Does A More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?

desexualized couple_craig cutler

Image © Craig Cutler for the New York Times

This is a response to Lori Gottlieb’s article of the same name, Does A More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?, recently published in the New York Times.

In her piece, Ms. Gottlieb noted that:

A study called “Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.

She also writes that:

– Couples in which the husband did plenty of traditionally male chores reported a 17.5 percent higher frequency of sexual intercourse than those in which the husband did none.

– 64 percent of U.S. marriages with children under 18, both husband and wife work. 23 percent of married mothers have a higher income than their husbands.

– The risk of divorce is lowest when the husband does 40 percent of the housework and the wife earns 40 percent of the income.

– [Sexual attraction expert] Helen Fisher told me that women’s expectations for sexual fulfillment are changing so much that when she conducted a survey last year asking, “Would you make a long-term commitment to someone who had everything you were looking for but to whom you did not feel sexually attracted?” theleast likely group to say yes was women over 60. At any age, companionship, it seems, is no longer enough of a draw on its own.

Though this article has gotten backlash – like Tracy Moore’s What If Equality Is The Biggest Bonerkiller Of Them All? – I think rather than bashing Ms. Gottlieb or her specific points, we should consider where we are as a society. Progress is seldom a smooth path, and I gotta say, I don’t think that Ms. Gottlieb is totally off base about where we are… women are still getting used to seeing men in other roles, and sexualizing those other roles. While men have seen women as sex objects, women have seen men as success objects, and although the paradigm is shifting, it takes time. Seeing a man doing something non-traditionally masculine could be killing our “boners” just as much. No one tells girls when they are growing up that they have to earn enough money to support their husband and kids… but that message is still communicated to guys. So we still see them as success objects, and them doing more traditionally feminine activities does not fit in that objectification.

As more women feel more demands and pressure at work, they are going to start appreciating what men have traditionally gone through, and as men feel more pressure and demands at home, they will better appreciate what women have traditionally gone through. It might not be sexy – at first, or ever – but how can we expect it to be? It’s a learning process, and we’re all trying to figure out where we fit. Traditional career paths are changing, traditional gender roles are changing, the notion of marriage and family is changing. Navigating this changing landscape is not easy!

Perhaps it’s not equality in relationships we should be focusing on as much as we should think about balance. What does balance look like? Most likely we need to start by throwing away the ratios – the 60/40, the 50/50 – and begin to think about balancing strengths and weaknesses with responsibilities. As Daniel Jones communicated in his piece Good Enough? That’s Great, the best approach to boredom and a lack of intimacy in long-term relationships might be to accept that you can’t have everything you want the way you want it all the time. Sometimes we just have to take a moment to pause and think about where we are.

– Nikita