As someone invested in gender equality and how this plays out in marriage, I was dismayed by a New York Times Magazine article entitled “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?”. An excerpt from the abstract of the American Sociological Review (2013) on which the article is based follows:
Although research and theory support the expectation that egalitarian marriages are higher quality, other studies underscore the ongoing importance of traditional gender behavior and gender display in marriage……this study investigates the links between men’s participation in core (traditionally female) and non-core (traditionally male) household tasks and sexual frequency. Results show that both husbands and wives in couples with more traditional housework arrangements report higher sexual frequency, suggesting the importance of gender display1………for sex between heterosexual partners.
The authors note that they did not study either sexual satisfaction or marital satisfaction in this research. Thus, these findings do not mean following traditional gender roles in managing household tasks is associated with more satisfying sex or more fulfilled marriages.
An important limitation to this study is that they used data collected from 1992 to 1994 with the average age of the males being 46 while the average age of females was 44. This is a significant flaw in trying to apply this research to young people today, i.e. millennials, who are less committed to such traditional sexual scripts (e.g. a woman finds a man fixing the car sexy but not a man doing dishes).
Reading further, the researchers do not suggest that couples should reject egalitarianism in marriage. Instead, they suggest that increased egalitarianism in one area of marriage (household tasks) must be paired with comparable shifts away from traditional gender behaviors, attitudes and scripts in other areas of areas. For example, if increasing husband’s participation in core housework increases their stress levels making them less likely to initiate sex, then supporting women’s view that it is legitimate for them to initiate sex could have an impact on the frequency of sexual relation.
In sum the study may not be showing that egalitarianism in household labor is incompatible with sexual activity itself, but rather that egalitarianism is incompatible with traditional sexual scripts.
Nowhere do scientific findings get more mangled by the popular media than when they’re about differences between men and women.
The next several posts on this blog will talk about sex in marriage taking off from a list of myths about sex and relationships summarized from the findings of a 2011 book, “Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying” by Mark Regnerus (Department of Sociology, University of Texas) and Jeremy Uecker (Department of Sociology, Baylor University).
Here is a list of the upcoming posts:
TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #2: About Sex in Marriage. This post will talk about myths about the sexual double standard between men and women; about establishing your own decisions about sex rather than following sexual scripts; and how to maintain satisfying sex in long-term marriages.
TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #3: “I’ll Have What She is Having.” This post will talk about myths about women’s sexuality, i.e. that women are naturally less libidinous than men, “hard-wired” to want babies and emotional connection, but not necessarily sex itself.
TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #4: Pornography and Sex in Marriage. This post will challenge the myth that porn won’t affect your relationship and some idea about a new kind of porn.
TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #5: More on A Millennial Marriage. This post will discuss additional myths about millennial ideas of marriage such as marriage can always wait, moving in together is a step toward marriage, and there is no hope for long-term marriage.
1Gender display refers to husbands and wives adhering to and demonstrating traditionally defined norms, e.g. women do the dishes and men cut the grass.
Gottlieb, Lori. (Feb. 6, 2014) “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex? “ (http://nyti.ms/1kdOzQR)
Libby Anne (January 31, 2013) “More chores for Men=Less Sex?”(http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/01/more-chores-for-men-less-sex.html)
Smith, Jesse. (June 16, 2015) “10 Sexual Myths Millennials Need to Know About.” (http://thoughtcatalog.com/jesse-smith/2015/06/10-sexual-myths-millennials-need-to-know-about/)