“People assumed I was in favor of enslaving and raping women,” Hanson says.
His argument is simple: humans have always revolted against inequality. Income, education, housing, health. We all agree, everyone deserves their fair share. So why should sex inequality be any different?
Just like we give food stamps to the hungry and health care to the elderly, we can redistribute sex to the lonely, horny virgins, and create a more fair and just society.
THE CASE FOR SEX COMMUNISM
Hanson has been thinking about this topic for a long time. However, he waited until there was an event in the news that would make his idea especially relevant.
A couple months ago, it happened: a man drove a a van onto a busy Toronto sidewalk and plowed through pedestrians, killing 10 and injuring 16. The attacker was a member of the “involuntarily celibate” community — the “incels.” It’s a gang of self-described ugly and socially inept men who can’t convince a single hot woman to sleep with them. They see their inability to get laid as an injustice, and consequently, become angry and violent.
“As an economist, I’m always thinking about all the different kinds of inequalities, and what makes some people care about one type more than others,” Hanson says. “These people [the incels] were complaining about a type of inequality that was different.”
Now, Hanson didn’t want to act as an ally to a group of murderous misogynists. He just wanted to offer up a progressive idea. So he presented this analogy: “compare sex redistribution to income redistribution,” he says. “They’re similar in interesting ways.”
Sex has become a remarkably de-regulated marketplace. Like any capitalist system, this makes some people filthy rich (ie. swimming in pussy) and makes many more desperately poor (ie. humping microwaved cantaloupes). Our sex technologies, like Tinder and Bumble, match people by appearance above all else. Sexual capital begins to accumulate in the hands of the privileged — the abled over disabled, thin over fat, tall over short, white over nonwhite, rich over poor.
“One might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income,” wrote Hanson in his original argument for sex redistribution, published on his blog, Overcoming Bias. The sexless might organize around this identity and start to demand change.
FIXING SEX INEQUALITY
That change could come in the form of violent revolution.
“In the French Revolution, they killed all the rich people and handed out all their stuff,” says Hanson. “You could imagine something just as extreme, where you kill the sexy people off, and the less sexy people have a better chance of getting laid.”
The redistribution of sex could also come in the form of government policies. State-distributed Fleshlights. Vouchers to hire an escort. Low-income sex doll brothels.
Or, the change could come in the form of shifting social norms.
“Many ancient societies had rules around sex that affect who has sex with who,” Hanson continues. “Like rules against premarital sex and sex outside marriage. Limits on who can marry who.”
America’s culture of casual sex actually increases sex inequality, he explains. Women who are looking for a hookup will focus on the aesthetics: pouty lips, chiseled buttcheeks, a sizeable weiner. Beautiful “Chad” gets all the honies. But when women focus more on pairing off for marriage, their priorities shift. Suddenly, they’re willing to look past lovehandles and a receding hairline in favor of economic stability or paternal promise. The sex stops accumulating in the hands of the most privileged (Chad).
Hanson does not advocate for any particular method.
“I am not an activist with a plan,” he admits. “I don’t have an agenda I’m trying to adopt.”
SEX AS A HUMAN RIGHT
But some people do. Dr. Tuppy Owens, famous English sex therapist, researcher, writer and activist, created a charity in the UK to help the sexually disadvantaged. The foundation, called TLC Trust, arranges sexual encounters for disabled people by matching them with vetted sex workers.
“Everyone has a right to sexual pleasure,” Owens says. “Sex is the second most important need in humans, after survival.”
She wouldn’t say if her non-profit also provides sexual experiences for people who aren’t disabled — people who are tragically unattractive, have severe social awkwardness or nauseating body odor — which prevents them from humping anything other than an anime body pillow. She insisted those decisions are left up to the sex workers.
Owens believes that sex workers are the only real solution for the sexually deprived. Sex robots and virtuality reality porn aren’t appropriate substitutes for skin-to-skin contact. She favors prostitutes, sexual massage therapists, or other selfless humans who give happy endings.
