Should Doing Housework Be Considered Foreplay?

by | Jun 9, 2020 | Libido, Uncategorized | 29 comments

Is Housework Foreplay? Let's rethink how we talk about men doing housework
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Have you all heard “sex begins in the kitchen”–not meaning that we should do interesting things with whipping cream, but that doing the dishes is a good method to get women to warm up?

I hear this a lot–“Guys, if you want her to have sex with you, you had better pick up a tea towel!”

And I’ve heard women say this, too, that the sexiest thing a man can say is something like, “let me vacuum for you.” When I asked on Facebook a while ago about how men can get women in the mood, that was one of the biggest things mentioned.

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I’m worried, though, that we’re taking this too far and we’re missing the point, and the whole thing is feeling manipulative.

Here’s a video that was sent to me by a reader recently which shows how this can sometimes go awry:

“Run the dishwasher with no dishes in it” to make her think you’ve done housework? I know that was meant as a joke, but there’s an underlying problem here.

First, when we talk about how the way to get sex is for men to do housework, we assume that he has the higher sex drive.

Actually, in about 25% of cases it’s her with the higher libido. So speaking in gendered terms like this actually doesn’t work for a substantial portion of the population.

More importantly, though, it paints sex as something that he wants, but she really doesn’t.

It reinforces the message that she fundamentally doesn’t like sex, and so he has to bribe her somehow. Again, I think this message is part of the reason that women have no libido. When you’re told constantly something like, “well, of course she doesn’t want it, and so he’ll have to talk her into it”, it presents sex as something rather off-putting for wives, and suggests that she has to be ready to be constantly bothered and bugged into having sex.

People do respond to expectations. If this is what we expect from women, is it any wonder that women don’t want sex?

But more than that, it paints sex as transactional.

I was glad to see in this video that he did put in the caveat that men should be doing dishes even on nights when he doesn’t want sex, but I wish he could have gone further. It still sounded like he was saying, “do dishes anyway, even if you don’t get sex, so it’s not seen as being manipulative.”

Is this really what we want? He does dishes to get sex?

We’ve been talking this month about the emotional labor and mental load of managing the household, and how both spouses should take on some of that mental load. But it’s not to get sex. It’s to be a good person and to love your spouse.

I’d suggest re-framing it like this:

He does dishes because he’s a responsible, decent human being who wants to feel like a true partner in the marriage. Because she feels as if she has a true partner, and because she’s not exhausted, she is going to desire him more.

Do you see the difference? He isn’t doing dishes to get sex. He’s doing dishes because that’s what he should do. He’s an adult. He eats. He dirties dishes. It’s their house, together. So he does dishes because he’s a decent, mature, responsible human being.

And she isn’t giving sex to get him to do housework. No, sex is growing out of a relationship where they each feel valued and they feel like they’re partners.

Yes, women have a hard time with sex when they’re very exhausted and just want to sleep, and helping women not be exhausted is a big key to unlocking her libido for sure.

I talked about this a ton in my Boost your Libido course–about how if you’re going to have energy at the end of the day, you need to get some time to relax during the day, and you need to not have 1,000 things running through your head. And if you’re tired of always being too tired for sex, and you want to want it again, please check out the course!

But I’m uncomfortable portraying sex as something transactional–he does X so she will give sex. It makes sex into a reward. It makes sex seem like a chore for her. It makes sex into something that she gives him, rather than something that they experience together that grows out of their relationship.

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Women, don’t use sex as a reward. Don’t withhold sex until he does dishes or until he mows the lawn. He needs to know that you love him and desire him, not just that you’re willing to give it to him if he behaves. Sex is an important part of marriage, and you vowed to have and to hold. This is what it means to hold. (of course, there are reasons to say no to sex, but on the whole, we should not be withholding sex.)

But at the same time, men, stop talking about sex like it’s something you deserve just because you did something which normal, mature, responsible human beings should be doing anyway. 

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And all of us: Let’s start talking about sex as something which is intrinsic to marriage, where desire grows as we feel closer and closer, and that also fuels our connection to each other. If we talked more about how sexually responsive women can be, and how great women can feel, perhaps more women would enter marriage assuming that they would actually want sex.

And, please, can we stop with manipulation? It cheapens everything.

