New Study Confirms Women Are Less Sexually Attracted to Their Husbands When They Don't Help Out Around the House
When men do less housework, women see them as dependent and less sexually attractive.
For the past decade or so, there have been calendars and greeting cards floating around that feature sexy, shirtless men doing household chores like vacuuming or washing dishes. The idea is that the men taking part in simple domestic acts will turn women on more than their six packs. Sexual attraction is directly tied to housework—and that may be for a good reason.
While these images may reinforce unhealthy gender stereotypes, there is some truth to the notion that men doing chores is sexually appealing. According to a new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, women feel less sexual desire toward their husbands when the men don't do their fair share of household labor. This gender role causes females to view their husbands as dependent and, therefore, less desirable.
If you're surprised that this dynamic is still playing out in the 21st century, read on to learn more about why so many heterosexual couples fall into this pattern, and what therapists say can help even the workload and improve your sex life.
Women often bear the brunt of housework.
Gone may be the days of June Cleaver wearing pearls while she cooks dinner, but in many heterosexual couples today, the women still do more of the housework than their husbands. The big difference now is that a lot of these women also have jobs outside the home.
"I work with women who are the breadwinners, who work the most hours out of the house, and who still do 80-90 percent of the household and childcare tasks at home," shares sexologist and naturopathic doctor Jordin Wiggins, ND.
In fact, in Aug. 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data that said women spend an average of 47 additional minutes a day on housework than men. That is an extra five-and-half hours a week and, as The Washington Post explained, "that's not including childcare, grocery shopping or errands, which the BLS classifies in other categories and of which women also do far more."
Other gender roles play a part in this imbalance.
Even in households where the man pulls his weight, it's likely that his responsibilities are limited to certain areas.
In 2019, data and polling company Gallup surveyed more than 3,000 heterosexual married or cohabitating adults about who was most likely to perform certain household tasks. The study found that women were primarily responsible for laundry, cooking, and cleaning, while men handled yard work and car maintenance.
Nancy Landrum, MA, author and relationship coach, says that another common dynamic is when a husband does do housework, but his wife views it as subpar.
"My husband did the vacuuming for me because it used to aggravate my sore back. At first, I pointed out what he missed," shares Landrum. "I caught myself, however, and realized that if I wanted him to be happy about doing this chore, I'd better be happy that it was getting done, without criticizing the way he did it!"
But it's not just about physical labor.
In many relationships, it's the mental strain of being responsible for the household that can become overwhelming.
"Even in relationships that on the outside it looks like tasks are being split 50-50, when you take it a step further, most of the women I work with will still carry the role of 'manager' at home," explains Wiggins. "This looks like a household where the husband does the act of grocery shopping, but the wife wrote the list, searched for sales, planned the meals, and told the husband when to go."
Here's how this affects women's sexual desire.
As outlined in PsyPost, the Archives of Sexual Behavior study "collected data from over 700 women partnered with men who also had children." The findings indicated that despite a common assumption that a woman's decreased sex drive is usually biological, interpersonal factors may cause the dip in desire—namely feeling that the division of household labor is unfairly balanced and, thus, perceiving one's partner as dependent. The study refers to this as "the heteronormativity theory of low desire in women partnered with men."
Female study participants were given a list of 109 household chores and asked to note whether they or their husbands typically completed the task and how this overall division of labor made them feel. The study concluded that "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."
In addition, the aforementioned mental strain plays a big role. "Women often share with me that the feelings they experience that contribute to a lack of sexual desire are: exhaustion, frustration, and anger or resentment. These feelings are a nervous system response telling the body to engage in 'fight or flight' not 'rest and digest,'" explains Katie Lorz, LMHC, a trauma and relationship therapist with HGCM Therapy in Tacoma, Washington. "When the body is in fight or flight mode, sex drives decrease, and creativity and pleasure become low priorities."
There's also a blurring of wife-mother roles.
Taking it one step further, this inequity can also "lead to a blurring of mother and partner roles, and that feeling like a partner's mother is not conducive to desire," according to the study.
Wiggins explains this dynamic as a pattern of over- and under-functioning. "One person becomes the over-functioner, who plans ahead, controls, and delegates, while the other person becomes passive, waiting to be told what to do," she explains. "This leads to a lot of unsexy patterns, like nagging, passive-aggressive communication, and avoidance."
When a wife is in the role of the over-functioner she feels responsible for herself, her husband, and her children. "Women feel like they have to be 100 percent on the ball all the time or things will fall apart. They are in a constant state of stress and thinking," adds Wiggins.
Stress, of course, affects one's sex drive. And on the flip side, if a man feels he is being treated like a child, he is also less likely to be in the mood.
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Experts say it's possible to break down these disruptive dynamics.
Even in couples where the husband does not equally contribute to housework, there are healthy ways to address the problem.
Nancy Landrum, MA, author and relationship coach, points out that the root of the issue is resentment, and no matter what this negative emotion is tied to, it's likely to reduce sexual desire in women and men. "If both partners are working full time, and yet one carries the lion's share of the load of housework, that might naturally lead to resentment," she says.
To address this, Landrum suggests having a Skilled Discussion, "a conversation with rules or guidelines that gives both persons a chance to speak and be heard by taking turns."
She explains that a Skilled Discussion may go something like this: "One might say, 'I feel resentful when we've both put in a full day at our jobs, but I keep working after I get home while you play video games.' The partner would repeat what was said back to the speaker. They trade places. The partner says, 'I'm sorry you're feeling resentful. I thought we agreed that I could unwind with a video game for about 30 minutes before I'd start taking care of the laundry.'"
Wiggins takes a more hands-on approach. She notes that since, in many instances, these gender roles have been modeled for generations, she prefers to focus on "creating pleasure and intimacy in long-term relationships, given these roles exist."
Perhaps a couple can reserve Sunday evenings for sex when the stress of the week's housework hasn't yet set in. Or maybe the husband can offer to take the kids out to the movies one night a week so the wife can recharge and feel more relaxed and in the mood.
Whatever the case, though, Wiggins cautions against using sex as a one-for-one transaction. "Expecting sex as repayment or a reward isn't sexy and makes women want sex less," she says.