I recently called a friend of mine a cheap date over his inability to handle a few drinks. Normally using this expression wouldn’t have been a problem since most English speakers have heard it before and understand the humour. English is not my friend’s first language though and I was left in the somewhat awkward position of having to explain to him what it means to be called a “cheap date.” The implication of the expression, of course, is that it wouldn’t cost much to get him into bed. I don’t think he would mind me telling you that it would cost a lot less than a few drinks to get this particular man naked, but the conversation made me think about what the expression really means.
Impaired judgement aside, I bet a lot of men would like to know exactly how much they have to pay to sufficiently obligate their dates to have sex with them. Men and women have very different views of that obligation, with many men overstating the sexual indebtedness of women who have just been bought dinner and drinks. According to study published in 2011 titled “You Owe Me,” women feel less obligated than men feel they should be to have sex following an expensive date.* However, women feel even less obligated if the date was inexpensive and the bill was split between the man and the woman.
So while women may not feel that paying for an expensive dinner entitles a man to sex, they do feel that the obligation to have sex is increasing commensurate with the price the man has paid for the date. Here is how the experiment was conducted. University students, male and female, were asked to read a vignette in which a man (John) and woman (Kate) go on a date. In the story, the man returns to the woman’s apartment at the end of the night and has sex with her despite the fact that she has clearly said “no” to his sexual advances.
After reading the story, the participants in the study were asked to respond to a series of statements, including “Katie should have expected John to insist on sexual intercourse” and “John should have expected Katie to desire sexual intercourse.” The responses to these statements were indicated on a scale of one to six where one meant strongly disagree and six meant strongly agree.
Finally, the students were divided into groups. Half read a vignette in which the date was expensive. Half of those who read the expensive date story read a story in which the cost of the date was split between the man and woman, and half read a story in which the cost of the date was paid for by the man. The remaining students read a story in which the date was cheap and again the bill was either split or shared.
The average response by male participants to the question that asked if Kate should have expected to have sex with John when he paid of the expensive date was 3.21 (out of a possible six). The average response for female participants was only 1.85. The results for the question as to whether or not John should have felt entitled to it are closer for males and females: 2.93 for male participants and 2.15 for female participants. So when John paid for the expensive date the men in the study clearly thought that Kate owed John access to sex at the end of the night and both the men and women in the study, to varying degrees, felt that he should have expected it.
But here is where the study gets interesting. The average response by male participants to the question that asked if Kate should have expected to have sex with John when they split the bill for the cheap date was 2.27 and for female participants was 1.37. The results for the question as to whether or not John should have felt entitled to it were 2.20 for male participants and 1.53 for female participants. This result suggests that the female participants felt that as the price paid for the date increased, so did the reasonable expectation of sex.
The authors of the study don’t say this, but it seems to me that the difference in male and female responses has mostly to do with the price paid for the date. Yes, the women to a lesser degree feel that Kate is obliged to have sex with John when a date involves a “pricey” dinner in New York and a Broadway show. They have already shown that women feel that Kate had a greater obligation with the more expensive date. So the question that remains is how much more expensive would the date have to have been for the average response of female participants to converge with the response of the male participants?
Just for the record, expectations of sex aside, men and women in the study agreed on one thing: No one thought that the rape at the end of the night was justified regardless of the price paid for the date. So while men might feel that John was owed sex, they didn’t feel he had the right to claim it without Kate’s explicitly expressed consent. Oddly though, everyone thought that John was more to blame for the rape when John and Kate had split the bill for the cheap date, a result which is statistically significant. I guess the idea is that if you are going to be an asshole at the end of the night, the least you could have done is paid for all of a cheap date.
*Basow, Susan and Alexandra Minieri (2011). “You Owe Me”: Effects of Date Cost, Who Pays, Participant Gender, and Rape Myth Beliefs on Perceptions of Rape.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence vol (26): pp 497-497.