More housework means less sex for hubby, says study. What’s that, again?

January 31, 2013

This sounds mighty fishy to me. A study says that in households where chores are traditionally divided, couples report having more sex than when the housework is shared more equitably. That’s right, when husbands stick to mowing the lawn, paying the bills and auto care, and wives stay busy with cooking, cleaning and shopping, the frequency of sex increases.

It’s not enough that stereotypically guy stuff sounds more sexual – “chopping wood” and “looking under the hood” beats dusting and loading the dishwasher any day in the annals of innuendo. Now research is telling us it really means something. I suppose if a man dares to put on an apron – except to grill big hunks of meat — he will never have sex again for the rest of his natural life.

What perfect timing. As women’s roles in everything from combat to the office — a different sort of battle zone – are being debated,  a view that reinforces rather than questions tradition is grabbing attention.

The study was co-authored by sociologists at the University of Washington and published in the February issue of the journal American Sociological Review. “The results show that gender still organizes quite a bit of everyday life in marriage,” said co-author and associate professor of sociology Julie Brines in a university release. “In particular, it seems that the gender identities husbands and wives express through the chores they do also help structure sexual behavior.”

The caveman model is awfully different from the lives most families lead today, with two or more paychecks and lots of flexibility necessary to keep things running mostly smoothly. Perhaps sensing the tension that the study’s results could cause in already tense households, lead author Sabino Kornrich warns that “men who refuse to help around the house could increase conflict in their marriage and lower their wives’ marital satisfaction.” That observation would not shock couples who juggle work, kids and home and find alone time tough to carve out on the best of days.

Brines said, “If anything surprised us, it was how robust the connection was between a traditional division of housework and sexual frequency.”

Also not surprising, the survey of about 4,500 heterosexual married couples in America participating in the National Survey of Families and Households finds that women helped out more with men’s chores than the other way around. That’s right, it turns out that women are crossing the line, probably, I believe from experience, to the detriment of sleep. That’s not likely to increase sexy thoughts. Though the data came from 1992 to 1994, the authors say not enough has changed to shift the results.

The headlines are focusing on reports that marriages with housework neatly divided by traditional gender roles report having had sex 1.6 times more per month than those with less rigidity when it comes to which partner pushes the mop. It’s interesting that not much is being said about the number of times the couples report having sex on average – five times in the month before the survey. Whether you find that number encouraging or sad depends on your measure of ideal marital togetherness.

My open-minded husband managed to mention the news in passing. It’s not that he ever hesitates to help around the house. (Why do I say it like that? It’s his house, too.) There was a hint of a smile when he talked about it. I have wondered if his higher tolerance for mess is natural or an unconsciously studied avoidance tactic. Why don’t crumbs in the toaster drive him crazy, too?

He did make the point that a woman exhausted from doing more than her share of household chores would probably be too exhausted to be in the mood; I assured him that the sight of him vacuuming is alluring.

When it comes down to it, though, most chores in our home fall along the old gender roles. I actually enjoy cooking and find doing laundry relaxing, and he logs more garage time – and builds furniture, operating machines that grind and slice.

Those jobs really do sound sexy.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3

Mary C. Curtis is an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily.
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