By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new study in the Journal of Marriage and Family reveals "Relationship quality and stability are generally highest when couples are happy with their divisions of labor and find them equitable and fair," Inequity, on the other hand, is a TURN-OFF.
If photos of your '90s hair weren't evidence enough of rapidly shifting tastes, consider new research about what leads to a healthy, happy sex life.
In the early 1990s, couples who aimed for an equal division of housework had the lowest sexual frequency and satisfaction. Today they have the highest.
A new study, "The Gendered Division of Housework and Couples' Sexual Relationships: A Reexamination" looks at the sex lives of three types of heterosexual couples: conventional (the woman does 65 percent or more of the housework), egalitarian (the male partner performs 35-65 percent of the housework) and counterconventional (the man performs 65 percent or more of the housework).
Conventional roles used to trigger relationship satisfaction and sexual frequency, researchers note, with "traditionally masculine and feminine behaviors consciously or unconsciously (serving) as turn-ons."
No more. Today we enjoy "an eroticism of fairness," meaning an equitable arrangement no longer puts a damper on a couple's sex life and, in fact, boosts it slightly. Egalitarian couples had sex an average of 6.8 times per month, the study finds, which is 0.5 times more per month than conventional couples and two times more than counterconventional couples.
"Feelings of fairness and satisfaction with the division of housework are central to couples' relationship satisfaction, which is strongly related to sexual intimacy," write authors Daniel L. Carlson, Amanda J. Miller, Sharon Sassler and Sarah Hanson. "These results suggest that egalitarianism within couples has become the cultural ideal."
Previous reports, including a much-discussed New York Times magazine story from 2014, indicated that sharing the burden of domestic duties was a sex-life killer.
"But these studies relied on data from the 1980s and early 1990s, and thus represented marriages formed before the recent surge in dual-earner families and social approval of egalitarian gender roles," Sassler writes in a Council on Contemporary Families briefing on the new research.
Sassler and her co-authors took data collected from the National Survey on Families and Households two decades ago and compared it with data on heterosexual couples from the national 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey. Their findings bolster a similar study last year from Carlson, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University that focused specifically on the effect of divvying up child care responsibilities.
"We've had a couple of decades to work hard at getting to a better balance," Sassler, a professor in Cornell University's department of policy analysis and management, told me. "And we're seeing that gender equality doesn't destabilize relationships the way it used to."
Quite the opposite, in fact.
"Relationship quality and stability are generally highest when couples are happy with their divisions of labor and find them equitable and fair," the authors write in the full study, which will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Inequity, on the other hand, is a turn-off.
"Perceived inequality has deleterious impacts on couples' sex lives, and today more men and women believe that conventional or counterconventional domestic arrangements are unfair," the authors write. "More couples today expect that equality is something that must be practiced, not just preached."
Of course, what feels equal and fair may differ greatly from household to household, depending on work schedules and other factors. Egalitarian couples, Sassler said, work together to achieve a balance that feels fair to them.
"It does mean couples have to negotiate more," she said. "But learning how to ask for what you need isn't such a bad thing." And that goes for more than just housework ...