Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date

1993

Center/Program

Center for Gender & Sexuality Law

Abstract

In 1929, James Thurber and E.B. White observed that

[d]uring the past year, two factors in our civilization have been greatly overemphasized. One is aviation. The other is sex.... In the case of aviation, persons interested in the sport saw that the problem was to simplify it and make it seem safe.... With sex, the opposite was true.... The problem in this case was to make sex seem more complex and dangerous. This task was taken up by sociologists, analysts, gynecologists, psychologists, and authors.... They joined forces and made the whole matter of sex complicated beyond [our wildest dreams].... Sex, which had hitherto been a physical expression, became largely mental. The country became flooded with books. The whole order of things changed. To prepare for marriage, young girls no longer assembled a hope chest-they read books on abnormal psychology. If they finally did marry, they found themselves with a large number of sex books on hand, but almost no pretty underwear.

In response to the inadequacies of this flood of books, most of them written by writers who "clearly hadn't been out much," Thurber and White undertook their classic study, Is Sex Necessary?, the first rational choice analysis of sex. Their results foreshadow by some sixty years the central themes of Richard Posner's Sex and Reason – an economic theory of sexuality. Thus both books are concerned with such issues as these:

Substitutionality: Compare Posner's discussion of the "superheated heterosexual [who] may not be able to find enough women to satisfy his sexual desires and, faced with a choice between masturbation and boys, may choose boys," with Thurber and White's account of how baseball, craps, and six-day bicycle races grew in popularity as "[m]an began to preoccupy himself with anything, no matter how trivial, which might help him to 'forget,' as the lay expression has it";

Search costs: Compare Thurber and White's reflection on how bringing candy to one's beloved replaced fudge making as a courtship activity, thereby reducing a suitor's time investment, with Posner's observation that the search costs of heterosexual sex are higher for prisoners than for free persons; and

The effects of urbanization on sexual practices: Compare Thurber and White's account of why New York became the center of the sexual revolution – convenient location, magnificent harbor, and odd-shaped apartments "in which one must step across an open bathtub in going from the kitchen to the bedroom; any unusual layout like that arouses sexual desire and brings people pouring into New York," with Posner's prediction that "opportunistic homosexuality should decrease with the rise of cities because the privacy of city life facilitates nonmarital heterosexual sex, including prostitution."

Comments

Sex and Reason by Richard A. Posner, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992, pp. 458, $29.95.

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