When you look at it honestly, you can’t deny that having sex has a cost. That cost, coming in the form of time, energy (both emotional and physical), and money spent has changed over the last 80 years from the conservative norms of our grandparents, to the free love movement, to the current emergence of the casual hook-up culture and shrinking of the gender wage gap. So now the question is how much does sex cost, and who should be paying the price? And while the reason has changed, the answer remains the same: Guys.
Back in the days of our grandparents, sex was incredibly expensive. It cost an enormous amount of time, commitment, and money to attain approval from each participating party and acceptance from the community. The communal standard for decades was to only accept sexual activity between two people after they had courted, been engaged, and married. This meant having to base every relationship strictly on the compatibility of personalities and leave out sexual chemistry. Hence, you were taking a shot in the dark on your wedding night on whether or not you could sexualy jive with your partner. This lack of sex in early stages of a relationship meant there was no holding sex over the other's head, no make up and break up sex, and leaving for another person would mean starting the process all over again. This lead to a common practice of having to marry your best friend because, come commitment time, even if you weren't sexually compatible at least you actually liked each other.
Then came the sexual revolution. Both women and men decided they wanted to have sex out of wedlock. They wanted to express their sexuality more openly, and explore that side of the human connection at an earlier stage of relationships (sometimes right after “Hello”). With this, also came a drastic decrease in the cost of sex, after all, it was called the FREE love movement. Sex went from a price of months of dates, years of quality time, and a lifelong commitment, to two people simply wanting to partake in the act together. This "sexual awakening" opened the door for a culture of casual sex in mainstream society and nightlife has never been the same.
Fast forward to today, you’ll find that while "free love" is no longer yelled across college campuses, nor painted on random walls (facebook or otherwise), the cost has remained inexpensive (for the most part) compared to that of our grandparents. However, it is no longer “free” like it was in the sixties. So how much does sex cost now, and who should cover that cost? This is where a bit of contention is starting to occur.
On paper and speaking in hypotheticals, men and women usually agree in the concept of "me having sex with you, should be equal to you having sex with me" but looking at common courting and dating practices, men, typically front the "start-up costs" for potential sexual encounters (think drinks, dinner, coffee dates), and most women believe men should. This custom originated from men traditionally making significantly more money than the women they dated and demonstrated they could be a provider, so it was polite and expected due to the likely inability of the woman to pay. But now, with the gender wage gap closing, many guys are starting to ask “Outside of it being tradition, if we both hold the same value to one another and make the same amount, why am I expected to harbor all of the upfront costs? Why can’t this cost be shared?” Well gents, if you need a good reason other than demonstrating you can provide, being polite, and showing generosity towards your fellow (wo)man, we have one.
According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior men reach completion in 91% of their sexual encounters, a.k.a. men are A students when graded on completion. However, for women the average is closer to 64%. That is a 27% difference for you math majors, which is a huge gap. Basically guys, in today’s hookup culture most girls have to play a numbers game where we don’t have to. For her, 1 in every 3 sexual encounters will result in a lot of time, sweat, and effort spent for little to no final reward at the end of the night. So, think of you paying for the beers or dinner as an offer to hedge her bet on you. Not only does it show you are willing to extend a gesture of courtesy and good will, but if you two end up hooking up and she lands in the disappointing 36%, at least she spent a fun night with a guy she thinks is attractive and got a beer out of it.
All this being said, buying things for the person you're interested in should not be misconstrued as paying for their time, nor is it something she needs to reciprocate in a physical fashion. Put frankly, expecting “payment” in return makes you an asshole not a gentleman. View these upfront costs as simply partaking in the setup of a win-win scenario for her, an investment in a new relationship if you will. And in looking at what it cost our grandparents, paying for a meal or two isn’t so bad.
Now this sounds like a fair scenario in a vacuum, however you are probably reading this thinking “what about all the times I paid for the date without getting my desired outcome?” Good question. This hinges on your initial intention, what your end goal is, and if her intentions and goals align. If you are looking to get laid, and she is looking to just have a good time and get to know you, it is likely no amount of gifts or a lavish dinners will get you what you want that night. So how do you figure out what her intentions are? Well sometimes simply asking and having an adult conversation works, but if that’s not a card you like to play then keeping an eye on body language is key.
Here are some things you can do to make sure everyone has a good time, regardless of the outcome:
Offer to pay for the first round/date to show you are well intentioned, will to invest in a new connection with her and hedge her bet as previously discussed to show you have her interests in mind.
Be your charming, respectful self, make appropriate conversation, and don’t expect anything in return other than a good time with a person you have chosen to spend time with.
Be observant to her “go signals” so you don’t miss your chance to provide her a double win scenario if she wants to go for it.
Don’t let her take advantage of you. If a girl is just looking for a free meal or drink ticket, it can be pretty obvious. If she continuously brushes you off until she wants to go out somewhere nice, never insists on buying a round or dessert at the next spot, and/or refuses to spend quality time with you where purchases are unlikely (like a walk in the park or Netflixing), then she probably isn’t a great girl to go after regardless of how attractive you think she is.
So while the initial impetus for men paying for the first date no longer applies to modern dating customs, the trend continues, not because one person is more valuable than the other, but simply the outcome of a numbers game and a recommended gesture of an olive branch from one person to another.