Increased Cost of Sex Due To HIV/AIDS Influences ‘Sexual Preference,’ Opinion Piece Says
The "exorbitant new price" of sex because of HIV/AIDS means that "sexual preference" could be influenced by factors typically associated with economics rather than biology, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the authors of "Freakonomics," write in a New York Times opinion piece. They explain that economists define price differently from the lay person, incorporating many factors into the equation, including supply, demand, and possible risks and rewards that are connected to any behavior. "Because AIDS is potentially deadly and because it can be spread relatively easily by sex between two men, the onset of AIDS in the early 1980s caused a significant increase in the price of gay sex," the authors write. They describe the research of Andrew Francis, a graduate student in economics at the University of Chicago, who attempted in a draft paper to explain the factors influencing the price of sex. Francis set $2 million as the value of a U.S. citizen's life and figured that it cost $1,923.75 for a man to have one act of unprotected sex with a "random" man in 1992 -- based in part on the prevalence of AIDS-related mortality -- compared with less than $1 for a man to have one act of unprotected sex with a random woman, according to Dubner and Levitt.
In a subset of 150 people, Francis also measured the association between having a relative with HIV/AIDS and expressing a "homosexual preference" and found that "sexual preference, while perhaps largely predetermined, may also be subject to the forces more typically associated with economics than biology," Dubner and Levitt write. Francis found that no male respondent who had a relative with HIV/AIDS said he had had sex with a man in the previous five years and or considered himself to be attracted to men or to be gay, according to Dubner and Levitt. Although the "sample size was so small" that "it is hard to reach definitive conclusions from the survey, ... as a whole, the numbers in Francis's study suggest that there may be causal effect here -- that having a relative with AIDS may change not just sexual behavior but also self-reported identity and desire," Dubner and Levitt write. "If this turns out to be true, it would change the way that everyone -- scientists, politicians, theologians -- thinks about sexuality," according to Dubner and Levitt (Dubner/Levitt, New York Times, 12/11).