10.17.08

When Markets Fall, So Do the Big Swinging Dicks

A blow by blow guide to the 4 stages of market related sexual dysfunction.

A blow-by-blow guide to the four stages of market-related sexual dysfunction.

Decades ago, during the era of takeover kings and junk bond traders—long before the tech boom, the hedge fund boom, and the private equity boom—Michael Lewis’s 1989 classic, Liar’s Poker, labeled Wall Street stars the “Big Swinging Dicks.” The common if optimistic assumption has always been that these guys perform aggressively in the bedroom, too. Remember Dennis Kozlowski’s babe-shaped birthday cake, with sparklers for breasts?

Whenever times are good, few people stop to wonder whether the converse might also be true: BSDs—or Masters of the Universe, or whatever they are calling themselves now—get less virile when the market crashes.

For one therapy client, charting the amount of money he made or lost each day explained his “inconsistent erectile difficulties.”

Most of the information on this topic is anecdotal, if consistent: bad economic times pretty much guarantee bad sex. But with every crash the debate on recession sex reemerges. Earlier this week, Bonnie Fuller sent out a well-circulated questionnaire asking her contacts about their post-crash sex lives. Gawker has laid out a theory on the 5 types of recession sex, as told through craigslist. And numerous bloggers are espousing their own theories.

Now, it’s our turn to weigh in. The Daily Beast’s news shrink, clinical psychologist Stephen Josephson, says sexual performance and the stock market are often closely related. He recently saw a man who ran a trading desk and complained of “inconsistent erectile difficulties.” He was, says Josephson, “a handsome big guy, sleeping with hotties.” Further investigation revealed that the client couldn’t separate his work from his play. “I had him chart how much money he made each day to his sexual performance,” Josephson says. “When the market went up, so did he.” In fact, the stages of market related sexual dysfunction (Let’s call it MRSD) can be tracked, just like the market itself.

Stage 1: Volatility.

You might think that people under a lot of pressure might have a lot of sex, and you would be right. Initially. Pressure is an aphrodisiac, as long as it doesn’t continue for too long. People had sex in bomb shelters during WW II for instance, and there was that baby boom after 9-11. But during the Great Depression birth rates fell.

As Dr. Pepper Schwartz, Seattle-based author of Prime: Advice and Adventures on Sex, Love and the Sensuous Years explains, in the face of imminent death, people go at it thinking, “This may be the last time we make love.” But, she notes, that’s different from the slow-motion worry of “not being able to make your minimum payment or being foreclosed upon.”

Stage 2: Decline.

Sexual desire and anxiety are inversely proportional. The wife of one Wall Street player, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me that her husband rose at 5 a.m. to check on trading in Japan, only to find that it was National Fitness Day, and the market was closed. That didn’t help.

And as the bank account shrinks, the second-guessing begins, accompanied by intensifying cycles of doubt, fear and self-loathing. Significant others get snippy, asking why the 401-K wasn’t diversified and all the private school tuition money went to a personal trainer. One investment banker joked darkly that this market crash “is worse than a divorce: I lost half my wealth but I’m still married to my wife.”

Infidelity can increase during this period—strip clubs, prostitutes, one-night stands, anyone who isn’t a critical or anxious spouse. Elaine Calaway, a Houston psychologist who works with the well-heeled explains: “When finances are pinched, wealthy men feel super vulnerable with a wife or partner. Having a side-treat props them up, feeds that need to feel powerful and virile.”

Alas, the mistresses who are attracted to moneyed men aren’t very interested in hanging around once the money disappears, and the ones who do are put on short rations, one wife of a Texas oilman says. In turn, they are cutting back, too: way fewer triple process blondes, no more hair extensions, and they’ve put their Hermes bags on eBay.

Stage 3: Depression.

This is the period when, as Houston psychologist Andrew Gol explains, “Sex goes out the window.” Too many negative thoughts are death for the libido. Viagra, which needs the trigger of desire to send blood flow to the sexual organs, isn’t much help, if any. Heavy drinking, which might have lead to more illicit sex in earlier stages of financial distress, doesn’t help either, when things get really tough. “It makes it worse,” the sex deprived wife of one trader told me.

Stage 4: Rally.

In this phase, people will come to understand that money won’t make them happier, and they learn to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures. “America’s Sex Therapist” Ian Kerner showed that flag recently on MSNBC: “As we struggle to save our dollars, we allow the currency of our communication to become devalued by stress, anxiety and fear. It’s not just the state of the union we need to be worrying about, but also the state of our unions. So why not go home tonight and have some good old-fashioned sex?”

No word yet on what kind of bailout will be required to put that plan into effect.