Do Men Who Avoid Household Chores Really Have More Sex?

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A new study published in the American Sociological Review reports that when married couples divide household chores along gendered lines (i.e., with women doing more work inside the home, such as cleaning and ironing, and men doing more work outside of the home, such as mowing the lawn and fixing the car), they tend to have more sex [1]. In response, several headlines have popped up saying things like “Men who don’t do chores have a lot of sex” and “What to have more sex? Men, stop helping with the chores.” So it’s settled, then. Put down those vacuum cleaners and dirty dishes, guys, and prepare to get laid like you’ve never been laid before. On second thought, scratch that. A closer look at the research suggests that maybe we shouldn’t take these headlines or the results of this research too seriously.

First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that this is a correlational study. This means that while gendered housework and sexual frequency are statistically associated, we don’t know why and we don’t even know if this association is meaningful. Gendered housework may not be driving sexual frequency at all. For instance, perhaps the people who divide household chores along gender lines simply believe in very traditional ideas of male dominance and female submissiveness. As a result, the women in these relationships may be less inclined to refuse a partner’s request for sex or feel as though they have a duty to provide more sex to their partner.

Second, the researchers only looked at heterosexual married couples, which means that this study tells us absolutely nothing about how the division of labor is related to sexual frequency in other types of relationships. Moreover, the data for this study were collected nearly 20 years ago. According to the study’s authors: “We suspect our results would still hold despite the time that has passed since the data were collected.” However, I would argue that marriage and women's role in society have changed a lot since the early 1990s. For one thing, the marriage rate is now at an all-time low. In addition, there are more women today working outside of the home than ever before, women are getting college degrees in greater numbers, and women are contributing a greater share of the household income in heterosexual relationships. Thus, I don’t think it’s safe to simply assume that the same results would be found in today’s world.

Third, although gendered housework was linked to more sex, it did not translate to a huge increase in sexual activity. The difference in sexual frequency between a household in which a woman does all of the “female” chores and one in which she does none is 1.6 times per month. Obviously, when trying to define what “a little” or “a lot” of sex is, we’re talking about a subjective judgment; however, I think most of us would agree that a difference of 1.6 times per month is not a dramatic change. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the researchers only asked participants how often they had “sex” without defining what that was. Thus, we do not know if participants were only referencing vaginal intercourse here, or if they were counting other sexual activities.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, although frequency of sex was higher among those who engaged in gendered housework, we do not know if that translated to higher levels of sexual satisfaction. Quantity and quality of sex are two completely different things, and just because someone is having more sex doesn’t necessarily mean they are having “better” sex. It could be that people who take on very strict gender roles have a very restricted view of what they are "supposed" to do in bed, which may make sex less spontaneous and exciting. Consistent with this idea, a recent study found that both men and women who possess traditional gender role beliefs have lower sexual self-efficacy, which refers to one’s perceived ability to turn down sex, to achieve sexual satisfaction, and to initiate safe-sex practices [2]. In light of this, one could argue that adopting traditional gender roles may undermine the quality of your sex life.

In short, don’t believe the headlines on this one. Shirking household chores is unlikely to win your partner’s heart or provide you with a golden ticket to non-stop, mind-blowing sex.

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[1] Kornrich, S., Brines, J., & Leupp, K. (2013). Egalitarianism, housework, and sexual frequency in marriage. American Sociological Review, 78, 26-50.

[2] Rosenthal, L., Levy, S. R., & Earnshaw, V. A. (in press). Social dominance orientation relates to believing men should dominate sexually, sexual self-efficacy, and taking free female condoms among undergraduate women and men. Sex Roles.

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