Sunday, August 03, 2014

Spoonfuls of sugar

Understanding that pill-based contraceptives increase estrogen levels as a means of essentially tricking a woman's body into thinking she's already pregnant and that studies have shown changes in female mate preferences when on the pill compared to when off of it (relatively more interested in betas when on and in alphas when off), I wonder if the increase in regular pill-based contraceptive use might be contributing to the decrease in promiscuity among contemporary American women*--especially younger women--compared to women a generation or two in the past.

I'm able to find research and commentary on the potentially disruptive affects switching on (or off) the pill during a relationship that began when off (or on) it can have, but not an attempt to systematically look at the influence increasing pill penetration into the US market has had on sexual behavior. Here are a couple of graphs from a CDC report that give some sense of how pill usage has increased over time--a trend that is unlikely to reverse with health insurance providers being mandated to include coverage for contraception:



This is speculative, of course, and the increases in the share of sexually active women using the pill at any given time has only increased from the low teens to the upper teens over the last thirty years (though NAMs are less likely to use the pill (p8) and the NAM percentage of the population has increased markedly in the last three decades) so any associated affects on mate choice probably only matter at the margins. Still, the thought that something putatively liberating like the pill could actually be gently shifting female preferences in the direction of mundane providers and away from bad boys is kind of funny.

* Based on self-reported behavioral surveys and sexually-transmitted disease rates. It is possible that women low-ball their partner counts more now than in the past. That doesn't seem particularly likely, however, since slut-shaming was presumably worse in the past than it is today, and consequently the expectation would be for women to be more honest than ever before because "omg don't judge!"

3 comments:

Jokah Macpherson said...

That is a really interesting report. I was surprised that at "typical usage" the spray and pray contraceptive method is only about a percentage point less effective than a condom. Probably don't want that knowledge to become too widespread.

I'm sure there's some conclusion to be drawn that the male sterilization method occurs in white men at over 400% of the rate of other groups. Draw your own conclusion.

Steve Johnson said...

"
* Based on self-reported behavioral surveys and sexually-transmitted disease rates. It is possible that women low-ball their partner counts more now than in the past. That doesn't seem particularly likely, however, since slut-shaming was presumably worse in the past than it is today, and consequently the expectation would be for women to be more honest than ever before because "omg don't judge!" "

Unprovable but here's what I believe about this:

Women underreport in a specific manner - they don't precisely calculate the damage to their reputation and the environment of acceptability of the conduct. What they do is ignore stuff that "doesn't count" for one reason or another.

Had sex with 6 guys on spring break? Doesn't count.

Got fucked in the bathroom of a nightclub? Doesn't count.

Etc.

If that's the accurate model (I think it is but, again, it's almost impossible to prove) then any increase in the types of incidents that are likely to be ignored won't show up on surveys.

Doesn't explain about the STD rates though.

Audacious Epigone said...

Jokah,

Hah, thanks for pointing that out. It's worth it's own quick post.

Steve,

It could conceivably be that the AIDS/STDs scare of the last a couple decades has sunk in over time and now when people act 'recklessly' they are still more likely to at least take basic precautionary steps like using condoms.