Husbands who do a lot of cooking, cleaning, laundry and other traditionally female forms of housework may do their marriages some good -- but, contrary to popular belief, they are not rewarded with more sex, a new study finds.
Instead, it's the guys who do the most lawn work, car repair, driving and bill-paying – traditional men's jobs – who have the most sex in marriage, the study suggests. The same is true for women who do the most traditional female housework, according to the study published in the February issue of American Sociological Review.
For better or worse, the authors say, heterosexual married couples may still be reading from traditional "sexual scripts" when it comes to both housework and sex.
In other words, the study concludes: "Men or women may, in essence, be turned on (however indirectly) when partners in a marriage do more gender-traditional work."
The study comes with one major caveat: It is based on data collected two decades ago. While the researchers say little has likely changed since then, some other experts disagree.
The researchers, from the Juan March Institute in Spain and the University of Washington in Seattle, looked at data collected on about 4,500 heterosexual married U.S. couples participating in the National Survey of Families and Households between 1992 and 1994. The couples reported having sex an average of five times a month.
Couples in which women did all of the traditional female chores had sex 1.6 times more each month than couples in which men did all of those jobs. The more cooking and cleaning a husband did, the less sex the couple had; women's cooking and cleaning was linked with more sex. Couples in which men did more traditional male chores also had more sex; it did not seem to matter if women did more or less of those chores.
The findings were not linked to male or female earnings or to religious beliefs.
But before the nation's husbands throw out their dishcloths, they might want to consider this: The study does not say more traditional couples are more satisfied with their sex lives or their marriages. The researchers cite other studies showing that "when men do more housework, wives' perceptions of fairness and marital satisfaction tend to rise." Couples with more equal divisions of labor also are less likely to divorce, research shows.
"Some women may find a guy more sexy when he's fixing something around the house than when he's doing the ironing," says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families. "I'm not surprised that there are many women and men who still find the old ways more sexy. But there also are couples who now find egalitarian relationships more sexy and a better prescription for long-term happiness in marriage."
A survey conducted today likely would find more couples in the latter category, says Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
Also worth noting: The study did not include childcare -- so it says nothing about whether men who change diapers have more or less sex.