This is an article written by Lori Gottlieb for The New York Times Magazine. I strongly encourage everyone here to read and save this piece for future reference. It's a bit lengthy, but definitely worth taking the time to read.
A study called “Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.
Division of labor is a good thing, clearly defined masculine and feminine roles in a relationship help preserve attraction and maintain a hierarchy. Men continue to be seen as men to their women and vice versa. This enhances attraction. When your man occasionally or rarely breaks his role, then you are more likely to notice and appreciate that behavior. You understand that he's doing so not because he feels obligated to, but rather because he simply wants to step in.
That is, it’s true that being stuck with all the chores rarely tends to make wives desire their husbands. Yet having their partner, say, load the dishwasher — a popular type of marital intervention suggested by self-help books, women’s magazines and therapists alike — doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on their libido, either. Many of my colleagues have observed the same thing: No matter how much sink-scrubbing and grocery-shopping the husband does, no matter how well husband and wife communicate with each other, no matter how sensitive they are to each other’s emotions and work schedules, the wife does not find her husband more sexually exciting, even if she feels both closer to and happier with him.
This is a classic example of women saying they want something, and then feeling unsatisfied when they get it. Sure, the chores may get done faster, but is it a price worth paying?
“I’m very attracted to you,” she said earnestly. “You know when I really crave you? It’s when you’re just back from the gym and you’re all sweaty and you take off your clothes to get in the shower and I see your muscles.”
Her husband countered by saying that this very situation had occurred that morning but that his wife became irritated when he tossed his clothes on the floor, which led to a conversation about his not vacuuming the day before, when she worked late. He had worked late, too, which accounted for the lack of vacuuming, but still — she hated waking up to a messy room, and it was his turn to vacuum.
“Right,” she agreed. “I wasn’t focused on sex, because I wanted you to get out the vacuum.”
“So if I got out the vacuum, then you’d be turned on?
His wife thought about it for a minute. “Actually, probably not,” she said slowly, as if hearing the contradiction even as she was speaking it. “The vacuuming would have killed the weight-lifting vibe.”
When the focus shifts from separate and defined roles to equality, then women stop seeing their men as men. Her husband isn't the hunk she wants to jump, he's her cleaning buddy, her equal...or worse- subordinate.
“The less gender differentiation, the less sexual desire.” In other words, in an attempt to be gender-neutral, we may have become gender-neutered.
This quote is very telling, and it's something that both TRP and RPW have been striving to prevent. Masculinity and femininity work in harmony and compliment one another - but that's very different from the two aspects being equal. "Same-ness" breeds blandness and leaves no room for the push and pull of attraction.
Furthermore, this doesn't only apply to heterosexual couples:
It’s interesting to note that when I asked Justin Garcia, a research scientist at the Kinsey Institute, whether lack of gender differentiation affects the sex lives of gay couples, he said that male couples, who have more sex than lesbian couples, tend to differentiate by choosing partners sexually unlike themselves — who, say, want to be in the more submissive sexual position — and that lesbians don’t follow as much of a pattern of seeking their sexual opposites.
None of this means that only men can work though, or that men shouldn't help around the house. Relationships are generally more stable, when both people are working, and the couple sticks to gendered chores:
Lynn Prince Cooke, a professor of social policy at the University of Bath in England, found that American couples who share breadwinning and household duties are less likely to divorce.
The chores study seems to show that women do want their husbands to help out — just in gender-specific ways. Couples in which the husband did plenty of traditionally male chores reported a 17.5 percent higher frequency of sexual intercourse than those in which the husband did none.
On the topic of power, dominance and sex:
At a recent talk, for instance, one woman asked him if a certain sex act was “loving or degrading?”
“My reply was, ‘Yes,’ ” he told me. “Why can’t it be both?” He continued: “People have to learn to compartmentalize. We all want to be objectified by the person we love at times. We all want to be with somebody who can flip the switch and see you as an object for an hour. Sometimes sex is an expression of anger or a struggle for power and dominance. They work in concert. People need to learn how to harness those impulses playfully in ways that are acceptable in equal relationships.”
The article seems to have a really positive message when it comes to creating a dichotomy, and nourishing contrast in relationships - so I was really disappointed by a few parts, especially the conclusion that said:
“It’s the first time in history we are trying this experiment of a sexuality that’s rooted in equality and that lasts for decades,” Esther Perel said. “It’s a tall order for one person to be your partner in Management Inc., your best friend and passionate lover. There’s a certain part of you that with this partner will not be fulfilled. You deal with that loss. It’s a paradox to be lived with, not solved.”
The bolded part in particular is what I disagree with. You should not have to live with the problems created from trying to establish an equality-based relationship. Marriage is meant to be more than "living with your best friend." My SO is my best best friend, but he's also so much more than that. If I only sought a friend, someone to be my equal in every way, I could pick anyone to be in a relationship with - regardless of their gender and sexual appeal. I'm not looking for someone I can live, breathe, sleep, and work alongside without the presence of desire and attraction. That's not a marriage, that's a business. A peaceful arrangement that may be effective in some ways, but it completely falls short of what being in a relationship means to me. I don't want to be stuck in a perpetual "group" project that reminds me of my high school days. I want a man I can lean into and trust. Someone I can count on to have my back and push forward. Yes I look up to my SO (both figuratively and literally), and I wouldn't want it any other way.
Thoughts, questions, and comments are all welcomed and encouraged.