Lapdancing, Fertility, Economics and Feminism

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A supposedly academic study about the economics of lapdancing and fertility is discussed in this post at Pure Pedantry, wherein Kara Contreary notes:

Ask anyone who’s spent any time in a strip club, and one of the things he will almost certainly not mention is the ovulatory state of his favorite gal. But, according to a recent paper by Geoffrey Miller et. al., how much money he spent on her may have more to do with where she is in her cycle than he’d comfortably acknowledge. …

… Now, I went back and forth for a while on how to write this study up. A big part of me wants to treat it as mental candy, write something like, “Hey look! It’s science about strippers!” and let it go at that. But this is exactly the sort of paper that makes for great sound bites in the news (it’s already starting to make the rounds in papers and magazines of varying journalistic integrity). And sure enough, not too long from now it will be treated as common knowledge that women wear their fertility on their sleeve (literally, in some cases, as other research has shown that women dress more provocatively around ovulation), and men respond.

I don’t usually let my feminist flag fly, but it seems obvious to me that that if this study had been conducted by three women instead of three men, we would be looking at a very different set of results and a veeeeery different set of conclusions. First of all, 18 women does not a reliable sample make. The 95% confidence intervals for the findings on earnings at different points in the cycle are in every case larger than the earnings differences between the phases. Also, the authors go to the trouble of collecting information on “age, ethnicity, work experience, sexual experience and attitudes, menstrual cycle characteristics, contraception use, physical characteristics, education, intelligence, and personality” and ask the women to report their mood as well as their earnings, but then don’t seem to use any of that information when looking at their results. The mood reporting is especially crucial. Anyone who has been intimate enough with a woman to be aware of her cycle shouldn’t be surprised that the week when she’s riding the cotton pony isn’t likely to be her sexiest.

I don’t really have a problem with the claim that women feel sexier around the time of ovulation; in fact I think that’s pretty well established. And likewise I have no problem with the claim that women don’t feel quite so sexy when Aunt Flo is in town. I think the authors really missed out on a prime opportunity for some field work here. They could have made like urban Dian Fosseys of vice, concealing themselves in the shadowy corners of gentlemen’s clubs and observing the behavior of the women employed there. Could it be that women who feel sexier give more energetic, arousing performances than women who feel sluggish and irritated? Even professional performers can get more or less “into” the performance depending on how they’re feeling. If the authors had said, “women behave differently at different points in their ovulatory cycles, and men respond favorably to confident, flirtatious behavior”, I’d have nothing to argue with. I just really don’t see anything here to indicate that men tip more based on increased “soft-tissue body symmetry” during estrus.

My criticisms of many aspects of this study are a bit more harsh than Contreary’s, but she definitely focused on its primarily problems, which are the study author’s determination to focus only on the behavior and reactions of the men in the equation, and failure to consider obvious variables.

–Ann Bartow

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