What do you think? Has sex been framed as a reward for you? How can we get out of this mindset? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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29 Comments

  1. A

    That opening paragraph with the whipped cream made me laugh.
    Not sure if I have anything else to add or reply at this time. Our household has been through years of continual stressful events that has me and my husband worn out beyond anything we’ve ever felt before. We’re trying to just keep afloat and do the bare minimum housework to get by and hope it’s just a season.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, A. I’ve had those seasons, too. I hope it comes to an end soon!

      Reply
  2. Joleen

    I smile at the thought of you discussing housework on this post. I’m an odd person in the way that I enjoy cleaning and organizing, it actually can distress me. This is especially true with my job cleaning our church. But the one chore at home I despise is washing dishes, I don’t know if it stems from working in the kitchen at nursing homes when I was younger or what. My husband knows this and he also knows that having an empty sink makes me more relaxed, so I’m very lucky that he will either do all the dishes in the sink by the time I get home from wherever I’m at or work on them together to make the chore go by faster. It is very important to be upfront about the tasks/chores around the house that you enjoy or dislike and it can be easier to work on said task together to make it get done quicker.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally agree, Joleen! It sounds like your husband “owns” the dishes task, which is exactly what we’ve been talking about this month. It’s not that women want men to help out sometimes; we want husbands to notice what needs to be done and take initiative. Your husband sounds like a great guy! (And my youngest daughter would agree with you about housework destressing her).

      Reply
      • Chris

        Housework, per se, doesn’t destress me, but organizing definitely does. If my room, and the garage are organized, i feel a lot better. But actually being “clean” like dusted and vacuumed? I would like to do it more but I would rather just have the “stuff” organized than everything spotless. Does that make sense?

        Reply
  3. Nathan

    Good topic. I agree about not making sex a reward for doing other activities. It makes marriage work like a business transaction. “Okay, I did a load of dishes, put some laundry away and scrubbed the kitchen floor. You now owe me a night of sex to balance the books”. We’re a husband and wife, not partners at an accounting firm.

    Reply
    • Meghan

      Exactly! Sometimes I’ll playfully “barter” with my husband, but it’s just a silly thing that we do. It can be fun every so often to turn it into a game: how many things can we do for each other? Every activity gets a kiss! Which means in the end that we both win. 😉

      Reply
  4. E

    Yes! Thank you! In our marriage prep course the book we used had several (what felt quite overly stereotypical) examples of couples not having enough sex where it was always the woman who was the problem. The proposed solution was for the woman to say ‘Yes’ to sex even when she wasn’t in the mood, and for the man to help with housework. Needless to say this left me with some really unhelpful beliefs such as not feeling able to say no, and the feeling that if my husband was doing nice things it was only to manipulate me into being in the mood, not because he cared about me (which isn’t true as he is a great guy!). We’re working very hard to get past these unhelpful thoughts, but I still struggle with a lingering sense that sex is something a husband takes or cajoles from his wife, not something enjoyed together.
    Thank you for articulating why this kind of thinking is such a problem, as I didn’t have the words to do so during marriage prep, even though the examples and advice bugged me at the time

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      E, that is so interesting that that is the way the advice struck you. We actually have had many women tell us something along those same lines, though I think you articulated it best. It’s one of the points we’re making in the upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue–that we shouldn’t treat sex like it’s transactional, because it makes sex seem icky and it destroys intimacy. Great comment!

      Reply
  5. Tory

    Hmm, I actually have a different point of view. The man isn’t doing chores to “get sex” as a reward. However, if the reason the couple isn’t having more frequent sex is because the wife is too tired, then the husband stepping up with taking on some household tasks that she usually handles will remove that obstacle of her being tired. I actually think this makes a lot of sense when framed in this way.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, certainly, Tory. For sure. But again, the reason that he’s stepping up is because they’re his dishes, too. What we found when we talked to women about this is that when a husband “owns” a task and does it without insinuating that she now owes him something, but does it simply because it’s the right thing to do, it helps. But when he does a task and acts like he’s helping her, like it’s her job, then it doesn’t do much of anything. What she really appreciates is not having to think about the task, and having it taken off of her plate. It’s not the tasks that often are the most exhausting, but the mental load of having to remember them all and do them all. So when he owns some of that, it certainly relieves her exhaustion in a way that simply doing the dishes doesn’t.

