NEW RESEARCH: Women Aren’t Turned On by Husbands Who Act Like Dependents

by | Feb 12, 2024 | Libido, Research | 21 comments

Wives lose libido over all the housework

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).

Emily A. Harris, Aki M. Gormezano & Sari M. van Anders

Archives of Sexual Behavior, Gender Inequities in Household Labor Predict Lower Sexual Desire in Women Partnered with Men

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

  1. Women’s proportion of household labor relative to that of their partners will be negatively associated with desire for their partners.
  2. The association between women’s household labor and desire will be mediated by perceived unfairness.
  3. 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

Emily A. Harris, Aki M. Gormezano & Sari M. van Anders

Archives of Sexual Behavior, Gender Inequities in Household Labor Predict Lower Sexual Desire in Women Partnered with Men

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.

Basically:

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.

Emily A. Harris, Aki M. Gormezano & Sari M. van Anders

Archives of Sexual Behavior, Gender Inequities in Household Labor Predict Lower Sexual Desire in Women Partnered with Men

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:

Great Sex Rescue

From 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!

See The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex

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.

Wives lose libido when they do all the housework study

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!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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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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21 Comments

  1. Laura

    “We are not supposed to be sexually attracted to our dependents”

    Yes! Also why I do not believe that the husband is the head of the house. I don’t want to be a dependent either. I cannot be sexually attracted to someone who treats me as a dependent. That’s why marriage should be treated as an equal partnership.

    Reply
  2. Nessie

    Very much agree! The unnecessary unequal distribution was perhaps the first reason I had my libido decline, then the bad teachings of the church compounded it, then children came along and increased the chasm between our workloads. Even as a SAHM, I was busy all day long only to keep doing things before and after he would leave for or return from work and on weekends.

    That said, a commentor recently addressed how this can affect those who have a physical or other reason that they cannot divide the load more equally. I can see how this might fuel concern over them being seen more as dependents and thus less attractive to their partners. I think the key may lie in this sentence by Harris, Gormezano, and van Anders, “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 part about being valued and recognized I think is a huge component! Children often don’t think to or cannot thank their adults for helping them. They only know a world where their parents simply do things they cannot (until they age into helping.) I think the dfference lies in the gratitude and awareness of what is done for the other when one partner cannot take on a seemingly equal share. And some may lie in the distribution, e.g. physical limitations may mean the other takes on more mental load.

    The times my husband has been truly sick, I had no problem taking on extra work. Household tasks still needed done, plus special medical and dietary prep was added. There was a reason for it, so it wasn’t divisive between us at those moments.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great point, Nessie!

      Reply
  3. Nathan D. W.

    I most definitely need to give this research a read now, if only to have more evidence to show to the men (little boys, I guess) who complain about how the church has been so very feminized nowadays and that women are just so mean to their “longsuffering men”. (Also why is it that patriarchialists tend to shift into such lofty words when they get challenged, like it’s some kind of superiority tactic? A kind of “I use such eloquent words to make my point, so I must be right” kind of thing?)

    Thanks for another fantastic resource, mate!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re so welcome!

      Reply
    • Healing

      OMG! This literally just happened to me on IG. Some “uber-Christian” called me unbiblical and a feminist because I said I have sex with my husband because I want to, not because I have to. He actually seemed to get quite upset said that women need to have sex out of OBLIGATION and NOT base it off of feelings. Blah blah blah. (So when this guy has sex with his wife is it because he FEELS the uncontrollable urge to have sex or is he just doing out of his obligation that God commands?) And like you said, he used terms that I literally had to Google what they were. MUST. PROVE. I’M. RIGHT. BY. SHOWING. THIS. FEMINIST. SMART. I. AM. (Sigh) Needless to say, even my husband didn’t understand this guy’s logic. So because his wife “gives” him “biblically commanded obligation sex” 5x/week because he lacks self control, God favors his marriage over ours because we have non-obligated mutual, intimate, pleasurable for both sex? He was a nut job. I knew from the start how he was when he told another man whose wife is going through menopause that she was withholding. (Even saying that if she couldn’t have physical sex that she was obligated to please the husband.) He recommended I read “His needs, Her needs” and the five love language because I clearly don’t understand a man’s NEED for sex. (Yawn). I told him my husband is mature and exhibits self control. That he doesn’t call his desires “needs.” Men like this clearly lacks self control and will never open their eyes to what scripture actually says. Instead, anyone who challenges them are deemed unbiblical and a feminist. Gosh, I had wasted like a whole day debating this clown and I still can’t get it out of my head. I feel bad for his poor wife. (Sigh) I told Sheila I don’t know how she deals with men like this.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m amazed that woman is still married to him! I mean, I know she’s been brainwashed, but we start to see that women can only put up with this for so long, in general.

        Reply
  4. Ann

    Not related to housework but yesterday afternoon I was trying to get my husband to get up from a Sunday afternoon nap and I reminded him that last Sunday he slept too long in the afternoon and then couldn’t go to sleep that night. After I relayed this reminder to him my teenage son looked at me and said, “Still trying to get Dad to get up? It’s like you’re his mom” and rolled his eyes. Uuuuuugh I hate it when my teenager is right….

    Reply
    • lisa johns

      Oooh, what a zinger! Teenagers are so clear, aren’t they?!

