Next to faithfulness, couples state that a satisfying sexual relationship is the most important factor in a successful marriage. Sex connects partners, increases their bond, and helps them demonstrate their love for each other. Sex in the United States, unfortunately, is on the decline. A recent study by Jean Twenge and colleagues shows that over the past twenty-five years American adults had sex 12 times fewer per year, falling from a high of 65 times per year on average in the mid-1990s to 53 times per year by 2014. Two trends explain this drop. First, fewer people are partnered today than in the past. Partnered individuals have more sex, on average, than single adults. Thus, more single adults means fewer people having sex. A second reason Americans are having less sex is that even though couples have more sex than the unpartnered, sexual frequency dropped among couples, but stayed constant for singles.
Since sex is central to relationship quality, sexual decline in couples is disconcerting. Yet, some types of couples continue to thrive sexually. Like Twenge and colleagues, my research team found a similar decrease in sex among married and cohabiting parents from the early-90s into the mid-2000s. However, we found that among one group in particular, sexual frequency actually rose, the only group for whom this was true. That group was egalitarian couples who shared housework.
Understanding what makes egalitarian couples unique is central to understanding why they have strong sex lives and how others can improve their own. Here are three factors that help explain why sharing housework is good for couples’ sexual intimacy.
1.Sharing is fair and fairness leads to more satisfying and intimate relationships
Because their relationships are grounded in the equal sharing of labor, couples find their housework arrangements to be more fair than conventional arrangements (women do majority of housework) and counter-conventional arrangements (men do the majority of housework). Importantly, the sense of fairness associated with sharing housework has increased over time. That is, couples find egalitarian arrangements to be even more fair today than in the past and other arrangements to be even less fair.
A sense of fairness is important for couples’ sex lives because a lack of fairness breeds resentment and resentment leads to dissatisfaction and when couples are dissatisfied with their relationships they withdraw from each other and from sex. Although equality lends itself more naturally to a sense of fairness, fairness is not exclusive to egalitarian relationships. Indeed, partners can see conventional and even counter-conventional arrangements as fair too. The key, nonetheless, lies in whether partners want to be in these arrangements. When both partners desire a particular housework arrangement, both are likely to see that arrangement as fair. Unfortunately, most couples who find themselves in these sorts of arrangements today don’t want to be in them.
2.Sharing requires teamwork and cooperation, the foundation of good sex
In contrast to arrangements where only one partner does the housework, sharing in the completion of housework compels partners to work together as a team. This means discussing expectations, compromising, cooperating to complete tasks, and spending more time together. It should come as little surprise that these are also important qualities for a satisfying and active sex life. While sex is about expressing love for your partner, it also about pleasure — both one’s own and one’s partner’s. To please your partner you have to know what they want and making sure each of you find sex pleasurable means cooperating and possibly compromising so that each partners’ needs are met.
3.Sharing the housework empowers both partners to initiate sex and communicate their desires.
Perhaps the most important element of egalitarian relationships for sex is communication. Sharing housework requires communication in order to coordinate activities and expectations, a skill and practice that is less necessary when one is solely responsible for housework. Communication in the coordination of day-to-day activities translates directly to couples’ sexual experiences. Sex must be initiated and once initiated partners’ must communicate to achieve mutual gratification. Traditionally, men are much more sexually efficacious than women, controlling the when, where, and how of sexual encounters. Because men generally desire sex to a much larger degree than women, male control over sexual decision making leads to more sex, but not necessarily sex that is satisfying to both partners. Egalitarianism increases women’s sexual self-efficacy, leading to more initiation of sex and more confidence to convey their desires during it. This leads to sexual experiences that are pleasing to both partners. More mutually gratifying experiences mean both partners are more likely to look forward to and anticipate the next time they have sex as opposed to trying to avoid it.
In a day and age when finances are tight and time and energy is stretched, it is no wonder that couples’ sex lives have suffered. Yet, one type of couple has thrived sexually – those that share housework. These relationships are built on foundations of fairness, teamwork, and communication that lead not just to positive feelings about one’s partner but also provide couples with the tools to convey their sexual desires and meet each other’s needs. For those looking to improve their sex lives, sharing tasks around the house is a path worth pursuing, but even for those who cannot, egalitarian couples impart important lessons about what works in relationships – common vision, consideration, and communication. No matter the situation, these are qualities any relationship should aspire to, leading likely to more intimacy.