University of Michigan researcher Daniel J. Kruger has reported in the latest issue of Evolutionary Psychology that in a survey of nearly 500 undergraduates with an average age of
19, more than a quarter of the men said they had attempted at least
once to exchange some form of investment for sex, and 9 percent of
the women reported that they had tried to trade sex for some item of
Kruger had predicted this behavior based on research showing that the males of species ranging from invertebrates to primates present desired mating partners with "nuptial gifts" to improve their chances of reproductive success. Therefore, he hypothesized that young men would behave like scorpionflies - asking for sex in exchange for "resource provisioning" - and young women like penguins - trading sex for investment.
The population sample studied was hardly representative - young, mostly white and middle-class - but according to Kruger, this fact makes the results of the study all the more significant: "Given the factors described above [young age, restricted socio-economic range, and relatively low level of variation in life history], it is remarkable that the predicted patterns were found." Indeed, wrote Kruger, "A sample of older individuals, especially one that is more representative of the general population, would likely report higher frequencies of experiences [of trading goods for sex]."
Kruger's review of the literature seems to indicate that such arrangements - falling outside the scope of what is widely considered prostitution - are fairly commonplace, especially in societies or among groups where resources are scarce. Unaddressed by Kruger's research is the question of how one type of exchange of reproductively relevant currencies (prostitution) came to be so widely stigmatized, while other modes (dowries, engagement rings) gained social acceptance.
One can't help but wonder if Kruger's research may not end up figuring in the case of the next high-profile figure caught in an Eliot Spitzer-type scandal: the evolutionary psychology defense. It wasn't pandering, your honor. It was resource provisioning.