Sex Prizes

Many organizations say their purpose is to do good.  Many of these do good by trying to entice other people to do good.  And some of these organizations entice by offering prizes and awards; they commit ahead of time to giving cash or attention to those who achieve particular things, or to those chosen by some committee as the best in a category.

People also do a very wide range of things to support their causes.  They sacrifice cash, attention, time, status, and comfort.  They suffer dirt, ridicule, exhaustion, and risks of death.  They forgo desired careers, homes, friends.  Some are willing to be seen naked, or to withhold sex from specified disapproved folks.  Some are even willing to hurt or kill other folks.

But to my knowledge, no (non-prostitute) group has ever explicitly offered sex as a prize or reward for doing good.  Any group that declared a regular public sex prize would no doubt get lots of publicity, they wouldn’t violate any laws, nor pay much beyond the sex itself, and yet no one has done this.  Why?

Consider how repelled most people today are by arranged marriages, or by a woman agreeing to have sex with her husband at unspecified future times of his choosing.  We also much more respect prostitutes who can veto customers, and who often exercise this power.  And we are surprisingly accepting of most any sex as long as it “felt right” to the parties at the time.

It seems to me we accept something close to a moral principle that one’s subconscious must always have the option to veto sex.  Especially for women, this principle seems to have a far greater priority than any pro-charity principles, and even than self-preservation principles.  It is far more acceptable to risk your life than to offer sex for a good cause, no matter how great that cause.

From a conversation with Rob Wiblin and Katja Grace.

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  • http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.com/ Eric Crampton

    http://www.votergasm.org/about.php

    VOTERGASM RELEASES ELECTION-NIGHT SEX ANTHEM
    “Could A Single Song Revolutionize American Politics?”; Song Creator Says “Yes”

    (New York, NY) The American system of government shook to its very core today, as Votergasm.org, the youth campaign to increase voter turn-on by asking young Americans to pledge to have sex with a voter on election night and withhold sex from all non-voters, unveiled its sexy new anthem. “Election Erection,” a 3-minute ode to youth civic participation and sexual activity, has already received critical acclaim from Votergasm’s in-house music critic Andy Yaco-Mink.

    “’Election Erection’ has turned me on to the political process,” said Yaco-Mink, 23, a web developer in New York. “I speak for my entire generation when I say that Votergasm’s new anthem marks a turning point for America, the same way WWII marked a turning point for our grandparents, and WWI marked a turning point for Franz Ferdinand.”

    The song was created by Brooklyn musician and producer Brian Jacobs, and features the vocal stylings of sultry songstress Jenny Slate. The lyrics guide listeners through the process of fulfilling the Votergasm pledge: registering, voting, and having sex with a voter on election night.

    “Election Erection” is available for download at http://www.votergasm.org/song/VotergasmElectionErection.mp3.

    Votergasm.org is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to reverse two disturbing trends in American society: low voting rates among young people, and unacceptably low rates of youth sexual activity.

    • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

      This is interesting because it’s an exception that fits the rule – pledging to have sex with a voter still allows your subconscious to veto any particular voter you don’t like.

  • Doug S.

    Well, before, say, the late 1960s, any group that tried this would have attracted a lot of negative attention.

    And I can think of one example…

  • kebko

    Similarly, while the state can make large claims on our production, and the notion of rights has expanded to cover shelter with modern conveniences, health care, and even broadband access, there is no right to intimacy. Even though human contact & intimacy are pretty universally considered important human needs, the state makes absolutely no claim on us to provide it for each other.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    What about “Girls says yes to boys who say no“? Also, just as many gangs initiate male members by beating them up, female hangers-on are often required to have sex with (sometimes multiple) members of the gang. Also, there used to be a tradition of temple prostitution.

  • http://akinokure.blogspot.com agnostic

    Looks like it has more to do with the charity group pooling together many meager contributions, kneading it into a single large clump, and using that big thing to attract attention — “want this big thing? you gotta do X.”

