The culture of money - sex

By Henry Sutton

OK, time for the dirty talk. What’s the greater aphrodisiac, money or power? Is there much difference between money and power? Not a lot actually, unless by power one begins to look at issues of force and coercion. So for the sake of brevity and in an attempt not to darken the waters even more, we’ll forget about what might or might not have happened in room 2806 of the Sofitel, NYC (if indeed we can, and if indeed that’s not really the subtext to this column).

Let us then stick to the issue of sex and money, and if you want that dirty talk. The British novelist Martin Amis memorably brought the issue to the fore of the modern capitalist world when, in his gloriously satirical, landmark novel Money (1984), he had his anti-hero John Self make the stunning comment regarding his girlfriend Selina Street: “While making love, we often talk about money. I like it. I like that dirty talk.”

Now maybe this is really an inversion of the old adage that money is the great sexual enabler, and that too much of it, too much of an obsession with it anyway, actually distracts from what pleasure might be gained from the act (or acts, let’s hope!) in question. The real interest is the size and shape of the wedge.

However, a number of recent surveys show that the richer you are the better sex you have. One survey (by Grove and Prince) specifically found that rich people believed their fortunes allowed them to lead ‘more daring and exciting sex lives’ than they otherwise would have if they had less money. Various reasons as to exactly why were cited but travel was high up there (literally too, in the case private jet owners), as was, among men anyway, an ability to attract a greater variety of partners (which logically comes back to the issue of empowerment etc). Notably rich men, it was found, equate better sex with quantity, while more women stated that being rich improved the quality of their sex lives – make of that what you will.

But bear in mind a recent neuroscience study that discovered (and massively summarising here) in terms of the orbitofrontal cortex the posterior (or more primitive) region of your brain is specifically stimulated by erotic images and primary rewards, while the anterior region (which is more recent in man) is activated by monetary gain and secondary rewards. Broadly (again) the more abstract and complex the reward, the more its representation stimulates the anterior regions of the orbitofrontal cortex.

Thus and obviously sex is pretty primitive while money (and the making of, especially through anything resembling a derivative) is a rather more advanced occupation (and reward). You could of course then argue that Martin Amis had intended that inversion and was bang on the money so to speak back in 1984. Money, it seems, is the more sophisticated attraction, while sex a rather primitive urge and by-product. Forget aphrodisiacs, learned humans will always go for the money first. No?

*Henry Sutton’s latest novel, Get Me Out Of Here is published in the UK by Vintage (£7.99) and in the US by Europa Editions ($15).