College students, professionals, and married couples are familiar with one of the oldest systems of bartering known to humans: bartering using sex. According to a survey of University of Michigan undergraduate students, 27 percent of unattached men and 14 percent of unattached women offered a service or gift, like laundry or football tickets, in return for sex. Sex is often used as a motivator, the carrot designed to entice someone to take care of something you’d like to be completed.
An older article from the Los Angeles Times indicates how sex can be used in a bartering system.
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The exchange of sex for things desired, whether it is good behavior, a new car or takeout dinner of one cuisine over another, is one of the oldest games played out between the sexes. But it is a game in which women have the upper hand–even in relationships where sex is frequent and satisfying, even when women have economic parity with their mates and even when women have their own lusty sex drives… “It works for me because my husband loves sex so much that I usually get what I want,” said a 29-year-old Santa Monica mother of two. She said she has bartered sexual favors to get a sewing machine and a minivan.
A more recent article from CNN describes how a tourist used sex to gain an experience she desired in Brazil:
While she was studying in Brazil during college, the one thing Stephanie Gerson longed to do before leaving was spend time in the thick of the Amazon rain forest. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find a tour that would take her past the forest’s edge. So, when a college-aged busboy at a resort she was visiting began flirting with her, she asked him if he thought a tourist could survive alone in the jungle… Although she wasn’t attracted to the guy, Gerson flirted right back in the hopes that he would be her jungle tour guide. It worked. The busboy wormed his way out of work, and the two headed into the rain forest.
“It was amazing,” Gerson says of her adventure in 2000. “We built our homes out of palm leaves, I saw animals I’d never seen before, he taught me the medicinal properties of all the plants, we picked fruit off the trees, we swam with and ate piranhas. And, of course, we had sex … for almost two weeks.”
When all the money in the world eventually becomes devalued, and when there is no need for commodities once considered valuable like gold and silver, there will still be sex. Sexual satisfaction and its biological impetus, procreation, is a baser need than wealth and shelter. Sex will always have a value that could be placed on an economic scale.
That’s not to say that sex is immune from inflation. Today, there is more access to pornography. Society is increasingly desensitized to sexualization, especially of younger adults. The Internet brings people who have the same sexual interests closer together. These all contribute to the idea that as a community, people need to go further to get the same satisfaction. The same aspects of sex that might have been considered kinky two hundred years ago are commonplace and unexciting today.
Call it crass, sexist or gender stereotyping all you want, but there are thousands of years of biological programming at work here, says Dr. Chris Fariello, director of the Institute for Sex Therapy at the Council for Relationships, a nonprofit relationship-counseling group based in Philadelphia. Plain and simple, a partner who provides more resources — wealth, shelter, home repairs — is seen as more attractive and stands to reap more sexual rewards.
Stephanie Gerson, in the example above, did not feel uncomfortable with her arrangement. Do you or would you use sex as a bartering tool?
Updated October 21, 2015 and originally published March 11, 2011.