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I am getting a lot of calls about a new journal article supposedly showing that husbands get more sex when they do less housework. Many journalists miss the authors' real finding, which is that doing housework is very important for a man who wants to have a sexually responsive wife. But the study did find that doing more traditionally masculine housework like repairs and yard work seems to be associated with slightly more frequent sex than doing traditionally female housework like ironing. Here's one story with a quote from me in response from USA Today.
I think the authors are correct that there are still strong gender stereotypes in play, so some couples with what I'd call transitional gender views may be more turned on by dividing the housework along traditionally "manly" and womanly lines. But the study doesn't count child care, which might make a big difference. And the data's twenty years old. If you look at polls of women, you will find that in the past decade the importance of having a partner who does housework and childcare to females' marital satisfaction has increased almost on a yearly basis, outstripping many other earlier factors that predicted relationship happiness.
Such averages also obscure tremendous variation. For example, a relatively small component of couples who have an nontraditional division of labor but still hold to traditional values can pull the average down. And the authors themselves note the reams of research showing that couples are now happier when they share more of the housework and childcare.
That said, this research ties in with earlier findings by Pepper Schwartz that happy peer marriages sometimes lack sexual frisson. For 150 years our sexual desires were constructed around the tensions and anxieties elicited by gender differences and inequalities, expressed in very stereotypical behaviors. Evidently for many people that has persisted despite a growing desire to construct their relationships on the basis of similarity and equality. I think this is changing very rapidly for the younger generation, but I agree it's a challenge for many of us to reconfigure our traditional sexual desires, constructed around the idea of difference, with our new relationship desires, which revolve around similarities and equality. Maybe one of the advantages of the growing numbers of same-sex marriages is that they can provide heterosexual couples with some alternative models for finding a satisfying and sexy division of household labor.
Here's another take from BuzzFeed.