Husbands who help more at home say they have better love lives, but they are not entirely happy about this modern quid pro quo. Joseph Fields* knows that if he wants to increase the odds for sex with his wife, he brings her roses, sends her a love note or suggests dinner at their favorite restaurant. But if he wants to be certain of a romantic evening, he goes for the vacuum cleaner.
“My wife has told me that she’s never more turned on to me than when I’m doing housework,” says Fields, a 39-year-old guidance counselor from Lexington, KY. “And she’s proven it again and again.”
American women have long hinted that seeing their husbands doing housework—or at least seeing the results—is an aphrodisiac. Now, for the first time, men confirm that the housework-sex link is real. According to a survey of 288 men for my book, VoiceMale, husbands concede that when they do their share in the kitchen or laundry room, their wives tend to return the favor in the bedroom. This connection was confirmed in a groundbreaking new report on women, work and families by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress. Women feel more sexual attraction to husbands who do more housework and child care. Heck, there’s even popular series of books called Porn for Women, which features photos of hunky men wielding irons, vacuums and toilet brushes or taking care of babies.
Fields, like many men, has mixed feelings about what he calls “this tit for tat.” Early in his 13-year marriage, he noticed his wife, Cathy, turning down his sexual advances when he shirked his share of the housework. “It seemed that she was holding sex hostage,” he says.
Eventually, however, he came to understand her reaction. “When I do housework, she feels loved and appreciated,” Fields now believes. “Then she’s more inspired to appreciate me.”
How much more inspired? About one sexual encounter each month, according to our survey. For couples having sex three or four times a week, an extra hook-up each month might not seem like much. But for couples like the Fields—both working, with school-aged children—this bump in lovemaking can come close to doubling their pleasure.
Another husband, Will Scott, 31, of Chicago, found that his wife, Clara, actually initiated sex when he started doing more housework. That hadn’t happened since before their wedding eight years earlier. “I think she was flat-out tired” after working all day, then cooking and cleaning in the evening, Scott says. When he took over some clean-up chores, “she had more energy—and she brought that energy to bed,” he says.
For many couples, the impact of husbands doing more housework doesn’t end with their sex life. Our survey compared couples in which both the husband and wife felt the housework was split fairly (“fair couples”) to couples in which at least one partner felt the housework was divided unfairly (“unfair couples”). Based on what husbands said in the survey:
• In unfair couples, wives were twice as likely than in fair couples to have affairs.
• Unfair-couple marriages were 10 times as likely to be “not stable at all.”
• Unfair couples were twice as likely to have considered separation or divorce.
To be sure, fairness in housework does not necessarily mean equality of time spent on housework. When a husband, for example, worked outside the home 50 hours a week compared to 20 hours for a wife, wives tended to do more housework without complaint.
Some husbands hated housework so much that they decided not to do their share—but to pay a cleaning service to do it. And most wives seemed to be happy with that arrangement. Ed Sanford of Ann Arbor, MI, had been married for 40 years to Rhonda when he reported: “It’s funny. I always thought one of the best investments I ever made in my marriage was when I hired a Molly Maid to do the housework.”
The cleaning service may actually have saved money in the long run. Why? Because, couples who share housework fairly are less likely to need marital therapy, our survey found. Thus, some couples can pay a house-cleaner now—or a couples’ counselor down the road.
*All names in this article have been changed to protect the marriages.
Neil Chethik is a writer, family educator and author of VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think About Their Wives, Their Marriages, Sex, Housework and Commitment (Simon & Schuster, 2006). For more by Chethik about men, women and housework, and his research on fathers and sons, visit his Web site.
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