In the mid-1980s, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing R&B singer Gwen Guthrie’s catchy “Ain’t Nothin’ Going on But the Rent.” Women everywhere were singing the anthem; Guthrie demanded that men be employed and have money to help with bills if they wanted to building any type of romance. It was a finger-snapping, debate-sparking song that even garnered the attention of Eddie Murphy, who riffed on it during his popular stand-up film, Raw.
Almost 30 years later, there’s an economic crisis in the United States, and African-Americans are being hit the hardest when it comes to unemployment. As of July 2013, the unemployment rate for Blacks was 13.4% (12.4% and 11.3% for men and women over age 20, respectively). With the rising costs of living, employment instability and stagnant wages—and marriage rates at their lowest ever—one has to wonder what impact finances have on the intimacy of our dating and sex lives.
Before women began to work outside of the home, it was “normal” in opposite-sex relationships for men to work and provide for the financial needs of his wife and children. As time progressed and women became more economically self-sufficient, they began to rely less on men for financial security, seeking more intangible qualities. But despite the efforts of the “women’s lib” movement, the traditional expectations that men will be primary providers hasn’t changed all that much, and men still feel pressure to pay for dates.
A recent report analyzed surveys of over 17,000 unmarried, heterosexual participants and revealed that 84% of men report they still pay for most dates. Forty-four percent of men report they would stop dating a woman if she never paid for any of their dates, yet 76% of the men reported feeling guilty when they did accept a woman’s money.
The stigma that men should pay continues to be pervasive, and in a time of economic downturn, fewer men are initiating dates and are more reluctant to pay, seeing dates as costly and not worth the return on investment. In fact, the study found that one in six men expected to have sex with women they took out on dates they paid for completely. This expectation of sex increases among younger men ages 18-25.
While being employed is important to most adults regardless of sex, men do seem to be judged more harshly when they lack gainful employment. As such, some men might avoid dating altogether rather than face admitting to women that they can’t afford to do the nice things they want to do for them. Some men even stretch the truth a bit so women aren’t made fully aware of their current financial struggles.
Unfortunately, men have historically been measured by their income, so when some men lack sufficient income, they begin to feel worthless. This can have a severe negative impact on their self-esteem and alter their romantic interactions with women, even if women are accepting and supportive. Alisha*, a 30-something mother of two, said, “My man lost his job and it was hard, mainly because he beat himself up all of the time. We struggled for a while, but I was able to carry us until he got another job. It was a rough time for us.”
Sherif* admits he absolutely avoided dating women when he was unemployed. “When women say they want men who can satisfy them, they mean emotionally, financially and physically,” he says. “We have to cater to each of those to keep you. We have to love you, we have to provide for you, and we have to be awesome in bed for you,” he continues, echoing what seems to be a common way of thinking for many brothers.
Jason*, a 40-something husband and father of one says, “When I lost my job, I was optimistic at first. But after a few months turned into a year, I struggled to look my wife in the eye every day.” He explained that his sex drive took a hit as his depression increased. “My relationship definitely suffered when I was unemployed. My wife held me down but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel like me,” he said.
A recent study found a positive correlation between income and sexual activity, suggesting that people with higher income have more sex. The conclusion is, the more money you make, the more likely you are to have access to resources to keep you physically and mentally healthy, which will contribute to elevated self-esteem and thus higher level of “attraction” from others.
Darren* told me he doesn’t date when his pockets are light. “I don’t bother asking women out because I know I don’t have it. Women judge me and call me all kinds of names because I’m broke, so I just don’t bother,” he admits. “Dating when you don’t have money is hard because you still have needs and women want to be romanced before they [have sex] with you.” He went on to say that some women were open to going out for free dates or coming over to hang out, and that worked best for him because being unemployed didn’t mean he stopped wanting to have sex.
Can you have an active dating and sex life while being unemployed or experiencing financial difficulty? The short answer: yes. You can be flexible and look for less costly options. Sites like GroupOn and Living Social offer discounts on all types of interesting activities. When the weather is warm, most major cities offer tons of free events like concerts in the park and street festivals. Creativity won’t cost you anything but a bit of time and energy put into the planning. And aside from the cost of condoms, sex shouldn’t be tapping your pockets either.
Whether you hook up with a reliable friend-with-benefits or you have a steady beau, you don’t have to let a tight situation keep you from releasing some of that stress. Sex can and does usually improve your mood. So if you’re feeling depressed about your job situation, a couple of strong orgasms might just be the trick to take your mind off of things for a while.
*All names changed to protect the guilty.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.