    If there’s a group performing this aggregation, individuals might feel that their meager contributions *could* make a difference. So rather than nobody giving money to support the cause because they think that $5 would have no impact, you have thousands of people donating $5 because they expect that a prize of over $10K would do the trick.

    That does not work for sex because even a single act of intercourse is incredibly valuable — assuming the guy would want to have sex with her in the first place. So, individual women don’t say, “Nah, my contribution would be too small to make a difference.” Again, not at all if she’s worth sleeping with in the first place.

    Then on the aggregating group’s side, sex doesn’t meet the criteria for things they try to aggregate, namely things of meager value. Individual contributors wouldn’t see the point in aggregating, and neither does the charity group, so this line of reward-pooling isn’t pursued.

    Maybe if it were sexual-ish acts that were of meager value, even from attractive girls — say a kiss — then the charity market would start supplying sexual prizes. A single kiss wouldn’t be enough to motivate someone to do good, but several thousand might.

    Actual intercourse from a single cute chick, though, is already a multi-thousand-dollar prize on its own.

  • Popeye

    Gee, I wonder what Hanson has in mind when he imagines a sex prize. “Professor Hanson, this is your employer. A gay scholar has produced some great academic research and we would like you to perform some sexual services for him. We feel this is the least we can do to reward his great accomplishment and keep him properly incentivized for the future. After you’re done with him there’s an old woman who wrote a good article about feminism, please attend to her needs and desires. Kthxbye.”

  • William H. Stoddard

    Princess Diana seems to have become almost a saint in many people’s eyes for providing sex in exchange for a huge amount of money and then giving a fraction of that money away to good causes.

  • Popeye

    Go to a board meeting of any major corporation or a cabinet meeting of a major government and what sort of people do you see sitting around the table? It’s the same everywhere: you see cute chicks, young, nubile, hot. These women run the world because they have what everyone else wants; they have all the power.

    Of course that’s just a fairy tale. In reality you generally see old people, mostly men. Now why would that be? Why is reality so contradictory to our preconceptions, to basic logic?

    I can think of only one explanation — our society’s obsession with the option to veto sex. Hot sexy 19-year-olds are the natural rulers of the world, but an unfortunate moralism prevents them from using their rightful powers. It doesn’t seem proper.

    It’s a shame, because as it happens I’m a hot-blooded male and I fantasize about banging all types of attractive women in all sorts of scenarios, and to be honest I would respond quite well to the types of sexual incentives such women could offer me. Damn moralism!

    Well hopefully this comment is just one more step in our journey to overcome our unfortunate biases.

  • Too complicated

    But we do this already – it’s called giving people money. I have long held the notion that the primarily reason why men strive for wealth and power is sex. So we substitute a perfectly fungible good for one that is about as unfungible as it gets

    • http://www.angryblog.org Brian Moore

      I think you hit this perfectly. The sexual behavior patterns of politicians, athletes and celebrities is a strong indicator that sex is indeed a reward that motivates them to do what they do.

  • Violet

    There are lots of negative things such a thing would do to reputation. People doing sex work are considered to have low moral character (not true) and as not being trustworthy. Also with Internet the information may be available after many years.

    Having a veto does not make for less power.

    If you think this as a good thing why not do it yourself with no veto rights?

    There was a thing in Norway this year: http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article6668566.ab (in swedish)

    • Konkvistador

      Not really. Low moral character and not being turstworthy are code words for low reproduction value or even just shaming language. When peopel hear sex worker they assume female sex worker because they are the majority by a large fraction,

      Past behvaiour is the best indicator of future behaviour. And despite all the contrarian messages our pop culture sends we still desire our females to be monogamus.

  • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

    Many religious organisations use sex to recruit new members. “Hookers for Jesus”, they are sometimes called.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flirty_Fishing

    • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

      Many? Can you name some that exist today? Near DC?

