I came across this Family Feud segment where the question was, “Married men, what would you do for sex?” The men surveyed answered that they would: lie, beg, cheat, kill, and die for sex... but apparently none would either cook or clean for sex.
Well, there's a big couple sexual challenge in a nutshell.
A few years ago, I was on TV talking about a (then) new study that found if men did more housework, their wives would be more in the mood for sex. It definitely ruffled a lot of men's feathers. The feedback from men was immediate, loud, and angry: he did help with housework and yet he still didn't get sex.
In response women shrugged and said, “Yes, her husband did help and was the 'fun parent' but she still did the majority of the child care and housework.” Added to this, over the holidays it was worse, because it was assumed she would take on do all the silent chores—like holiday shopping, wrapping, card writing, coordinating, making holiday supper, etc.
Yet another new study in the news, this time out of the University of Alberta, found heterosexual couples have more and better sex when the men are doing their fair share of the housework.
It contradicts a widely reported 2012 U.S. study that found couples' sex lives were negatively affected when the male partner helped out with tasks traditionally thought of as "women's work." (?!!?!?!?) Reading that study made me want to go and break something into a thousand tiny pieces.
Unfortunately, the fallout from these studies is many women resent the expectation and obligation of a housework/ sex quid-pro-quo: if he does the dishes, it means she's had time to 'relax' and therefore be more in the mood to put out. It's one of those theoretical ideas that look good on paper but is much too complicated to work in real life.
In fact, we can see how this ideology could easily disintegrate into (yet another) sex power struggle.
It's no secret the majority of women still do more housework then men, and it affects our will, want, and desire for sex. Sooooo... why aren't we speaking up about both the housework and sexual frustration? Is this what we want our daughters to see and emulate? Just saying.
If you've read any of these studies, or at least the to the end of the articles written about the research, inevitably there's a statement saying by him helping with housework, it helps her feel respected and appreciated. Perhaps the underlying difficulty isn't about the practical sharing of duties; it's the intangible and difficult-to-discuss self-worth feelings.
Looking at this another way, it's a housework/ negative baggage/ I don't feel like sex issue. That is, the cumulative effect of all the months and years of uncommunicated resentment, feeling unappreciated, exhaustion of trying to do everything for everyone (except, of course, herself) becomes the catch-all-place for her constant stress, anger and apathy.
And we all know: the majority of women cannot/ do not want to have sex when she's holding onto anger, stress and apathy. So it isn't the sharing of housework per se, it's all the negative feelings associated with housework that stops sex dead in its tracks.
I appreciate how complicated the unspoken communication is that gradually happens as life moves forward. I was amazed (and ashamed) when my kids were born how fast both my husband and I slipped into old-fashioned stereotypes of what men and women do. We were scrambling, and once the dye was cast, it felt impossible to renegotiate household chores.
That said, I know a number of moms deliberately take on all the household and child care responsibility (un)consciously as a convenient way of getting out of sex.
Either way, something has to give.
Women double-shifting isn't healthy. A poor sex life isn't healthy. Both can and do lead to tremendous couple conflict. Glib suggestions, tips, advice on how to fix “him doing housework = her feeling like sex” and couple conundrums (like appreciation, respect and team work) are usually met with women's eyes glazing over.
It seems the first step is being aware of this dynamic: how it's affecting your relationship, and deciding you want something different for your life. No doubt, turning this ship around means a lot of uncomfortable, messy conversations.
Ultimately, only you can say whether the next twenty years of your individual and couple happiness and well being are worth it.