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Gender + Sexuality

How the Economy Is Affecting Your Pants

Relationship sex is down, cheating is up.

Vanessa Richmond 29 Oct

Tyee contributing editor Vanessa Richmond writes the Schlock and Awe column about popular culture and the media.

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To jump or to cheat: a crash-induced dilemma.

Softening up, crashing, going down, failing to launch, losing firmness -- it seems sex and money, or at least libido and the economy, have more in common than language.

In "Sexual Recession" in Forbes this week, Dr. Ruth cautions that people anxious about diminishing investments or "looming pink slips should turn their attention to a side effect of the present economic tsunami: the way it's washing away the love lives of couples caught up in the rushing waters. Stress, depression and anxiety all wreak havoc on the libido."

She talks about one couple in which a man fears he'll lose his job, which is affecting his sense of manhood, and therefore his sexual desire. He didn't want to burden his wife with his problems, so didn't tell her about any of this. His wife interpreted his silence and lack of interest to mean he was having an affair. Dr. Ruth says there will be many such misunderstandings in this kind of economy, and many will lead to divorce, because without sex, relationships fail. She says the cures are good communication, and the French approach: "L'appetit vient en mangeant," which means, "your appetite comes as you eat." Basically, take your clothes off, get into bed together, and it'll all work out. Otherwise, the "failing financial systems will rob you of the profits of your relationships" too.

Labouring in 'Splitsville'

"Will the Market Kill Your Marriage" is Time's offering on the subject. "Recession and divorce, it is said, go together like carriage and horse." And those "who labour in Splitsville" have three theories as to why.

"There's the lawyer theory, that money provides the soft fatty tissue that insulates the marital skeleton; once it's cut back and people get a good look at the guts of their relationship, they want out. And there's the marriage-counsellor theory, that couples who were never quite on the same page in the checkbook finally get pushed off the ledger by endless bickering over their dwindling resources. And the therapist theory, that financial worries cause stress, stress can cause depression, and depression is a total connubial buzz kill."

It also floats a few new theories: some lawyers say that as stock prices have plunged, they've received inquiries from business owners and investors "looking to unhitch now, with the idea that being poorer on paper will work to their advantage when dividing assets." Nice.

And one Cambridge University researcher has just done a study measuring the naturally occurring steroids in 17 British male traders over time and found high levels of testosterone during bull markets and of cortisol during volatility. "Cortisol helps the body deal with threatening situations. But prolonged exposure to it, as during a lengthy downturn, makes people irrationally fearful, so when confronted with neutral situations -- say, that their spouse would like the leaves raked -- they react as if threatened. In other words, men can get funny when they're losing money."

The best/worst one night stand

It's not just sex but love that gets less trade. This week, there's also a sad essay by Salon's Sarah Hepola in Nerve called "Up in Smoke: How the Financial Crisis Ruined my Love Life" about a one night stand she had with a transactional lawyer. In the morning, she had decided she would either marry this guy or never see him again. Three days later, with no phone call ("I have no qualms about calling men, but I had come to a place where it was simply more interesting for me to be pursued") she figured it was the latter.

The next day, she got a text message from him: "I lost my job this week. I lost all my money in the stock market. I think my mom is seriously ill, and I'm probably moving back to Florida later this week. I don't think we can date right now." About half of her friends believed him (mostly fellow New Yorkers) and the other half didn't. She does. Given the rest of the story, I do too (sap that I am). Times are tough for the heart and body.

Sex writers are also losing their jobs -- despite the popularity of these three stories this week. In "Sex Writing Goes Limp," Tracy Clark-Flory lists the many writers who have been laid off (her joke, not mine). People don't even want to read about sex anymore -- all the calories in their information diet are spent on the market.

What I don't see in all of the debate is any talk about evolutionary development or psychology. When times were tough around the hunter-gatherer campfire, I doubt there was much hanky panky -- they wouldn't be able to feed the little ones. Couldn't that be at play here? In current times, with the market down, so is sex, and with housing prices too high, so is the childlessness rate. Plus ca change, no? Or are Wall Street (and Bay Street), the credit crunch and $700 billion bailouts so far from nature that it's not even relevant to raise the issue?

Closing the 'adultery gap'

The only kink in all of this (sorry) is that cheating is up. Time says so, though says it's of course pretty hard to track. "Study after study shows that men deal with stress through escapism and women deal with it by talking."

Today's New York Times article agrees about the cheating rates, but suggests Time is wrong about the woman question. In "Love, Sex and the Changing Landscape of Infidelity," the NYT reports that "Infidelity appears to be on the rise, particularly among older men and young couples." The culprits: Viagra, and Internet porn and its values, respectively.

It also reports, "Notably, women appear to be closing the adultery gap: younger women appear to be cheating on their spouses nearly as often as men." It's either that feminism has empowered women to feel entitled to more satisfaction, or simply to report what they've always been doing -- thinking there's more to their gender identity than kittens and good housekeeping. Good news?

There is some good news. Time reports that "A study that correlated Playboy centerfolds with market conditions found that men like fuller-figured women more in lean times than in boom times. The APA study showed that when stressed, women liked to eat. Bingo!"

So people are losing their homes, their jobs and their savings, or worrying about all three anyway; they're not having sex with their spouses and they're getting divorced. But things are looking up, sizing up and heating up: there's equal opportunity cheating and eating. And there are funny videos to watch: like Ricky Gervais and Thandie Newton reading the Nailin' Palin porno. That's kind of a positive sex story, err, right?

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