Although 95 percent of Americans have premarital sex, Amanda Marcotte reminds us “there is still a shocking amount of anger, and many colorful epithets, aimed directly at women who indulge.” Why? Jesse Singal at Science of Us breaks down a recent study that finds a lot of the desire to control and punish female sexuality comes from the belief that women are, or should be, financially dependent on men. According to Singal:
In the paper, which consisted of two studies and was published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers from Brunel University asked a large group of Americans to rate their level of agreement with statements like “It is wrong for women to engage in promiscuous sex” and “It is fine for a woman to have sex with a man she has just met, if they both want to.” They also had them respond to statements gauging to what extent they viewed women as economically reliant on men — “Of the women I know who are in long-term heterosexual relationships, most do not depend very heavily on money contributed by their male partner,” and so on.
Overall, the more likely a given respondent believed women were economically dependent on men, the more likely they were to view female promiscuity as immoral. These were modest to medium effects, but they were statistically significant, even controlling for factors like religiosity and political conservatism.
The researchers argue that this may stem from long-standing cultural concerns about “paternity certainty” that linger on in more conservative circles despite the advent of birth control. “Beliefs,” they write, “may persist due to cultural evolutionary adaptive lag … that is, because the environment has changed faster than the moral system.” This suggests, I’d argue, that the recent upswing in hostility to birth control is an attempt to preserve these cultural norms.
This study goes a long way toward explaining one of the more peculiar aspects of the contraception mandate debate: the stalwart conservative insistence that the mandate is some sort of employer or even government giveaway, as opposed to an earned health insurance benefit. Along with telling women to close their legs, the conservative complaint has been: “Why should ‘we’ have to pay for it?” This, of course, makes no sense, as the Department of Health and Human Services mandate is about women paying for their own contraception, using insurance benefits they earn by working. Read more here. You’ll want to!