Today, the Council on Contemporary Families released a big report assessing the state of American attitudes about marriage and women’s equality within it. Its researchers found that despite “a seeming stall in markers of progress toward gender equality,” particularly in regard to women’s access to jobs and equal pay, “there has been more motion behind the scenes than previously recognized.” Americans have become markedly more progressive in their beliefs about equality in marriage, with an all-time high of 68 percent of Americans disagreeing that men should make more money than their wives, and 65 percent of Americans disagreeing that preschool children are harmed if their mothers have jobs.
Of particular interest is a paper by Sharon Sassler of Cornell University debunking the widely publicized claim that men who do more housework “get” less sex. Research showing that couples had less sex when they split chores equally was “based on data gathered over a quarter of a century ago,” Sassler found, and “was focused on the sexual behaviors of married couples in the late 1980s, many of whom had met and married in the 1960s and 1970s.”
When Sassler and her colleagues turned to newer data from 2006—data that examined married and cohabiting couples that formed in the '90s or later—they found much different results. “Couples who shared domestic labor had sex at least as often, and were at least as satisfied with the frequency and quality of their sex, as couples where the woman did the bulk of the housework,” Sassler writes. So good news for people who like fairness, cleanliness, and sex.
This study is a useful retort to people who are still clinging to the pathetic hope that women don’t actually want equality—see, they turn limp and frigid at the sight of a man pushing a broom! It’s also a much-needed corrective to the unfortunate narrative that’s arisen to try to establish a link between sex and housework in romantic relationships. Too often, sex is treated like a reward that women dole out to men for performing their chores well. Women are expected to perform housework because it needs to be done, but men ostensibly need an extra incentive, such as sex, to be bothered with it. Sassler’s research shows that, really, there’s not much of a relationship between sex and housework at all. In real life, women might have sex because they want to, and men might do their fair share of housework because taking out your own trash is the right thing to do.
Sadly, Sassler found that the number of men who do the right thing is still pretty low. Only “about three out of ten couples in our sample reported that housework was equally shared,” she writes. For 63 percent of couples, “woman did approximately two-thirds of the housework.” Perhaps if we stopped talking about housework as something men need extra goodies to perform, then those numbers would shift more rapidly.