      Reply
  6. Rob

    I have always helped around the house, because it is part of family duty. My wife always thanks me for my help. My response is always it is not help, it is my job as a member of the family.

    Reply
    • AspenP

      I have taught my young children this too. We’re all part of the same family, we all make messes, we ALL clean up. Everyone cleans up their own stuff and then we all pitch in on the communal stuff. When everyone owns their own mess, we can actually choose to help others and love them by helping with their stuff too…because then and only then it’s a choice.

      Reply
  7. Ali

    I just wanted to say thank you, Sheila, for saying that 25% of women are the higher-libido partner in the marriage. I am definitely in that 25%, and every time I see something like these transactional descriptions of sex (“Oh ladies, he did the dishes – he is SO going to get lucky tonight!!”) it’s incredibly hurtful to me. Sex would virtually never be an incentive for my husband, and it always makes me think, “What’s wrong with our marriage that it doesn’t work like everyone else’s? What’s wrong with ME?” Thank you for saying that it’s not like this for everyone.

    Reply
    • Angela Laverdi

      Im with You Ali…I definately have a high sex drive and those comments cut deep to me. Also.. What Sheila said in the post ” No, sex is growing out of a relationship where they (women)each feel valued and they feel like they’re partners” is so right. We want to be PARTNERS not fell like we are only here to have babies and cook and clean. I am valuable as a person not just “The Wife”. So many fundamentalist groups lump women as second class citizens or worse and that needs to be quelled. Sorry if I step on anybody’s beliefs here but women should be valued just like men.

      Reply
    • AspenP

      Same here. Sex is never an incentive. I too wondered what the matter was. Does he not really find me attractive? What’s wrong with ME?
      I hear you!

      Reply
  8. Lisa Johnson

    Sheila,
    I really appreciate the way you look beyond the surface to the underlying meaning!
    A transactional framing to get what you want instead of a relationship framing so that we care about what each other wants is the wrong foundation.
    If a couple has a *good* relationship where both of them care and work to meet each other’s needs and wants, occasional transactions to swap things can work well enough. Hey can you do x if I do y for you? That’s why people will comment that they do that with no problem.
    But in this series we are discussing what happens when this mutual meeting of needs is NOT happening.
    If a spouse says “hey I really need to rebalance this thing in our lives (whether it’s housework, mental load, emotional labor, sex, money, in-laws etc etc) and that is not met with a non-defensive open response of “let’s figure this out together” it often turns into a transactional thing.
    If I can’t trust my spouse to CARE that x thing bothers me so that effort towards change is made it turns into a zero sum marriage. Transactional as a foundation in marriage shows a lack of trust that we each care and support each other so we don’t HAVE to keep track of who gets what when.
    That’s imho why it’s a problem. It reflects that the relationship is not secure at its foundation. And THAT is a problem that needs to be addressed because over time it typically only gets worse.
    PS Thanks for highlighting that in a significant percentages of marriages the women is higher drive. The stereotypes are not true in many cases for many things. Changing our narratives and expectations matter.

    Reply
    • Lisa Rapach

      If a wife says to her husband “I’m so overwhelmed, can you own some of this?” and the answer is either dismissive like “you just need to not worry so much” or “just say no” or “women expect too much and are never happy,” that’s going to set up a transactional relationship.
      Or a defensive response like “I bring home more money and you don’t appreciate how hard I work and how much I do already” “you always nag”
      The human response when we can’t trust our partner to care is to not care about THEIR needs that don’t make sense to our needs.
      And then people think the answer is to create transactions like housework for sex.
      Which is like using crutches to get around instead of having a broken leg fixed so you can heal and walk again freely.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Lisa! You explained the problem exactly!

      Reply
  9. Sharon Mondragon

    For me, housework is tedious. When my husband and I both take care of the house, it relieves the tedium. Housework also tends to be thankless–taken for granted by most of the family, only noted when it’s not done. When my husband shares the responsibility, I feel seen. This is really important to me.

    Reply
  10. Jane Eyre

    If one partner is too stressed, unhappy, and tired for sex, that is a sign that something in the marriage ought to be fixed. It should be fixed for its own sake and not so one partner can get sex. Sex is an indicator that something deeper needs to be fixed.

