Doing household chores may mean less sex for married men

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Does the sight of men doing traditional female chores turn women off? A new study suggests that the more time men spend on household tasks, the less sex they have.

"Our findings suggest the importance of socialized gender roles for sexual frequency in heterosexual marriage," lead author Sabino Kornrich, junior researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid, said in a press release. "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 study, which was published in the February edition of the American Sociological Review, surveyed 4,500 heterosexual married U.S. couples from 1992 to 1994. The average age for men was 46, and women were around 44.

On average, couples spent 34 hours on traditional female household chores, like cooking, cleaning, shopping and sewing. They spent another 17 hours doing men's tasks, which include household repairs and working outdoors in the garden. Men spent did about one-fifth of the female tasks, and only a little more than half of the male tasks. This suggested that women did more housework overall.

Men and women reported on average having sex five times the month before the survey was taken. In households where the women did all the female chores, they had sex 1.6 times more a month than the households where the men did all the traditionally female tasks. Households where men did 40 percent of the housework had one less sexual event on average.

"Marriage today isn't what it was 30 or 40 years ago, but there are some things that remain important," co-author Julie Brines, a UW associate professor of sociology, said in a press release. "Sex and housework are still key aspects of sharing a life, and both are related to marital satisfaction and how spouses express their gender identity."

Researchers ruled out forced sexual coercion because similar levels of sexual satisfaction were determined in houses with traditional and non-traditional divisions of household tasks. In addition, two-income households and households where one spouse was working had the same level of sexual frequency and division of household chores. The wives' income did not play a factor on how often the couple had sex, and happiness in marriage, religion and gender ideology did not play a role at all in sex or housework, the researchers said.

Kornrich told HealthDay that the reduction in sex frequency may be a result of fatigue when both spouses work outside the home.

"I suspect that in cases where people are too tired to do any chores, they just don't have sex," Kornrich said to HealthDay. "Our research and earlier studies find that couples who do more housework overall have more sex, suggesting that those who have more energy to do housework also have more energy for sex."

But, Brines said in an interview with the Toronto Star that the division of household chores has remained the same for the last few decades, and that gender-connected chores may have more sexual connotations that we realize.

"If the activity is coded as masculine or feminine and it expresses ideas about what makes the opposite sex interesting, attractive, alluring mysterious...that seems to be related to sexual activity and possibly sexual desire," Brines says.

She added that for couples where everything is equal and they share same interests and close friendships, they too have less sex on average.

"There's a sibling-like tonality to the relationships," she said. "They're really good best friends, but the sexual charge is missing from the relationship."

Sharon Sassler, a sociologist at Cornell University, said to the Toronto Star that there is evidence that traditional women's household chores have become some of men's today, meaning that some of the survey responders might have considered what the researchers thought of as a female task to be a male task.

"I'm not so sure about their uptick in cleaning, but I think they have increased their share in cooking and perhaps even laundry (thanks to years of living on their own, they now know how to do it)," she said.