My husband last night felt the need to alert me to a new study showing an inverse relationship between household chores performed by men and how often they had sex with their wives. Since I rely on him greatly to help with homework, wash the dishes, and pick up around the house, I hastened to tell him that I’m sure the study had flaws that made its conclusions shaky at best.
I decided to delve into the research, published in the American Sociologial Review, to determine how the researchers, from the Juan March Institute in Spain and the University of Washington, connected more male housework with less marital sex.
First off, they relied on a two-decade old survey in which 4,500 couples were interviewed from 1992 to 1994 and asked about sexual frequency and actual participation in household labor.
“The age of the data may limit generalizability to the present day,” wrote the researchers, but they said it was the only known data set with such detailed measures of married life.
I think an update on this survey is sorely needed.
They also divided chores by traditional women’s work or core household chores—like scrubbing toilets, doing laundry, cooking, and childcare—and traditional men’s work or non-core chores like mowing the lawn and fixing a clogged toilet.
What they found? In households where women perform all the core housework, sexual frequency was higher than in those households where men performed 40 percent of this core work.
Men who performed all these housekeeping duties without any help from their wives had sex, on average, about three times a month compared to about five times a month for men who did none of these chores.
Interestingly, married couples in which women did more of the bulk of men’s non-core chores had somewhat less sex, on average, but the difference wasn’t as dramatic. So, should we infer that men aren’t as turned off by seeing women do manly tasks as women are by seeing men do womanly chores?
The researchers didn’t draw that conclusion nor could they offer any concrete explanation as to why couples would have sex less with the shifting of gender roles. They did, though, make a valid point that previous studies may have wrongly concluded that women proffer sex as a trade for their husband taking on more household responsibilities.
Indeed, they may not, nor perhaps do their husband ask them to; perhaps men are too fatigued from all the cleaning and ironing to initiate sex, the researchers speculated. And perhaps women need to start initiating sex more as gender roles change with women contributing more income to the marriage and men contributing more elbow grease.
“Increased egalitarianism in one area of marriage must be paired with comparable shifts away from traditional gender behaviors, attitudes, and scripts in others,” wrote the researchers.
Perhaps that’s a better solution than letting men shirk off the housework.
Deborah Kotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.