Co-authored with Susan Schneider
Egalitarian marriages are starting to look like the future of the institution, but we're now hearing -- in The New York Times, no less! -- that if things are too good, too equal, too intimate, you won't have hot sex. If you have an unequal power balance, with a dominant breadwinning man and a less dominant wife, you'll have killer sex. The way they make it sound, you can't have equality AND hot sex. Folks, it's your choice...
Really? Let's take a deep breath and relax.
Citing research that is 20 years old and using some anecdotal material from dinner parties and her couples practice, Lori Gottlieb, the author of the article, makes the case that egalitarian marriages suffer from sexual ennui. The message: good relationships destroy lust. Before embracing this theory, you may or may not want to consider that Lori Gottlieb's claim to fame as a writer is her 2010 book Marry Him: Making the Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, which urgently advises women to lower their expectations where husbands are concerned.
Now for the facts: for the first time in history, women are superseding men in education and advancement. The impact on relationships is transformational, with women contributing 45 percent of household income in two-income families. In 25 percent of households, wives out-earn husbands.
And it's not just economic parity that's becoming the norm: today's couples seem to prize equality and balance in marriage. "Our now dominant model of marriage makes a priority of friendship, intimacy and a more equal exchange of domestic labor and, crucially, respect," states Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, of the Institute of American Values.
Isn't that a good thing? I used to see men in my therapy practice who demanded sex as their due and wives who felt it was their duty to provide it whether they wanted to or not. Ladies, submit! Today, most people -- men and women -- would find that expectation demeaning, if not abusive.
Now that gender roles in marriage are based less on machismo and more on shared intimacy, it's true that men are less likely to be the ones who initiate sex, or have expectations of sexual frequency and variety. Don Draper is dead, ladies and gentlemen. Men are becoming more nurturing and emotionally available. They connect with their wives in many ways, and sex is only one of them, albeit, a very important one.
Are things complicated in this time of flux? Yes, absolutely. Contemporary women, who take charge in many areas, are often conflicted about their sexual appetites and hold on to romantic notions of being ravished and "taken." They long for the less-complicated good old days -- which really weren't good at all. They may perceive their take-charge qualities as being unfeminine or feel that they will be judged harshly for being sexually assertive. Therefore, it is not surprising that women are not initiating sex. This is unfortunate but real, even though being passive sexually, an outdated social script, is inconsistent with women's new roles.
With social norms in flux, we are hampered by old rules, which die hard. These days, husbands and wives are closer than ever before, more respectful and more compatible. If people are less in lust, but more compatible in love, can we tolerate this trade-off? Or should we change our expectation to include greater equality in the bedroom as well as in all other aspects of the marriage?
Sonya Rhodes, PhD is co-author with Susan Schneider of The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match: How Today's Strong Women Can Find Love and Happiness Without Settling, April, 2014.