  • http://nevermind.wikidot.com Nevermind

    http://suicidegirls.com/news/politics/21372/

    Not exactly a “group”, though

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  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Eric, getting to pick the voter when half of folks vote gives full scope for a subconscious veto of any particular voter.

    TGGP, a slogan on a poster isn’t exactly an actionable proposal.

    Doug and Time, Flirty Fishing took money for sex and kept the subconscious veto.

    kebko, yes, an important analogy.

    agnostic, plenty of charities aggregate large contributions.

    Violet, yes it would look bad, but *why would it look so bad?

  • http://modeledbehavior.com Karl Smith

    A couple of factors

    1) There is a huge degree of uncertainty to supplier as to the costs. Similarly you wouldn’t expect someone to agree to be “punched in the stomach as hard as you can” by someone who raises the most money.

    In the majority of cases the punch might have moderate cost, but it some cases it would have extreme costs. And, of course people are risk averse.

    2) Agreeing to be the supplier of such a proposal would signal that your sexuality is of low value. Since, sexuality can be traded for large income streams this is strongly to the disadvantage of the customer.

    3) Particular diseases are spread by sexual contact and mores have evolved to avoid sexual contact with people who have a high probability of carrying sexually transmitted diseases.

    Thus it is to everyone’s advantage to signal that they have a low probability of carrying such diseases. Being first in line to receive your sex prize does not send that signal.

  • Kezia K

    “It seems to me we accept something close to a moral principle that one’s subconscious must always have the option to veto sex.”

    I think this ‘principle’ is actually based on a simpler one, clear in Kant’s second formulation of CI: Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

    Same reason we would object to: “I will enslave myself to you if you support my charitable cause” or “I am auctioning my daughter to support my charitable cause”.

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  • http://silasx.blogspot.com Silas Barta

    It seems to me we accept something close to a moral principle that one’s subconscious must always have the option to veto sex.

    This is another example of inalienability I find perplexing. There are some things that we believe people *cannot* waive the right to, perhaps because we find it repulsive, or we think anyone wanting to waive such a right is necessarily insane in such a desire. (Such examples include life, freedom [i.e. voluntarily becoming a permanent slave], right to obey one’s religious requirements, etc.)

    The inalienability of right to say no to sex is a special case. We also treat sexual transgressions against others as having special severity, even if they are physically the same as other non-violent sexual acts except for their sexual aspect.

    (You kinda have to be autistic-spectrum to notice this stuff, I admit…)

  • http://jaltcoh.blogspot.com jaltcoh

    It seems to me we accept something close to a moral principle that one’s subconscious must always have the option to veto sex. Especially for women, this principle seems to have a far greater priority than any pro-charity principles, and even than self-preservation principles.

    “Especially for women”? Huh? I don’t see how it’s any more OK to have sex with a man against his will.

  • http://akinokure.blogspot.com agnostic

    “Plenty” doesn’t mean “most,” though. In fact, to take your examples about awards that are recognition or attention (like an Oscar), rather than a lump of cash, they are all aggregating very small contributions — namely, the eyeballs or signatures or voices of approval from individuals.

    One pair of eyeballs admiring you isn’t going to motivate you, but thousands admiring you at the same time as part of an audience will motivate you.

  • Nithya

    Issues include:
    • That cash is liquid and standardised
    • Cash can easily be used to buy sex (inc. sex from high status people)
    • Cash is probably the cheapest tangible reward to offer
    • Sex itself is no guarantee of quality and therefore, of a valuable reward
    • Costs and risks associated with sex (and perhaps the intrusiveness required to minimise these risks)
    • Far greater social acceptance for cash wealth over sex wealth
    • Cash facilitates winner ‘paying it forward’ thereby exacting the winner’s continued efforts
    • The ‘donor’ having to give consent in advance without opportunity of veto

