Yet for all of its prominence in our politics (and regardless of how much importance we attach to it in our individual lives), our understanding of sex is often remarkably narrow. It’s not that we know nothing — we know a lot — but the nature of our knowledge is limited: the mechanics of the act, the social rituals and expectations surrounding it, and maybe various pop theories for why men and women act the way they do. Only rarely, however, are we aware of the structural forces acting on our romantic lives in the same way that the pressures of supply and demand influence the price of coffee.

These structural forces and their consequences are the topic of Mark Regnerus’s book Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, published in September. Regnerus, a conservative Catholic sociologist at the University of Texas, provocatively explores how changes in technology and American society more broadly have reshaped intimacy in recent decades, creating a world in which sex is low-effort and abundant, marriage is late, and relationships tend to be fleeting. Cheap Sex has already become a cult hit on the right for its author’s pessimistic take on these developments, but it is a book that should be eye-opening even for those who reject its author’s normative commitments. Grounded in abundant sociological research, a wealth of in-person interviews, and creative borrowing from critically minded left-wing theorists such as Anthony Giddens and Eva Illouz, Cheap Sex is an important, if at times partial attempt to understand the way we live and love today.