It may be gratifying for women to see their husbands loading the dishwasher or folding laundry, but is it sexy? Yes, according to many media stories. "Men: Want More Sex? Do the Laundry" was headline of a 2009 report from CBS News. According to Naomi Wolf, "research has shown that the most erotic thing a man can do for a woman is the dishes." Sheryl Sandberg, the author of "Lean In," agrees. "Nothing is sexier" she says, than a man who wants to do his share of the housework. "It may be counterintuitive," writes Sandberg, "but the best way for a man to make a pass at his wife is to do the dishes." Sandberg urges readers to check out a "fabulous little book" called "Porn for Women" produced by the Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative. It is full of images of hunky guys vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning the kitty litter.
But now a new study in the American Sociological Review casts doubt on the truth of this happy feminist idyll. Men routinely doing "female" chores appear to have less - not more - sex. According to the authors, Sabino Kornrich (Center for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, Madrid), Julie Brines (University of Washington), and Katrina Leupp (University of Washington):
"Couples in which men participate more in housework typically done by women report having sex less frequently. Similarly, couples in which men participate more in traditionally masculine tasks - such as yard work, paying bills and auto maintenance - report higher sexual frequency."
The three researchers looked at data from a nationally representative sample of 4,500 heterosexual married couples from the U.S. National Survey of Families and Households, 1992 to 1994 - the most recent large-scale study measuring household chores, sexual frequency, and marital satisfaction.
Men in the study reported having had sex an average of 5.2 times in the month prior to the survey, while women reported 5.6 times on average. But both men and women in couples with more gender-traditional divisions of household labor reported having had more sex than those with more egalitarian divisions.
In marriages where women performed all the typically female tasks (cleaning, cooking, shopping - called "core work" by the researchers), couples had sex 1.6 times more per month than couples where men carried out all these traditionally female chores. In marriages where men helped out but stuck to stereotypical male tasks ("non-core" work such automobile maintenance, yard work, bill-paying, and snow shoveling), couples had sex 0.7 times more than those where women performed the traditional male tasks. But, as the researchers point out, even in marriages where men did 40 percent of the "female" chores, couples experience "substantially lower sexual frequency than households in which women perform all the core [typically female] chores." Put simply: There appears to be an inverse relationship between husbands doing traditionally female tasks and sexual frequency.
Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Her books include "Who Stole Feminism" and "The War Against Boys."