Think abstinence is the best way to curb sexually transmitted diseases? Think again, says Professor of Economics Steven Landsburg, who has recently developed an economic argument for promiscuity in his article ?More Sex is Safer Sex.?

Landsburg has used the research of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Michael Kremer to construct a theory which advocates the increased sexual activity of sexual conservatives, in order to slow down the rate of infection and reduce the prevalence of AIDS.

The logic

The argument is that by flooding the sex-market with disease-free sexual conservatives, the promiscuous HIV-positive individuals will have less of a chance of sharing their goods and thus make the market safer.

Landsburg?s original article appeared in the online magazine Slate in July of 1996.

He writes: ?Suppose you walk into a bar and find four potential sex partners. Two are highly promiscuous ? the others venture out only once a year. The promiscuous ones are, of course, more likely to be HIV-positive. That gives you a 50-50 chance of finding a relatively safe match.

?But suppose all once-a-year revelers could be transformed into twice-a-year revelers. Then, on any given night, you?d run into twice as many of them.

?Those two promiscuous bar patrons would be outnumbered by four of their more cautious rivals. Your odds of a relatively safe match just went up from 50-50 to four out of six.?


Not surprisingly, Landsburg has stirred much controversy with his article and has received countless e-mails questioning his reasoning.

?I?m always amazed when I get an e-mail saying something like ?You?re an idiot? or ?This is really stupid.? I don?t regard those. But there?s often a second round where they say something intelligent,? Landsburg said.

In an expansion of his original article, Landsburg has addressed his critics by answering their most commonly asked questions regarding his theory.

One such question asks why he touts the merits of promiscuity when self-restraint would clearly have a greater impact.

Landsburg replied: ?This is like arguing that traffic lights can only reduce the number of auto accidents, while banning cars can stop auto accidents ? therefore, it would be irresponsible to tout the merits of traffic lights.

?Banning sex outside of long-term relationships is neither realistic nor clearly desirable ? it?s not going to happen.

?Ideally, we should tax promiscuous people for having sex and subsidize conservative people for loosening up a little bit,? he said.

?We want the cautious person catching the virus and going home and dying from it rather than the promiscuous person infecting 50 other people from it.?

His writings

Landsburg, who has been affiliated with UR since 1983, has written several books, including ?The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life.? He says that another book which further explores his theory will be published in the near future.

Landsburg?s complete article can be read at the Web site

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