“There are no other ways [than sex workers] to provide fulfilling sexual experiences for those in need,” she says.
Sex work is legal in most of the U.K., and Owens believes it should be provided as a public service, but she’s never gotten support from the government.
Things are different in Denmark and the Netherlands, where organizations that arrange sexual encounters for the handicapped receive some taxpayer funds.
THE DANGERS OF SEX ECONOMICS
In the U.S., this type of subsidized sex equality would have the religious right rioting in the streets with crucifixes, pitchforks and tiki torches.
Very few Americans were willing to engage with Hanson’s “sex communism” idea. If they did, they condemned it, although their criticisms had some merit.
Take, for example, author Umair Haque’s response in an article titled “Why the ‘Redistribution of Sex’ is a Tale Told By Idiots.”
In the article, Haque argues that sex is not a common good. You can’t redistribute women’s bodies like lumber or corn or gasoline.
He plays out a fun scenario in which the horny socialists take over and pass the National Sexual Redistribution Act. This means every man gets a sexual ration card. If the guy hasn’t had sex in a month, he can present his sexual ration card to any woman he likes. Doesn’t matter if she’s married or a full-blown lesbian — he can demand access to any/all of her orifices.
Sure, it’s an extreme example. But Haque was trying to convey the dangers of applying economics to social relationships.
“Economics is not a tool we need to use in our sex lives,” Haque says over the phone. He worries if we start down that path, it’s only a matter of time before we’re assigning dollar values to everyone’s genitals and trying to maximize the utility of sexual transactions.
“It’s a shame that American thinkers and economists are focusing on these issues and avoiding the real ones,” Haque continues. “I feel sad that we have to live in a society where this stuff masquerades as something that intelligent people should discuss.”
THIS IS AMERICA
Yet here we are, discussing it. After a while of lamenting that we’re even having this conversation, Haque gets down to the logistics.
The most practical model of redistributing sex would look a lot like universal health care, he says. Sex work is legalized. Citizens can spend their health benefits on sex work. They can take their vouchers to places like Dr. Tuppy Owens’ organization, where sex workers are free to accept or refuse any client.
“In the U.K., maybe something like that is imaginable, because there’s a giant health care system backing that up,” he says. “In America, such a system would be completely different, because the norms are completely different.”
Europe is a far more realistic model for progressive sex policies because its people have a more expansive view of human rights.
“Transportation, media, health care, pensions, safety nets. In Europe, these are rights that are enshrined and protected by our constitutions,” Haque says. “The problem with American economics is it has attached itself to minimal number of rights. The fewer rights you have, the more that capitalism can offer you.”
In the U.S., our interpretation of “human rights” is limited to owning guns and not baking wedding cakes for the gays. A right to sex is pretty far from our minds. But Hanson believes that in time, this can change.
“Rights are kind of a social construct,” he says. “Many of the things we think we have rights to today, 500 years ago, nobody thought we had a right to.”
WIN FOR WOMEN
Of course, it would be better if the poster children for this movement weren’t the incels, a gang of he-man woman-haters who wouldn’t mind an elaborate system of sex slaves, a la Handmaid’s Tale.
Opponents of Hanson’s thought experiment struggle with the idea that incels are a disadvantaged community deserving of redistribution. However, some say the same of recipients of income distribution.
“They say, poor people are poor because they have personal problems, and income wouldn’t necessarily solve them,” Hanson says. “They have low intelligence, bad work habits, no discipline. They’re bad people in those ways. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still try redistribution.”
Even still, this isn’t necessarily about incels, explains Hanson. There are lots of people who struggle with sex inequality, including your typical adult virgin who never turns to violence.
Even Haque sees eye-to-eye with Hanson on this one.
“It’s veiled misogyny to say the problem is that only young men are not having sex. It takes us back to the old idea that men are only ones with sexual appetites,” Haque says. “It’s not just men. It’s everybody.”
For eons, redistribution has been mankind’s solution to inequality. Is sex really exempt from this timeless rule?
Hanson says, “probably not.”