Sexual capital or erotic capital is the social value an individual or group accrues, as a result of their sexual attractiveness. As with other forms of capital, sexual capital is convertible, and may be useful in acquiring other forms of capital, including social capital and economic capital.
The term erotic capital was first used by British sociologist Catherine Hakim in the early 2000s. Hakim defined it as separate from and building upon French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of economic, cultural and social capital. She says erotic capital is independent of class origin and therefore enables social mobility, and argues that this makes erotic capital socially subversive, which results in the prevailing power structures devaluing and trying to suppress it.
One economic-related definition is based on the human truth capital theory of Gary Becker, and predicts that people invest rationally in exhibiting their sex appeal when they can expect a return on their investments. This he defines as a form of health capital which is itself a form of individual capital.
The sociological definition is based on Bourdieu's idea of fields. This definition builds on Bourdieu's concept of capital. Green defines sexual capital as accruing to an individual or group due to the quality and quantity of attributes that he or she possesses which elicit an erotic response in another, including physical appearance, affect and sociocultural styles. Some of these attributes may be immutable, such as an individual's race or height, while others may be acquired through fitness training, or artificially, through plastic surgery or a makeover, etc. There is no single hegemonic form of erotic (sexual) capital. On the contrary, currencies of capital are quite variable, acquiring a hegemonic status in relation to the erotic preferences of highly specialized social groups that distinguish one sexual field from another. Importantly, this means that erotic capital is best conceived as a property of the field, and not an individual form of capital.
A second definition is developed by Hakim, treating erotic capital as the fourth personal asset. This definition is a multifaceted combination of physical and social attractiveness that goes well beyond sexual attractiveness that is the focus of the 'fields' perspective. Unlike Green's conception of sexual capital, Hakim's erotic capital is an individual capital with no necessary referent to a field.
Extensive supporting evidence for the concept of sexual capital, defined as beauty, physical attractiveness, and good looks, is provided in Daniel Hammermesh's latest book, Beauty Pays, where he reviews the research evidence on the economic benefits of being attractive in all contexts, including higher education teaching, politics, sales and marketing, and everyday social interaction. Hamermesh assumes these economic benefits must be due to unfair discrimination, a position he takes from Deborah Rhode's new book, Beauty Bias, a feminist lawyer's critique of the social benefits that accrue to attractive people, and the disadvantages experienced by unattractive people, most particularly the obese.
Catherine Hakim argues that erotic capital matters beyond the sexual field, and beyond private relationships. Her research suggests that erotic capital is important in the fields of media, politics, advertising, sports, the arts, and in everyday social interaction, and consists of six elements:
- Sexual attractiveness
- Social attractiveness
- Vivaciousness and energy
Catherine Hakim's theory of erotic capital argues that erotic capital is an important fourth personal asset, alongside economic capital, cultural/human capital and social capital; that erotic capital is increasingly important in affluent modern societies; that women generally have more erotic capital than men, and that erotic capital has social benefits and privileges that benefit the female gender. This definition of erotic capital has been contested by some sociologists who reject the idea that erotic capital / sexual capital is something individuals possess, like a portable portfolio of resources, with no implicit link to the particular sexual field in which such characteristics are deemed desirable (For more, see Green, Adam Isaiah. 2013. "Erotic Capital and the Power of Desirability: Why 'Honey Money' is a Bad Collective Strategy for Remedying Gender Inequality". Sexualities 16:137-158).
Sexual capital may be related to both sexual and mental health, as when individuals with low sexual capital show diminished ability to talk about or negotiate condom use with a partner possessing greater erotic capital, and develop negative emotional states as a consequence of feeling unattractive.
In broader theoretical terms, sexual capital is important for social theory insofar as it is one among other types of capital, including social capital, symbolic capital, and cultural capital which influence the status accorded individual members of the larger society. Sexual capital is convertible to other forms of capital, as when actors parlay sexual capital into financial capital or social capital (e.g. Marilyn Monroe), or when attractive employees get raises and social connections from bringing in more customers by virtue of their looks.
Several studies suggest that sexual capital is closely associated with race or racial stereotypes of sexual attractiveness. Studies show a more complex relationship of erotic capital to race whereby some black men are afforded high sexual status in the context of a gay sexual field in New York City precisely because they appeal to the racialized fantasies of some white gay men. Susan Koshy argues that Asian women have gained sexual capital in the West through glamorous accounts of western male – Asian female sexual relationships in the media and arts. James Farrer argues that white men living in China have enhanced sexual capital arising out of associations of whiteness with modernity, sexual openness and mobility.
