It’s Valentine’s Day, and across the country men have been buying roses, penning poems, and taking loved ones on candlelit dates. Certain men may even have surprised their spouses by undertaking responsibilities that are stereotypically female-specific—cleaning house, doing laundry, washing dishes—in the belief that egalitarian house-husbandry may earn them carnal rewards. Chances are that these men will, in fact, make sweet love to their partners. But only because it’s Valentine’s Day. The cooking and cleaning and ironing of napkins? Sexual turnoffs that if sustained will result in less sex than if the men had continued doing manly things like, you know, fixing cars and chopping wood.
Despite the fact that we’ve come a long way from the rigid gender roles of the Mad-Men era; despite the fact that couples are sharing household duties that were once solely in the women’s domain; a new study published in the American Sociological Review concludes that “couples in which men participate more in housework typically done by women report having sex less frequently. Similarly, couples in which men participate more in traditionally masculine tasks—such as yard work, paying bills, and auto maintenance—report higher sexual frequency.”
For those of us men invested in such egalitarianism, this is distressing, though not wholly surprising. Strange fetishes notwithstanding, there are few things that lowers one’s libido as does scrubbing a toilet. Lord knows, pediatric dental bills and unrelenting masses of soiled diapers easily inspire abstinence. If men, historically more inclined to initiate sex, have undertaken such chores before our general cultural understanding of what and how a man should be and act has encompassed these chores, there’s bound to be some dampening of manly ardor.
And that’s the distressing crux of the matter: both modern men and modern women unconsciously cling to “traditional gender behavior and gender display in marriage.” Outdated notions of what constitutes a “masculine” tool—a hammer and not a broom—affect a man’s sex drive; women are turned off by seeing their husband wash dishes every night, sexy apron or no. As far as we’ve come, “socialized gender roles” dating back to misogynistic cavemen days still inhibit a more progressive understanding of gender.
As it so happens, a more progressive understanding of gender was also just published. A groundbreaking study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology concludes that men and women are not fundamentally different when it comes to how they think and act. Men and women aren’t two distinct groups with consistent differences; rather, as one researcher put it: “There are not two distinct genders, but instead there are linear gradations of variables associated with sex, such as masculinity or intimacy, all of which are continuous.” Easier stated than accepted, apparently.
Regardless, it’s evident that much time is needed for such deeply engrained beliefs to evolve. Meanwhile, men, cook your wife a Valentine’s meal, wash the dishes, and be sure to enjoy your conjugal bliss. Your great-grandchildren will appreciate it.
(This article first appeared in the February 14, 2013 issue of The Corvallis Advocate)