Joseph Fields of Lexington, Kentucky, knows that he can boost his chances of having sex with his wife if he buys her roses and chocolates. But if he wants to be sure he'll score a romantic evening, he goes straight for the Brillo pads. "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. "And she's proven it again and again."
For years, American women have hinted that the combination of husbands and housework is a potent aphrodisiac. Now, for the first time, a scientific survey of American men affirms the connection. According to a new national study of 300 husbands conducted for my book, VoiceMale, the happier a wife is with her husband's participation in housework, the more sex she has with him.
How much more sex? On average, about once a month more. That may not seem like a lot, but for those couples who are in the throes of child-rearing — when sex happens only occasionally anyway — a once-a-month increase can mean twice as much sex for them.
And that's only the beginning of the power of housework. In the survey, conducted in conjunction with the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center, I asked husbands whether they thought the division of housework in their marriage was fair, and whether their wives thought it was fair. In cases when both partners answered that things were fair in their household, the results we found were compelling:
- Wives were less likely to have affairs.
- Couples were less likely to consider separation or divorce.
- Couples were more likely to be happily married overall.
What's going on here? Michael Gurian, author of several books on gender differences, says that because of cultural expectations, women generally carry the burden of ensuring that their home is clean. So when a husband takes it upon himself to do his fair share, a wife feels appreciated and appreciative. It's no surprise, then, that she is more likely to be extra affectionate toward her husband.
Gurian says most wives probably are not consciously trading sex for housework. They often reported feeling some distance from their partner when he wasn't doing enough housework, but they didn't notice a direct impact on their sex life. A woman "feels like she has to become a mom and dominate (her husband) to get him to help her out. Why would she want to have sex with someone who makes her feel like that?" says Gurian.
Interestingly, the study also showed that a man usually doesn't have to do half of the housework to make his wife happy. He just needs to do enough so that she feels supported. The exact amount may be negotiated based on the hours each partner spends on paid work, yard work and other contributions to the family.
And for men who absolutely hate housework, there's a potential out: Hire a housekeeper. Of course, this costs money. But it may be money well invested: It turns out that when both partners are happy with the housework, the couple is half as likely to seek marital therapy. So why pay a marriage counselor down the road when you could just pay a housekeeper now?
Do's and Don'ts When Discussing Housework With a ManDon't nag him about it.
Do negotiate a master housework plan.
Don't criticize his attempts.
Do let him work at his own pace.
Don't accuse him of bad faith.
Do develop cleanliness standards together.
Neil Chethik is author of VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment.