Bedroom Inequality - Why Sex Is More Stressful for Poor Women and Possibly More Dangerous

It seems that everything comes more easily to wealthy people, even stuff that doesn't (necessarily) have to be paid for, like sex. Rich people, rich women in particular, are having a better time in the bedroom than their poorer counterparts according to a recent analysis of the first Spanish Sexual Health Survey by researchers at Barcelona's Public Health Agency. This disparity in enjoyment levels between the rich and the poor has little to do with what you might be thinking — that the wealthy can buy their way to better quality lovemaking — and more to do with the disturbing fact that sex is more stressful for poor women because they are less likely to practice safe sex and more likely to be abused by an intimate partner.

It shouldn't come as a big surprise that women who are more likely to be abused by their partners or for whom sex is more likely to result in an unwanted pregnancy would enjoy it less. What is newsworthy is that socioeconomic status plays such a definitive role in deciding who gets to have a good time in the bedroom and who doesn't. The survey revealed, for instance, that women with a primary (high school) only education were nearly four times more likely than women who were university educated to have suffered sexual abuse and that both women and men of lower socioeconomic status invariably used less contraception. The survey's primary author, Dr Dolores Ruiz, has called for the introduction of new public polices to reduce the inequalities that the survey identified. In Spain, this might happen. In the more puritanical United States, however, where the same inequalities are evident, I wouldn't hold my breath.

There's no corresponding study that I know of that has looked at sexual satisfaction among different socioeconomic groups in the U.S. There is plenty of data, however, about the higher rates of intimate partner violence in disadvantaged communities and lower rates of contraceptive use among poorer and less educated American women that mirror the findings in the Spanish study.

According to a 2004 report (PDF) by the National Institute of Justice, women in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the U.S. were more than twice as likely to be victimized repeatedly or severely injured by their intimate partners than better-off women. Meanwhile, data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute in December 2013 shows that unintended pregnancies are increasingly concentrated among poor and less educated women. Like their Spanish counterparts, American women of lower socioeconomic status could benefit from some public policy changes that would reduce the inequality that is wreaking havoc with their sex lives. Instead of making birth control more accessible to poor women or taking steps to reduce the risk of violence, American lawmakers, particularly conservative ones, have been working hard to obstruct any progress on either front.

Since 1995, over 700 anti-abortion measures have been passed around the country. Not content with this successful erosion of women's reproductive rights, conservative lawmakers have turned their attention in the recent past to restricting access to birth control. The GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in 2011 to defund Planned Parenthood, the nationwide organization that provides birth control and healthcare to low-income women. Fortunately that vote died in the senate but the enthusiasm for restricting women's access to contraception did not.

In March 2012, a measure introduced by Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) known as the Blunt Amendment, which would have potentially denied millions of American women birth control by allowing any employer with a moral objection to opt out of the Obama administration's new coverage rule, was only narrowly defeated in the senate. It would be nice to think that if conservative lawmakers were aware that their ongoing efforts to restrict access to birth control are probably succeeding only in making the sex lives of low income women less pleasurable, they might back off a bit. But somehow I don't think that the sexual fulfilment of poor women is a high priority for the mostly male and wealthy GOP.

Reducing violence against women, low-income and otherwise, doesn't seem to be much of a priority to conservative lawmakers either. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that was passed in 1994 is credited with significantly reducing, among other things, intimate partner violence and intimate partner homicides of both women and men. When the act expired in 2011, it took the House of Representatives a year and a half to reauthorize it, during which time republican lawmakers tried to pass a watered-down version stripped of protections for diverse populations. Even with VAWA in place, however, low-income women continue to suffer disproportionately from intimate partner violence and little is being done to help them.

With these ongoing efforts to erode women's rights (collectively known as the "war on women"), it's hard to imagine Americans engaging in a national conversation any time soon on making sex more enjoyable for anyone, never mind women who are poor. That's kind of a shame, because sex really ought to be one of life's simple and safe pleasures, instead of the political hot-rod it has become. For now, Americans had best content ourselves with living vicariously through our European counterparts as they try to level the sexual playing field. Until Congress ends its war on women, which is mostly a war on economically disadvantaged women, bedroom inequality is here to stay.


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