Love, sex, and the internet

The Economist recently ran a great report on how the internet has changed dating and mating. Mostly for the better.

It has brought much efficiency and rationality to what was a haphazard process of seeking a partner. I know. First single in the early ’70s, I had to get out and beat the bushes. It was hard work. Joining every poetry group in sight. Even spelunking — one of the worst experiences of my life (and no girls showed up).

The internet vastly expands the pool of potential mates, making it easier to find someone. And not just anyone. As The Economist points out, we all have our criteria. Religious compatibility is a big one. People do hook up in church, but online it’s actually easier to zero in on good targets. This is especially true for gays, for whom only a small percentage of the overall population are possible prospects. Now 70% of gays find their partners online. Even for straights, it’s fast becoming the commonest way couples meet.

Some might consider the idea of getting dates online icky. Surely no more so than in bars. (A nondrinker, girl-hunting in bars was not for me. I couldn’t imagine being interested in a girl who’d hang out in bars.) In fact, the internet gives one a better opportunity to vet prospects before meeting in person.

The bottom line is that because this does enable people to hone in on potential partners based on compatibility factors, those who pair up that way have longer and happier marriages, studies have shown.

The article reports some fascinating data about how people rate potential dates. Female desirability starts high at age 18, then descends sharply in an almost straight line. Men, in contrast, start off lower (no sensible gal wants a guy under thirty, my wife remarked), with desirability ratings rising gradually, peaking at 45-50, and falling only gently thereafter.

Ethnically, the highest desirability ratings are garnered by white men and Asian women, whereas Asian men rank in the basement, above only black women, and markedly lower than black men. Why rate Asian females so highly? Methinks a whole lot of stereotyping going on. (Men who imagine Asian women as docile haven’t read the Tiger Mother book.)

On average, both men and women concentrate on prospects who are rated (by others) 25% more attractive than themselves.

On China’s leading dating app, Tantan, men tend to like 60% of all female profiles they see, whereas women like just 6% of the male ones. Thus the least attractive women do as well as the most desirable men; while the men rated least attractive are lost causes. (Realize that Chinese gals are in a seller’s market, due to the past one-child policy, and sex-selective abortion, resulting in an excess of men.)

*   *   *

There’s one big facet of the internet The Economist didn’t mention, with huge implications for male-female relations, that are not good: pornography. I am no censorious prude; my libertarianism is okay with folks getting jollies from porn if they like. And it’s not the case that people are growing raunchier — rather, it’s that we have far wider opportunities now to gratify our proclivities, which by itself is a positive for human happiness.

But pornography has to skew how men see and relate to women. In past times social constraints made women terra incognita to men; closed books they had no way to read. Most marriage partners being thusly aliens to each other didn’t serve connubial bliss. Opening the book is a good thing, but there can be too much of a good thing. Putting it differently: women (and their bodies) used to be mysterious to men; but no longer. “In olden days a glimpse of stocking was something shocking” — now naked women are everywhere.

Often more attractive than the one in your bedroom. And they don’t talk back or nag, too. Some men today find they’d rather relate to available fantasy women than real ones. (Especially in Japan, where many men shy away from flesh-and-blood women, while women don’t see this as much of a loss.)*

The lure of screens draws men away not only from wives and lovers, but also from work. The phenomenon of young males dropping out of the workforce to hole up in their parents’ basements playing video games has become a real thing. I haven’t seen any actual studies, but suspect gaming isn’t the sole attraction. This cannot be good for economic productivity.

Heaven help us when online porn gets to the next level, jazzed up with virtual reality and beyond. Who’s going to be doing any work? Well, actually, women, who tend to be much less susceptible to such stuff than men. Here’s a nice sci-fi concept: our future society with all the men whacked out with porn, leaving women to run everything.

A program on The New Yorker Radio Hour cued me to another point I hadn’t considered. As a longtime political observer, I’d felt sure “grab them by the pussy” would kill Trump’s candidacy. That it didn’t shocked me, and I’ve struggled to understand the societal change this signals. New Yorker suggested porn as an explanatory factor. Porn has a long history of course but until lately it lurked in the shadows, not visible in our everyday cultural landscape. That has changed. It’s not the whole explanation, but perhaps a significant part of it. In a society where sexuality in the crude form of porn is now ubiquitous and taken for granted, “grab them by the pussy” mightn’t seem nearly as big a violation of norms as it once would have. And, alas, this coarsening effect is larger — Trump has pornographized our whole civic culture.

* At dinner, I blew my nose; and while I had the tissue in my hand, I unthinkingly used it to wipe off a spot of sauce that had dripped on the table. “Did you just wipe snot on the table?” my wife asked. “Men!”

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