Dear Economist: Strategic virginity

Dear Economist,
I am a woman in my early 30s. I am also a virgin. Should I be?
Gloria, New York

Dear Gloria,
Let me lay out the relevant economic theory and evidence. Theory first: economists have often theorised that women should have evolved preferences to be more careful than men about whom they have sex with. The basic reasoning is that it takes a woman nine months to produce a baby, while it takes a man about 90 seconds. However, birth control is much better than it was in the environment in which these preferences evolved. Perhaps, then, your preferences are more cautious than they should be.

What about the evidence? The economist Alan Collins, in a paper titled Surrender Value of Capital Assets: The Economics of Strategic Virginity Loss, assesses whether men and women lose their virginity in different circumstances. The key conclusion is that almost 60 per cent of women say they lost their virginity because they were in love; just over 35 per cent of men offered this reason. Collins believes this supports the socio-biological view that women are making an investment when they lose their virginity, and so need to choose their partners with care. Men are simply engaging in consumption – that is, having fun.

Collins also discovers that people who found out about sex by talking with friends (rather than, for instance, from books) were more likely to lose their virginity for non-romantic reasons. Perhaps they wanted something to talk about. I suggest that you get some friends over for a girly chat about the facts of life. All investments should begin with research.

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Tim Harford’s blog

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.