Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


(PHOTO: GUALTIERO BOFFI/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: GUALTIERO BOFFI/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Men: Want More Sex? Don’t Do the Laundry!

• February 12, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(PHOTO: GUALTIERO BOFFI/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Sociologists refute the idea that husbands who help out around the house are repaid with sex.

When it comes to sex, don’t believe everything you read on the Web.

As we discussed earlier, the myth of “sexercise” persists online despite physicians’ assessment that rolling in the sheets is hardly an efficient way to burn calories.

Now, a trio of sociologists, writing in American Sociological Review, takes on the notion that men who do more housework lead healthier sex lives, a bit of pop wisdom that went viral in 2009 thanks to the CBSNews.com article, “Men: Want More Sex? Do the Laundry!”

In fact, the authors argue, that write-up was based in part on an unpublished (unscientific) survey of 300 American husbands by Neil Chethik, a self-described “expert on men,” and tells us relatively little about the true relationship between housework and intimacy.

Modern love is a protean thing, but given all the hand-wringing—and Atlantic cover stories—about the end of men, the death of marriage, and the war on boys, it’s not a bad idea to ask whether the data supports such shrill alarmism.

In some ways, of course, “the demise of the male breadwinner model in the industrialized West” is well documented. The sociologists point to research which shows that, between the 1960s and today, men’s share of housework has climbed to 30 percent from 15 percent. When husbands pitch in, the authors assert, “fairness and marital satisfaction tend to rise” and “couples experience less marital conflict.” Egalitarian households may even have lower divorce rates.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that, pardon my academese, “gendered sexual scripts” are dead. Nor does it mean that “social exchange theory”—the notion that sex in marriage is a scarce resource which women control, and that they can trade it for favors, like having someone else scrub the kitchen floor for once—rules the day.

The sociologists culled data from the 1996 National Survey of Family and Households, which asked some 8,000 men and women about their sex lives, marriages, and domestic responsibilities. The survey differentiated between core tasks—“preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning house, shopping, and washing and ironing”—and non-core tasks—“outdoor work, paying bills, auto maintenance, and driving.”

The sociologists compared couples where women did most of the domestic drudgery and men did most of the gutter cleaning with those where gender roles and responsibilities were less fixed, more fluid. The data were unambiguous: “Our results suggest that sexual frequency is highest in households with traditionally gendered divisions of labor,” the authors write.

(Or, in hardcore sociology argot: “Overall, these results suggest that sexuality is governed by enactments of femininity and masculinity through appropriately gendered performances of household labor that coincide with sexual scripts organizing heterosexual desire.”)

While the data is old, and in some cases imperfect, the researchers conclude that their statistical evidence is “difficult to reconcile with the idea that women trade sex to men for doing what is traditionally viewed as women’s work.”

Not that men should simply drop the iron and pick up the Doritos. First, the National Survey of Family and Households is merely descriptive; it captures the state of marriage as it is, not as it ought to be. Second, if the point is that sex in marriage depends on scripts and gender roles, then men have a part to play, too. In other words, put down the iron—and grab the gutter rake.

Kevin Charles Redmon
Kevin Charles Redmon is a journalist and critic. He lives in Washington, D.C.

More From Kevin Charles Redmon

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.