Thursday, December 31

The economics of orgasms

In case you thought there were any topics that are off-limits for economists, Hugo Mialon from Emory University in Atlanta has produced a working paper on orgasms (hat tip to Greg Mankiw, who posted on his blog that Mialon is presenting the paper at the upcoming American Economic Association meeting).

Mialon uses game theory to develop predictions on whether or not people will fake orgasms, and then uses survey data to show his predictions are accurate. He argues that how close people are to their sexual prime (late teens for men and about 30 for women), their chances of getting caught and whether or not they love their partner (Mialon uses a very rigid definition of love) all matter.

Mialon's model argues that when partners are in love, they are more likely to fake an orgasm. The reasoning is that if you love your partner but catch them faking, you're going to be more forgiving than someone who doesn't love their partner. Also, undiscovered faking is more likely to keep the other partner around than if there's no orgasm — keeping the partner around is a good thing if the faker loves their partner, and not so great if there's no love and they want to get rid of them.

The first half of the paper, where Mialon argues the intuition behind his model, almost reads more like an article from Cosmo than it does an economics paper. But the second half of the paper outlines a pretty detailed game theory model.

I'd be curious to see if an academic journal ever picks up this paper, however, because of the subject matter. While economics of the family, which looks at issues such as marriage, divorce and domestic violence, is gradually becoming more mainstream, I'm not sure that most economists are ready to start analyzing bedroom behaviour such as faking orgasms.