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Sexonomics 101
Kelly Colón
Sex Advice Column

In my high school, girls made up about 70% of the student body. (My school’s main focus was health and health-related careers, so perhaps that’s why the female-to-male ratio was so high.) It was common knowledge that a lot of girls were sleeping around, as were a lot of the guys. The school was small, with fewer than 700 students, so rumors spread quickly and it was easy to check your sources.

I thought, “How surprising that the girls want to sleep with these guys.” For one thing, there were too few guys to allow for much variety or selection when it came to choosing someone to date or sleep with. Besides, it seemed that there should be power in numbers. If there were more girls at the school, I thought, they could hold out on having sex with the guys and the guys would have to deal with it.

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But apparently, I was wrong. The opposite is true, according to an article I read recently about a study of high school dating patterns. The study looked at high schools where there were more females than males, and vice versa.

Guys in Demand

The article—“Freaks, Geeks, and Economists” by Annie Lowrey, published in the online magazine slate.com in November 2010—discusses the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (“Add Health”). This study’s findings suggest that high school dating follows the economic concept of “supply and demand.” In economics, the smaller the supply relative to demand, the more the supplier can charge. When girls outnumber boys, the girls are in competition for guys—so the demand for guys is high, while the actual supply is low.

How does this affect sex and relationships? The study found that a majority of high school guys want to have sex, while a majority of high school girls do not and are more interested in relationships. But when a low supply of guys throws girls into competition, girls become more willing to have sex “in order to ‘match’ with a high-school boy,” Lowrey writes. You could almost say that when the demand for guys is greater than the supply, guys can “charge” girls sex as the price of being with them, and more girls will decide that the price is worth it. (Of course, these negotiations aren’t spelled out—the idea is that girls and guys are aware, maybe unconsciously, of how much competition they have or don’t have.)

As Lowrey concludes, “In schools with more boys than girls, the girls hold more cards and have less sex. Where there are more girls, the male preference for sex tends to win out.”

Who Are You Calling ‘Slut’?

When you look at it this way, the study’s findings don’t surprise me after all. Though guys may not directly pressure girls for sex, I know girls often feel a sense of competition among themselves. In my school there have been a few altercations because of girls wanting certain guys, and this extreme competition probably happens at every school where guys are in the minority.

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Yet it seems ironic and unfair that girls are the ones getting pressured by guys’ preference to have sex—and also the ones getting the “slut” label placed on them when they give in to that pressure. If guys are the ones who want sex so badly, why are they never “sluts”?

Maybe it’s because we’ve somehow accepted the idea that all guys are sex-crazed and girls aren’t, so we make more of a big deal out of a girl who’s willing to put out. This isn’t fair to either sex because we are making generalizations that cause almost everyone to look bad somehow.

Find a Bigger Pool

On college campuses where girls outnumber boys, girls will also put up with more bad behavior from boyfriends. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, girls outnumber boys 3 to 2. One female student told the New York Times, “[Cheating is] a thing that girls let slide, because you have to … If you don’t let it slide, you don’t have a boyfriend.” It seems like where there are more girls, a girl is less likely to get what she wants out of a relationship—or to have a real relationship at all. If a girl wants a relationship with a guy and he’d prefer no strings attached, he can move on to the next girl.

The idea that many girls just put up with infidelity because they fear losing a boyfriend bothers me. It doesn’t seem worth it to compromise everything in a relationship just so you can say you have a boyfriend. What does it even mean to have a relationship, if one person is sacrificing to make things work and the other person is taking advantage?

The “dating market” doesn’t exist only in schools; it may also affect whole communities. A recently published book, Is Marriage for White People?, looks at the decline of marriage among African-Americans. The author is Ralph Richard Banks, a black Stanford Law School professor. Almost twice as many black women as black men graduate from college, Banks notes. He argues that many single, educated black women would prefer to be married, but they don’t get to call the shots because they greatly outnumber single, educated black men.

“If men are in short supply and women are abundant, then men have more power in the relationship and some men will enjoy that power and become less inclined to marry,” Banks explained in an interview with salon.com.

I thought that where there are more females, girls would take a stand for their own interests. I would have thought they’d say “no” to guys who go after more than one girl. Tolerating cheating, or agreeing to sex when you don’t really want to, is an unnecessary compromise.

My advice to girls out there who are in a community with a high female-to-male ratio is to be aware of the “dating market” and avoid playing into it. There are always guys out there, even if they’re in other schools or communities. Don’t limit yourself to accepting a guy who may not be worth it.

This story is part of the media/news literacy series, which is generously supported by the McCormick Foundation.

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(NYC-2011-11-28)