What happens to women’s desire level if their husbands don’t do housework?
This month, our series on the blog is going to focus on some new studies that have recently been published in peer reviewed journals. We like keeping up with research, and we shared four new studies on podcast episode 222. I’d like to expand on what we said, and put them each in a blog post, for easy access.
Last week we looked at how sex is like Chef Boyardee.
Next up in our series is a study called Gender in Equities in Household Labor Predict Lower Desire, and it comes from the Archives of Sexual Behavior published in 2022.
And this is an interesting one! We’re using it a lot in our marriage book because it’s fascinating (and stats nerds will love all the model building they do).
The basic premise of the study is that you can look at women’s lower desire in a number of different ways, such as cognitive focus, stress, and interpersonal issues like relationship satisfaction. But there’s also structural or societal factors that we don’t often consider–and that this study aims to look at.
Specifically, they’re looking at household labor. As gender roles have kind of broken down, women are taking on more paid work, but men haven’t stepped up to the plate in the same way to do household labor.
Women went from: “A lot of women not working at all” to “a lot of women working a 40 hour a week job while still handling the workload associated with taking care of the house and raising the children.” Men, on the other hand, have not gone from “doing no housework at all” to “doing the same amount that a woman was doing before she started paid work.” There is still an imbalance of responsibilities and energy that are falling on the shoulders of women at higher rates than men.
While this division of labor has become more equal as women’s and men’s paid hours become more similar, the degree of change is not the same: women are taking on more hours of paid work than men are taking on hours of unpaid work (Bianchi et al., 2012).
Women perform approximately 2.5 more hours per day of household labor relative to men (Moyser & Burlock, 2018).
So What Did The Article Show?
They used multiple studies and multiple different models. If anyone is into model building in stats, this is the perfect article because there are so many different models they talk about to try to figure out their hypotheses. In the end, they settled on three hypotheses:
3 Hypotheses Into How Inequities in Household Labor Will Affect Women’s Desire
- Women’s proportion of household labor relative to that of their partners will be negatively associated with desire for their partners.
- The association between women’s household labor and desire will be mediated by perceived unfairness.
- The association between women’s household labor and desire will be mediated by perceived partner dependence.
Their overall thesis:
We propose that gendered inequities in household labor will be associated with women’s decreased desire for their men partners. Keeping a household functioning necessitates performing required tasks, a heavy cognitive load, and providing emotional support for household members. While each of these tasks can be rewarding, they can also be taxing, especially when they are not valued, reciprocated, or recognized as work, as tends to be the case in Western contexts
The more housework women are doing in relation to their partners, the authors hypothesize, the less they’re going to want their husbands.
The question is: What exactly causes the lower desire?
Is it about perceived unfairness? Or is it about the person being a dependent? Or is it just that they’re tired from doing more housework? Or is it all three?
Well, they found a lot of support for hypothesis one (too much housework lowers desire). They found a lot of support for hypothesis three, which is that when you do everything you start to see your spouse as a dependent and that they rely on you. Interestingly, they didn’t find as much for two.
I’m wondering if it’s because some women don’t realize it’s unfair because they’re just used to doing everything. Their husband may still feel like he’s dependent on her, but because it is “normal,” she may not be aware of just how unfair it is for a wife to have to care for her husband like he’s one of her children.
What this study revealed is that even if she doesn’t feel like it’s particularly unfair, the dynamic can still lead to feeling he’s her dependent, her child. When he puts himself in the role of a child by not being a functioning team member, by not being a functioning partner in the relationship, she’s just not going to want him because he’s just something else on her to do list.
Women Desire Partners Who Are Independent And Able To Contribute To Household Tasks And Childcare
This is the big quote that I put in our marriage book that Keith and I are frantically writing right now. (I don’t know if it’s going to stay there. Our marriage book is due to the publisher in March, and things can change around once the book is in the editing stage). But here’s the quote:
Women who reported that they performed a large proportion of household labor relative to their partner were significantly more likely to perceive their partners as dependent on them to keep the household functioning, and this in turn was associated with significantly lower desire for their partner.
When a husband puts himself in the role of a child she needs to care for, the more she sees him like a dependent, the lower her libido gets. Because guess what? Having a kid is not sexy. Thinking of your husband as a child is not sexy.
And let us be clear: that is a healthy response.
We are not supposed to be sexually attracted to our dependents.
That’s a power thing, right? To desire that level of dependence and to be sexually attracted to that unbalanced power dynamic is actually not that healthy a mindset.
A woman not desiring her husband who is also her dependent isn’t a bad thing or something that needs to be fixed by asking questions like, “how can we change their minds and understand their husbands really are sexy, strong men?” Because they actually aren’t acting like sexy, strong men; That’s the whole problem!
These women, who are unsatisfied with their husbands and are not feeling sexually attracted to them, are responding this way because their husbands are not pulling their weight.
If I feel like you can’t even find your shirt without me, or if you can’t do basic things without me, then you’re just not capable. And that’s not going to be sexually appealing.
And this is why it’s about being a partner, too, not just about doing occasional housework. That “run a vacuum and it will turn her on”, as Emerson Eggerichs says, doesn’t work. Here’s how we explained it in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex:
Women are trying to tell us (if we will listen) that they consider housework a turn-on if we approach it correctly. When a man does dishes because he’s a responsible, decent human being who wants to be a true partner in the marriage, she will feel supported and valued, which will help her desire him more. She will want sex more because she feels as if she has a true partner and because she’s not exhausted, not because she feels she has to “pay” him for his good behavior.
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. So he does dishes because he’s a decent, mature, responsible human being—and women tend to be attracted to decent, mature, responsible human beings!
There is a caveat here, of course. Some couples split up the chores so that each person has their area to work. In Rebecca and Connor’s marriage, as was mentioned on the podcast that launched our series, Connor is the one who shovels the driveway when it snows (and we live in Ontario Canada, where it snows a lot!). It’s not that Rebecca is incapable of shovelling the snow if she needs to (and she does if she has to). But this is how they divided household labour between themselves. Connor shovels the driveway while Rebecca takes care of something else. Connor knows that she is fully capable of shovelling the driveway, and Rebecca knows that Connor is fully capable of finding his own shirt or taking care of the kids or anything else that needs to be done in their home.
They’re both capable, and that’s the main message that should be taken away from this post:
We’re not saying men have to do everything. We’re not saying be redundant.
What we’re saying to men is: be capable and be a partner, or else you’re putting yourself in the position of a child. And your wife doesn’t want to have sex with a child.
Have you found this to be true in your marriage? Is libido linked to feeling like you have a partner? Let’s talk in the comments!