Class and gender
Scholars suggest that sexual capital is closely tied to social class. Groes-Green argues that sexual capital and other forms of bodily power become important resources among disenfranchised young men in Southern Africa when their access to economic capital and jobs is diminished. Groes-Green further argues that the emergence of sexual capital is linked to gender relations, e.g. when poor young men build sexual capital by grooming their looks and improving sexual performance in order to satisfy female partners and in competition with middle class peers and older so-called 'sugar-daddies'. Thus sexual capital reinforces masculinity in the face of male disempowerment, and it often develops as a response to conflict between hegemonic and subordinated masculinities.
Because desirability in a sexual field may depend on more than merely sexual attractiveness, Green (2014) develops the concept, capital portfolio, to capture the particular combination of capitals that make an individual or group more desirable than others. Capital portfolios typically involve a combination of sexual capital with economic, cultural and social capitals. As an example, to the extent that women, on average, value financial resources (i.e., economic capital) in their male partners more than sexual capital, and men value sexual capital more than economic capital in their female partners, so one may conclude that heterosexual women and men seek out distinctive capital portfolios that include a different, gendered balance of capitals.
- ↑ Hakim, Catherine (2011). Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom. Basic Books. pp. 16–18. ISBN 0465027474.
- ↑ Michael, Robert T. (2004). "Sexual Capital: An extension of Grossman's concept of health capital". Journal of Health Economics. 23 (4): 643–652. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2004.04.003. PMID 15587691.
- 1 2 3 4 5 Green, Adam Isaiah (2008). "The Social Organization of Desire: The Sexual Fields Approach". Sociological Theory. Philadelphia, PA: American Sociological Association. 26: 25–50. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2008.00317.x.
- ↑ Martin, John Levi; George, Matt (2006). "Theories of Sexual Stratification: Toward an Analytics of the Sexual Field and a Theory of Sexual Capital". Sociological Theory. 24 (2): 107–132. doi:10.1111/j.0735-2751.2006.00284.x.
- 1 2 Koshy, Susan (2004). Sexual Naturalization: Asian Americans and Miscegenation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-8047-4729-5.
- ↑ Bourdieu, Pierre (1980). The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-2011-3.
- 1 2 3 4 Hakim, Catherine (2010). "Erotic capital". European Sociological Review. 26 (5): 499–518. doi:10.1093/esr/jcq014.
- ↑ Green, Adam Isaiah (2008). "Health and Sexual Status in an Urban Gay Enclave: An Application of the Stress Process Model". Journal of Health and Social Behavior. American Sociological Association. 49 (4): 436–451. doi:10.1177/002214650804900405.
- ↑ Hakim, Catherine (24 March 2010). "Have you got erotic capital?". Prospect Magazine (169). Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- ↑ Gonzales, Alicia M.; Rolison, Gary (2005). "Social Oppression and Attitudes Toward Sexual Practices". Journal of Black Studies. 35 (6): 715–729. doi:10.1177/0021934704263121.
- ↑ Farrer, James (2010). "A foreign adventurer's paradise? Interracial sexuality and alien sexual capital in reform era Shanghai" (PDF). Sexualities. 13 (1): 69–95. doi:10.1177/1363460709352726.
- ↑ Groes-Green, Christian (2009). "Hegemonic and subordinated masculinities: Class, violence and sexual performance among young Mozambican men" (PDF). Nordic Journal of African Studies. 18 (4): 286–304.
- ↑ Green, Adam Isaiah (2014). Sexual Fields: Toward a Sociology of Collective Sexual Life. University of Chicago Press.
- Michael, Robert T. (2004). "Sexual Capital: An extension of Grossman's concept of health capital". Journal of Health Economics. 23 (4): 643–652. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2004.04.003. PMID 15587691.
- Green, Adam Isaiah (2008). "The Social Organization of Desire: The Sexual Fields Approach". Sociological Theory. 26: 25–56. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2008.00317.x.
- Martin, John Levi; George, Matt (2006). "Theories of Sexual Stratification: Toward an Analytics of the Sexual Field and a Theory of Sexual Capital". Sociological Theory. 24 (2): 107–132. doi:10.1111/j.0735-2751.2006.00284.x.
- Farrer, James C. (2010). "A foreign adventurer's paradise? Interracial sexuality and alien sexual capital in reform era Shanghai". Sexualities. 13 (1): 69–95. doi:10.1177/1363460709352726.