Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Housework, Sex, Middle Aged Marriage and what the study actually says

Under Contract to My Wife asked; Do manly men get more action? He was responding to that New York Times article, Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?

The article is about this paper that shows that in "peer marriages" where men and women share chores, they have less sex than in marriages where the men perform more manly roles.

Summary of Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage by Sabino Kornrich, Julie Brines, and Katrina Leupp

The authors open by citing other studies:

  • Couples who both work and share chores are less likely to divorce than traditional marriages.
  • Where chores are shared, women's satisfaction goes up.
  • Peer marriages lack passion, and this is not explained by lack of time.
  • A small unpublished study links chore-sharing to sexual frequency.
  • However, other studies show peer marriages have less sex.

This study - the authors say - will take a closer look at chores: roughly "womanly" housework versus "manly" other tasks.

Less sex?
They present two competing models: Either (A) men doing housework buys or facilitates sex, or (B) housework transgresses gender scripts.

In other words, if I do the dishes, either (A) my wife will have time and energy for sex, or reward me with it, instinctively or consciously or (B) though she may be feel satisfaction at our relationship, on some gut level she won't feel like a shag from a man who wears an apron.

The authors want to know, which is it?

Obviously the study shows it's B, but why?

They dispose of the idea that "manly" men demand sex more and wives refuse it less regardless of female desire, since these wives report marital satisfaction.

That leaves two possibilities: traditional domestic roles are a turn-on, or at lease foster a feeling of being sexual people, and; Traditional domestic roles increase marital satisfaction, and facilitate marital sex.

The authors cite more research on Sexual Constraints and Opportunities:

  • Lack of marital satisfaction hampers marital sex (so men opting out of chores can be a disaster)
  • Practicalities like children hamper married sex
  • Lack of time when both partners are working has no effect on marital sex (if a couple want it, they'll find the time)
  • Couplet time spent on housework correlates to more sex--either "work hard/play hard" or else increased satisfaction leading to increased sex. However this doesn't differentiate between flavors of chores.

Then they move onto the data.

They're actually using an old survey: Wave II of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) (Sweet and Bumpass 1996). (Yes, those really are the names of the authors!) They still think it applies, however--they'll get to this. They go onto explain all the clever things they did with the data to make sure it was useful and not full of errors.

At last we get to the results: Determinants of Sexual Frequency.

Some of what they found confirmed earlier studies: being healthy, wealthy, young and having time alone with your spouse means you'll have more sex. Duh!

Otherwise, the results confirm Option B: Peer marriages disrupt gender scripts, disrupt sex. Apart from Protestants and Religious Conservatives having more sex, nothing else seemed to make a difference, including religion, how macho and feminine the partner's jobs were, and the household politics--Feminists, it seems, still fancy firemen. 

Men doing chores does increases marital satisfaction, but it only increases sexual frequency if those chores are manly ones, and this holds good when the couple has a "modern" definition of gender roles.

Here's their graph:

Sexual Frequency is per month. If the man does all the core household chores, he has 1.6 fewer shags per month compared to his macho friends who do chores, but only the man stuff.
However, this is based on all the couples in the study. That number on the left may be substantially smaller for some couples. 
In the Conclusion, they summarize their findings, argue that they are still relevant despite the data being 20 years old, caution against applying the results to gay couples, and muse on workarounds: either couples must divide labor along gender lines, or women must be empowered or empower themselves to learn new scripts.

Why I think this matters

If anything, I suspect more modern data would paint a bleaker picture. Twenty years ago, people had peer marriages who positively wanted them. Now--quite rightly--it's the socially approved default. However, that means many more peer couples will have an underlying issue with equality.

I also wonder about the picture for middle aged people. When desire drops below a certain threshold, that doesn't mean proportionately less sex, it means no sex. Given that middle aged married couples report twice a month as typical, and that there are a lot of near sexless marriages - and judging from the Internet forums, I think these are under reported! - we need to take seriously anything that reduces desire by about 30%! 

So where does this leave Femdom and FLR couples?

I suspect Femdom and FLR couples have found their own workaround and embraced different gender scripts. However, I will have to think about this...

Why find your own workaround and introduce some Female Centered Femdom to your relationship?


  1. Thanks for this more in depth analysis. What's shocking is how low the frequency is regardless of gender roles. I guess Molly spoils old Mick,


    1. The low frequency is shocking, unless you've experienced it, at which point it is validating.

      The study talks about embracing new scripts. You and Molly most certainly seem to have done this :)


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