Sharing is Sexy: The research is in on gender and sexual satisfaction for today’s marrieds, and shared tasks rather than different ones deepen desire
AUSTIN TX, June 20, 2016—Remember that 2014 New York Times Magazine cover story on the equal but sexless marriage? It reported on a 2013 study claiming that couples who shared housework equally were less satisfied with their sexual and romantic lives and had less sex than couples who adhered to a more “traditional” household division of labor. “Difference equals desire” read one headline on the web. “Nothing erotic about equal marriages” was the lead for one radio show.
Turns out, the “rules” that govern sexual and marital satisfaction have been changing rapidly—and, like many generalizations about modern marriage, the 2013 study was based on outdated data. As Cornell University Professor Sharon Sassler shows in her new paper, “A Reversal in Predictors of Sexual Frequency and Satisfaction in Marriage,” presented today to the Council on Contemporary Families, when couples share similar tasks rather than different, gender-stereotyped ones, this seems to deepen desire.
Sassler reports, “Contemporary couples who adhere to a more egalitarian division of labor are the only couples who have experienced an increase in sexual frequency compared to their counterparts of the past. Other groups – including those where the woman does the bulk of the housework – have experienced declines in sexual frequency. This finding is particularly notable given reports indicating that sexual frequency has generally declined worldwide over the past few decades.”
The predictors of marital success have changed profoundly in the past 50 years, argues historian Stephanie Coontz, because our ideals of heterosexual love have changed. “Love used to be seen as the attraction of opposites, and each partner in a marriage specialized in a unique set of skills, resources, and emotions that, it was believed, the other gender lacked. Today, love is based on shared interests, activities, and emotions. Where difference was once the basis of desire, equality is increasingly becoming erotic.”
“Sassler reports on other work that adds to the significance of her study,” notes Coontz. “Her study–and others–reflect more equalized power between men and women. In marriages of the 1950s and 1960s, wives often reported having sex more often than they wanted because they were dependent on their husbands. Now that women feel free to say no, they are more likely to say yes when they feel the relationship is fair.”
Sassler’s brief is based largely on a longer study by Sassler and her colleagues Daniel Carlson, Amanda Miller, and Sarah Hanson that will be published this summer.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT
Sharon Sassler, Professor, Department of Policy Analysis & Management, Cornell University, Sharon.Sassler@Cornell.Edu.
The Council on Contemporary Families, based at the University of Texas-Austin, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of family researchers and practitioners that seeks to further a national understanding of how America’s families are changing and what is known about the strengths and weaknesses of different family forms and various family interventions.
The Council helps keep journalists informed of notable work on family-related issues via the CCF Network. To join the CCF Network, or for further media assistance, please contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, at firstname.lastname@example.org, cell 360-556-9223.
June 20, 2016