      Reply
    • Amy

      I humbly submit that this may be more from a mindset of overfunctioning, which for me stems from codependent tendencies. If a wife treats her husband in a childlike way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is desiring or needing that. I’m currently learning that everyone in my household needs to be a team player, while also having their own autonomy and agency over their own choices and the consequences of those choices. It can be tricky!

      Reply
  5. Codec

    Makes sense to me.

    Reply
  6. Jen

    This is so incredibly helpful! The “heavy cognitive load, and providing emotional support for household members” part really resonated with me. My husband could do and did plenty of household tasks, but that was pretty much all he could do at the beginning of our marriage. He was very childlike emotionally, was clueless about childcare (I learned early on to not leave him alone with the children), and I often found myself explaining things to him in the same way I explained things to my three year old. It was absolutely terrifying.

    There are explanations for all this (severe childhood abuse, addictions, OCD, depression, anxiety, etc.), but none of that changes my experience of being married to an emotionally incapable person. It killed desire, love, trust, and it almost killed me (nervous breakdowns are super scary- ask me how I know!). He has slowly healed over 30 years, but . . . It was an enormous price to pay that I would not recommend. However, as he heals and behaves like an emotional adult – a partner, not an emotional dependent- I feel genuine love growing. And that’s hopeful.

    Thanks for reminding me that my dying love , desire, and trust was actually the normal and right response. Whew! That’s a load off my shoulders because I felt SO GUILTY for how I felt about him.

    Side note: I’m guessing I’m not the only person whose spouse changed after marriage. We had had all the conversations about what kind of life we wanted, how we would share responsibilities, etc., but that all fell apart quickly. When we got married we were both moving out of our childhood homes, and very simply, his trauma took over. He refused to get help, and there you go. Weird behavior becomes the norm. I’d love to see some studies on people changing after marriage.

    Thanks for all you do!!

    Reply
    • Cheryl

      ” … my experience of being married to an emotionally incapable person. It killed desire, love, trust, and it almost killed me (nervous breakdowns are super scary- ask me how I know!)”

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen this expressed in a way that so completely matches my experience. My husband of 3+ decades is great at household tasks but “has the emotional capacity of a teaspoon” and firmly believes the reason we don’t have sex is my utter lack of libido (“zero, zip, zilch”).

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad things are getting better, even if it’s taken a long time! And, yes, I’d love to see about how people change after marriage too. I’ll see what studies are out there!

      Reply
    • Healing

      My husband’s mom did everything for him. She passed away a year before my husband and I met. Early on in dating he made the comment about how his mom is gone so I have “big shoes to fill.” (Slow blinks, did I just hear what I thought I did?!?) Obliviously I had to talk to him and explain to him that I was NOT filling the place of his mom (yuck). I think he just assumed I would then take over to do everything for him… like in the post, him be my dependent. Needless to say, it has taken years for him to contribute more. Yes, there are things he does that I don’t, like handle the finances and retirement, he works out of the home and I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I have to do EVERYTHING else.

      Reply
  7. Lisa Manske

    I’m printing the paper to read later. I am so glad this is being examined at these levels.

    Reply
  8. Boone

    I was fortunate. I had lived in the dorm for three years and then in an apt my senior year and all three years of law school. After graduation I stayed in the apt until after I completed the bar exam in July and then moved into the farm house. My parents had moved into my grandparents old house to downsize. I lived alone until I married almost three months before I turned 30. I knew how to clean and do laundry. If I didn’t do it well, it didn’t get done. I also knew how to cook. It was cook or starve.
    Now, when my daughter was born I didn’t have a clue. I learned real quick how to change diapers and mix formula. I also watched a lot of Country Music Television at 2:00 in the morning (this was back when they were all videos). My daughter and I often went to sleep to George Straight and Clint Black. I learned because both my wife and my daughter needed me to. I feel for these young people that go straight from their parent’s houses into their married home. Most are nowhere near prepared to live on their own. Add a lower level of maturity than we possessed at that age, especially among males, and you’re in for a rough go.
    I think that maturity level drops with each generation. As I stated above I moved into my house and started a career at 24. At that age my father had fought a war, led men in battle and married. At that age my grandfather had fought a war, married, had three children and lost one.
    As parents the best thing we can do is prepare our children to live. Teach them life skills and let them flop and have to fix it. They‘ll learn a lot more and a lot faster that way

    Reply
  9. Lisa M Johns

    So you think the fact that the guy still lived with his parents at age 30 should have been a red flag? ;D

    Reply
    • Healing

      We have a friend who is 44 and still lives with his parents. (He did move away for a few years but after that didn’t work out… back into his parents basement.)

      Reply
    • Laura

      Lisa,

      I think it depends on the circumstances. More adults are living with their parents due to the high cost of housing or rent. In many parts of the US, housing and rent are atrociously high. Also, there are circumstances where adults are caring for their parents. My fiance and his son live with his mom, step dad, and grandfather. He is a full-time caregiver to his grandfather and helps his family out a lot.

      Of course, there are the men who are perpetual Peter Pans who just sit at home playing video games all day and don’t contribute to their parents household. I used to think something was wrong with a grown man who still lived at home. Then again, I’m one to talk. I’ve been living at home since I was 30. I did it to save money and be with my family.

      Reply
      • Lisa Johns

        I agree with all you say: caretaking, rent, etc., are all valid reasons to be at home. And my ex did have a job while he lived at home. But there were also some very red flags that I wish I had paid attention to (or even seen!) He was/remains very entitled and thinks that the bare minimum of care justifies it all.

        Reply

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