Does Splitting the Housework Really Make Couples Have More Sex?

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Mrs. Doubtfire.Photo: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection

“I’m going to start evenly dividing up who does what around the house,” I told my husband when I read a report from the Journal of Marriage and Family that found partners who split chores have better sex.

“Just think,” I said excitedly. “No more fighting and way more sex because all the housework has been decided ahead of time, like taking out the trash and doing the dishes.”

“Sounds like a nightmare,” my husband said. “We never fight about that stuff.”

He paused. “What do you mean ‘more sex’?”

As recently as three years ago, the American Sociological Review found that couples have more sex when the women did the majority of the housework. At the time, the authors hypothesized that women acting out traditional gender roles could be a turn-on for their male partners.

But times, they are a’ changin’.

Those 2013 studies used data from the ‘80s and ‘90s — before there were nearly as many dual-income couples as there are today. In the new study, the authors used information from the 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey. What they found is that now, the couples who had the most sex split the division of household chores fairly evenly.

“Contemporary couples who adhere to this more egalitarian division of labor are the only couples who have experienced an increase in sexual frequency compared to their counterparts of the past, whereas other groups — including those where the woman does the bulk of the housework — have experienced declines in sexual frequency,” writes Sharon Sassler, a professor at Cornell University who wrote the erotically titled “A Reversal in Predictors of Sexual Frequency and Satisfaction in Marriage.” “What’s going on here?” Sassler asks. “Sharing housework is now perceived as a sexual turn-on.”

In my household, neither one of us does anything that we don’t absolutely have to, until eventually there are seven large bags of laundry that will cost $80 to get cleaned, the dishes are such a mess that I finally break down and hire some lovely young shift worker from TaskRabbit to deal, and the bathroom looks like a scene from Stranger Things until I dump mountains of cleaning products inside and run away screaming.

It’s a pretty good system.

But I did grow up babysitting in several functional, hyperorganized households, so I’m familiar with that magic game-changer known as the chore wheel. It hangs like a fearsome, irrefutable taskmaster on the refrigerator with brightly colored magnets and a law-and-order sense of reward and punishment. So I decided to approach our household-labor-division project like I do anything: do a lot of research to avoid having to do the thing itself. Did you know that there are thousands of chore-wheel ideas on Pinterest?

My favorite turned out to be like so many of my favorite things in life: online! There are more chore apps out there than I ever imagined, but the one that I liked the best is called OurHome, which allows you to assign household tasks, create smart shopping lists, assign priority, and give each other rewards to motivate.

It even autocompletes and suggests many specific chores I might not ever think to add myself, like: “organize bookshelves,” “change batteries in smoke detector,” or “clean cobwebs.”

When my husband got the email invitation to join, he laughed at some of the stupid tasks I had put on there. “Cobwebs?” he said. “What, do we live in a haunted house? This is from Dracula’s chore wheel.”

Then, when it came time for his turn to add tasks, he tried to suggest “action items” for me like “69” and “naked dusting.” For himself, he assigned “brush teeth” and “buy shampoo.”

“Come on!” I said. “Let’s trade weeks where we do the laundry, and every other night on the dishes, and we only really need to do a deep clean like every three or four weeks …”

I came up with 28 different tasks to divide up the work.

“Don’t you think this is a little much?” he asked.

“Don’t you want to have more sex?” I responded.

“Okay, but 28 is my limit.”

“Deal.”

Initially, I found that I kept up with the app and did my chores while my husband constantly forgot to mark his items online. I was tempted to add a new task: “Dude, mark ‘complete’ on the tasks on your freaking app!!!”

Meanwhile, he was very hung up on the “more sex” part of my sales pitch. “So, if I wash half the dishes can I get half a blow job?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

Hand job?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“If you want me to reorganize the closet, then we definitely need to put anal on the table.”

“No,” I said.

For all of his grumbling, after a few days of him doing chores and eventually using the app and marking off his items, I did find myself wanting more sex. I knew the experiment was most definitely working when he started referring to the app as the “whore wheel.”

It was kind of hot (and sweet) that he was willing to do this division of labor. And the experiment had me constantly thinking about sex when I was dividing papers and plastics. But mostly, it led to a better feeling in general around our apartment. Who wouldn’t want to have more sex when everything is spick-and-span?

As my mood improved, his did, too.

“I’m turning on the vacuum cleaner now,” he said to me in a way that I can only describe as sexual “chore-play.” “Are you wet?”

“Kind of,” I responded, laughing.

He looked at me intently as he cleaned.

“You are so dirty.”