For Matt Johnson, something didn’t seem right after he read a study stating that men who assisted in household chores had less frequent sex.
Johnson, an Assistant Professor of Family Ecology at the University of Alberta, said that the study came to the conclusion that men emasculated themselves when they did laundry, vacuuming, or other traditionally “feminine” tasks.
“The authors argued that men who did these tasks violated the internalized ideas of what is ‘sexy,’” Johnson said. “So men become less appealing to their partners when they do these tasks.”
Seeing limitations in the methodological approach the study took, as well as taking issue with the findings, Johnson decided to revisit the issue. After nvestigating a study of over 1,000 German couples, Johnson concluded that men who perceived themselves as doing a fairer share of housework had more frequent, more satisfying sex.
For Johnson, it’s not the objective amount of work done by the male partner in a relationship that makes a difference, but the perceived fairness of chore sharing among partners.
“For couples who both have full time jobs, the demand could be that there is an equal split in housework,” Johnson said. “If the male partner works less than the female partner, he may have to do more.”
The data Johnson used was collected on a wide range of relationships, from married to common-law and from couples who cohabited to those who lived independently. Although the study was conducted on German couples, Johnson said the results translate across other cultures.
“German policy actually supports traditional, male breadwinner-female homemaker gender roles,” Johnson said. “You would expect these (German) couples to have less sex, because it is so much more stigmatized.”
In terms of next steps in studying this issue, Johnson said that examining women’s perspectives was key. Having only studied the males’ ideas of perceived fairness in relationships, investigating whether or not women feel the same way is an area that requires more research.
“We know from other studies that (female) perception may be more accurate about what the male partner is doing,” Johnson said. “But if males think what they’re doing is fair and your partner agrees, then we may see even stronger effects (on sex lives).”
Though there were some same-sex couples in the study, Johnson said there wasn’t enough data to pass similar judgment on these relationships. Despite this, he said he thinks future work in this area was crucial.
“It’s incredibly interesting to see how these dynamics would play out when partners don’t have the default of gender by which to assign some task,” Johnson said. “That could have an impact on several relationship outcomes, a couple’s sex life being one.”
When addressing the connections between housework and gender roles, Johnson said his first goal was correcting misinformation. For Johnson, the most important takeaway for couples is to articulate what they expect from one another in all things. Housework functions as a pragmatic activity that every couple has to work through, and Johnson said he hopes addressing this will lead to better partnerships.
“That’s the oldest problem in the book, to figure out how to have a lasting love relationship with another person,” Johnson said. “My hope is that my research will just get us a bit closer to maximizing the potential of having a long term, successful relationship.”