Just how hot can a conversation be about housework? A few years ago, research suggested that the more housework men do, the more sex they enjoy. It made sense: Men who shared the work of running their homes had happier, and less tired, wives to cuddle with. But now, new research by Sabino Kornrich, Julie Brines and Katrina Leupp published this week in the American Sociological Review suggests that men who do more of the everyday chores such as cleaning and cooking actually report less sex per month then those who do less of those typically female jobs, but men who do more of the traditionally male duties, such as car repair and mowing the lawn, get more sex. Should husband's everywhere take off their aprons and have a beer while their wives stop off at the grocery store on the way home from work, make dinner and clean up the mess?
Why might it be that couples that share the housework more equally have less sex? The researchers suggest that sexual scripts have not caught up with rest of the changes in our married lives. Most wives, even those with young children, now work for a living. More and more men with young children chauffer their kids around to sports teams, give them baths and dry their tears when they cry. Women are succeeding in classrooms, courtrooms and are even breaking some glass ceilings in boardrooms. But perhaps what we need to pay attention to now is the bedroom.
Are little girls still raised to ward of potential admirers, rather than identify their own desires? Why do researchers still hear fear about the reputations of female college students, but not about the reputations of male students? Do wives still wait for men to initiate sex, and are women all stuck in 50 Shades of Grey mode, in which men have to be John Wayne warriors to turn us on? Or have we moved beyond the need for sexist stereotypes to trigger sexual desire?
This week's hot story is based on data twenty years old. The average age in that survey was 43 years old. The data was collected between 1992-1994. So, the average woman in the sample was born in 1950, six years older than I am now. These women are at the very cusp of the baby boom. If they were white and middle class, they were raised by mostly stay-at-home mothers, raising them to live a feminine mystique, to be good wives and mothers, and the world then exploded with feminism, the Civil Rights movement and the very birth of the LGBT coalition for the rights of sexual minorities. Is it so surprising that among this generation, people who followed traditional gender rules inside their marriages had somewhat more sex? Men and women lived such different lives; sex was perhaps the only way they really communicated at all.
But is this true today? I think not. When I posted the article on my Facebook page, one of my daughter's closest friends, engaged to be married, immediately commented, "I know that statistic isn't true in my house! My fiancé saying "I did the dishes and took out the garbage and scrubbed the floors and vacuumed while you were at work" is the fastest way to sweep me off my feet. But even for old 50-somethings like me, the world has changed, the meaning of housework has changed. It's not effeminate for men to share the load, it's just fair. My own sweet husband has retired from one career and is building another while I'm a college administrator, sociology professor and author with a book deadline looming over my head. He has far more time than I do, and so he does it all, and that means the time we spend together can be spent enjoying each other's company, inside our bedroom as well as outside of it.