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These have shifted the emphasis in early relationships toward sexual attraction while vastly increasing the efficiency of cycling through potential partners, not only making sex cheaper (because easier to find) but increasing the opportunity cost, in terms of foregone sex and relationships, of remaining with one person for any serious length of time.

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A system that produces incentives for stable relationships and prosocial male behavior might do so at the cost of individual sexual autonomy, and vice versa.

This is precisely what Regnerus thinks has happened over the last few decades as the price of sex has collapsed in the face of a few overlapping trends, notably the increased economic and social autonomy of women, which has allowed them to pursue sex for its own sake rather than trade it in exchange for men’s resources.

But it is crucial to understanding how our present differs from the past.

For much of the 20th century and before, sex was heavily bound up with marriage — long understood as the normative goal of romantic relationships — and therefore family and childrearing (it was, as Regnerus puts it, about “production” of the next generation, rather than “consumption” on the part of the married individuals).

These structural forces and their consequences are the topic of Mark Regnerus’s book , published in September.

Regnerus, a conservative Catholic sociologist at the University of Texas, provocatively explores how changes in technology and American society more broadly have reshaped intimacy in recent decades, creating a world in which sex is low-effort and abundant, marriage is late, and relationships tend to be fleeting.

Sexual freedom was limited to the rich or Bohemian.

The real value in Regnerus’s depiction of this older system, however, is to point out that our move away from it is not simply a tale of progress but of different sets of tradeoffs.

But Regnerus is most interested in how three technological developments have driven this change.

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