    Possible Solutions
    • Maintain a system where sex is a clearly understood rather than advertised reward
    • Advertise both sex and cash as alternate rewards (with the election of the achiever being confidential)
    • Make the sex reward outcome based rather than a guarantee of participation
    • Create a system to minimise costs and risks for the donor, based on the donor’s constant input and wishes, including keeping the veto
    • Keep the donor’s veto but have a terrific back up prize, in the instance that the ‘donor’ does not wish to proceed at any time
    • Just do it (so to speak)

  • Abhi Sivasailam

    This is a signaling issue:

    1. Karl nails it: “Agreeing to be the supplier of such a proposal would signal that your sexuality is of low value.”

    2. I contend that we process the sexual act in very primitive ways, such that we, on some level, view the offering of a sex prize as not unlike a husband buying his wife a sexy lingerie for her birthday. The gift of sexy lingerie is seen as at least partly selfish and thus low status. Of course society will prefer someone to die for a cause, rather than to offer sex for a cause…with death, there’s less chance of pleasure. The interesting distinction here is the type of sex. Per this view, society will respect sex prizes where there is no potential for pleasure (violent, abusive sex) over just plain sex. Basically, it’s not about what you do, its about what you give up.

  • Doug S.

    I think I may have seen offers of “dates” as prizes for some contest or other…

  • Tetrisd

    This seems perfect for PETA.

  • Popeye

    OK, everyone here is obviously on a different wavelength from me, so I’ll try again.

    Why don’t organizations offer sex prizes? Obviously this is related to why organizations can treat clients to financial services, dinner, and drinks, but not sex. Your boss can tell you to do a lot of things, but you can’t be directed to have sex with a client for the sake of a business relationship. Not even if you have a fiduciary duty to your shareholders.

    Now *individuals* could theoretically offer sex prizes without problems, but generally individuals don’t offer prizes in the sense being discussed here. I guess you could ask why don’t individuals band together and offer collective sex prizes; but why would they? We live in a society that features both sexual taboos and an emphasis on good causes; while there may be some small tension between these things, they can definitely coexist without the world exploding. It’s not as if the lack of sex prizes is the main obstacle preventing us from living in a perfect utopia. The contrast between people willing to risk their lives for a good cause and people not willing to offer sex prizes for the same is especially silly. To turn things around, absolutely nothing is stopping anyone from arguing that society needs patriotic women to offer sex prizes so that we can cure cancer and save the children and end poverty, and yet I’ve never seen anyone do so. (I don’t think this post is serious about this idea, it’s more concerned with some moral hangup.)

    So focusing on prizes is a distraction; the real issue is the age-old question of what makes sex different from other services and commodities, why is it OK to work as a professional wrestler but not a prostitute, why is it OK to hire someone to clean your toilet but not to sleep with you, etc.

    Which is a very interesting question, true. Another interesting question is what stance should a freedom-living person take towards sexual morality. On one hand stigmatization obviously reduces choice sets. But on the other hand a society in which your boss could order you to have sex with someone sounds like it would be less free, not more. At least it sounds that way to me.

    But even if your boss could order you to have sex with someone, you could always get another job. Maybe you would have to take a huge pay cut to get a job with sexual freedom, or maybe workers would have enough market power so that virtually every job would offer “sexual protection.” If we subscribe to economic determinism, then our attitudes about sex would be irrelevant, it would be the free market that determined our labor options.

    And yet our attitudes about sex do seem to matter. I presume that’s why Prof. Hanson writes about them; he thinks they make a difference, and that they are not just epiphenomenal. What sort of effects do they have? Are our moral intuitions simply inefficient, inconsistent, incoherent, hypocritical? Or are they actually the building blocks of the accomplishments of human civilization?

    Enough rambling…

  • http://mindtap.wordpress.com Sean

    It’s simple: the government can’t tax sex.

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  • Anonymous

    > no (non-prostitute) group has ever explicitly offered sex as a prize or reward

    Armies historically have offered the women of the defeated populace as a reward for the soldiers.

    Google for ‘sexual slavery reward’ and you’ll find many cases of sexual services being used as rewards in non-war environments, e.g. this http://www.jstor.org/pss/3346104