, with the ability of penicillin to cure the clap. Which might make slightly more sense: human beings, young human beings especially, are known to be subject to hyperbolic discounting. Knowing that a horrible disease can be cured near immediately might well have more effect on behaviour than a longer term concern of the quality of a future marriage partner.