    Reply
  11. Wild Honey

    The video was titled “How to be an All Day Lover.” I think a better mindset would be, “How to be an All Day Husband.” The kinds of things the speaker was describing, like non-sexual touches or taking care of chores, are things that should be happening regardless of whether a particular spouse wants sex, because they are ways to CONNECT. A thoughtful non-sexual touch or a task cheerfully completed without my needing to have asked would make me feel a lot more connected to my husband (and vice versa, I hope), than sex I feel manipulated into.
    I notice the speaker didn’t say how to handle it if you do all these nice things for your wife and she still doesn’t want sex at the end of the day.

    Reply
    • Sarah

      I have tried on numerous occasions to get my teenage children and spouse to take on responsibility for certain tasks (after discussion about what they preferred from my list of stuff that needed doing really regularly). It’s the mental load of noticing and reminding that gets tedious: i find my son is very good doing specific tasks when asked to.Not been totally successful but now my daughter is preparing to go to university and with us all stuck in the house together since lockdown it’s starting to get more shared out, certainly in terms of cooking meals and clearing up. My husband doesn’t cook though and recently my daughter has bern noticing more how infrequently he will get up and clear dishes after family meals. So it has got to be a bit of a joke…however when she has cooked the evening meal he has taken the lead to say that she shouldn’t have to wash up because she cooked! Different rules for wives and daughters😂 He is a good man but just not great at noticing stuff – very good at doing a task very thoroughly once he has got started though and gets frustrated if I mention other things to do before he has finished (oops). I think that may be a male trait?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        What you’re describing is really typical! It may not be that men don’t notice as much as it is that they don’t take ownership, because they don’t have to. That’s really what the idea of the cards in the Fair Play system are for–to help people take ownership of different tasks. IF you have teenagers, maybe you could get the cards and do it as a family?

        Reply
  12. Amy

    As a divorced, single woman, that video was really disturbing. There was an obvious undertone of housework being the woman’s job. I was really getting the feeling that the speaker was picturing the man going off to work while the woman was at home “keeping house.” Later in the video he did mention both of them arriving at home, opening the possibility that she did have responsibilities that allowed her to leave the house. However, what sort of message is this sending men? That his wife’s job is to serve him, both in housework and in sex? Ugh. I’ve steered clear of FotF for a few years, and now it seems like every time I’m I’m exposed to their content, they seem so patriarchal and out-of-touch with reality.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Yeah, I hear you. I think that often when we stop ingesting this kind of material we get sensitized to it again. If you’re always hearing this patriarchal stuff, it becomes “normal.” When you get it out of your system, when you’re reintroduced to it the undercurrents of misogyny (and sometimes it’s overt patriarchy too) just seem to pop out.
      Unfortunately if they ever want to be “in touch” with reality again they need to ditch the gender roles talk since the majority of couples don’t mesh with gender roles anyway. But if they do that, they lose their whole platform. So I think they are doomed to become obsolete, but it’s a tragedy. Consider the good they could do if they started to speak out against harmful teachings instead of perpetuating this damaging mindset.

      Reply
      • Angela Laverdi

        They will never change because it would not suit their purpose..their REAL purpose –keeping Men in power and women subservient. Not submissive, which I disagree with anyway, but SUBSERVIENT.

        Reply
        • Greg

          I’ve done the majority of the housework over the years not because I want sex but because it has to be done, no sex required.

          Reply
  13. Bumble

    Many years ago my wife said maybe if you helped more around the house i would be in the mood more. I thought this was plausible . So i started doing more of the work. I started doing more and more of the work around the house in addition to what i was already responsible for. It got to the point where i was doing everything all the cleaning, all the laundry, all the cooking and washing dishes, all the running errands and grocery shopping. Did anything change? Yes! She watched more television. And we if anything had less sex. As it is now we have sex once a month. I do most of the cleaning around the house most of the cooking , and any home maintenance or improvements. I just built a new deck because she was unwilling to pay for the cost of a concrete patio so i did all the labor and saved us 15K$ but all i hear about is how long it is taking and lots of other negative comments. And start to finish was 2 weeks and i had to wait for inspection a few times so they slowed me down.

    Reply

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