Not so long ago, married women were socially expected to do the bulk — if not all — of the housework, while their husbands went to work and drank martinis and were just generally incompetent when it came to using a vacuum cleaner. (Doesn’t that make you break out in hives a little bit?) Today, there’s a more equal division of labor among couples and, besides the obvious benefits of one person not having to do all the housework, researchers say that sharing responsibilities at home also leads to more sex between partners.
A new study that will be published to the Journal of Marriage and Family this summer explored data from heterosexual married couples from the 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey. In a brief, Cornell professor and co-author of the study Sharon Sassler writes:
Contemporary couples who adhere to this more egalitarian division of labor are the only couples who have experienced an increase in sexual frequency compared to their counterparts of the past, whereas other groups – including those where the woman does the bulk of the housework – have experienced declines in sexual frequency. This finding is particularly notable given reports indicating that sexual frequency has generally declined worldwide over the past few decades.
This study is particularly significant because it reverses findings from previous studies, which argued that couples who shared housework experienced less sexual satisfaction and less frequent sex because conventional gender behaviors within the household were “turn-ons.” Those studies relied on data from the 1980s and ‘90s, while the 2006 data showed that “couples who reported sharing housework fairly equally, with the man doing more than a third and up to 65 percent of the housework, reported having sex significantly more often than did couples where the woman (or the man) did 65 percent or more of the housework.”
Why the huge jump in two decades? For starters, the 2006 survey respondents ranked housework arrangements as more important than their counterparts from the 1980s did. And sexual frequency is linked to overall relationship satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction is highest when couples divide the housework evenly. “Evidence shows that when men do a greater share of housework, women’s perceptions of relationship fairness and satisfaction are greater,” Sassler writes. “Sharing housework is now perceived as a sexual turn-on.”
Sadly, sharing is the key word here: Having the man in the relationship do the bulk of the housework also means less sex than their more egalitarian counterparts.