I was recently passed along this article from the NYTimes Magazine by Lori Gottlieb, “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” The issue at hand is whether the modern trend of women working more hours in the office, and men sharing in the workload of household chores and child care is making the sex life of these so called “egalitarian marriages” suffer.
The study Gottlieb cites suggests that “if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — 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.” The explanation offered for this phenomenon is “The less gender differentiation, the less sexual desire. In other words, in an attempt to be gender-neutral, we may have become gender-neutered.”
While I am not sure if I would simply boil this down to gender differentiation, certainly power and sex are intertwined in ways that would explain why sexual scripts and fantasies play out the way they so often do…with a dominant male and submissive female. I don’t think it’s difficult to imagine how men shedding some of those dominant and typically masculine roles around the house can reverse some of the gendered scripts that we have become accustomed to living by, and thereby cause difficulty firing the normal sexual triggers. Does this mean that we have to dial back the egalitarianism we are beginning to achieve in marital relationships? Certainly many people have roles they take on in the bedroom that they would never want to equate to any relationship dynamic outside of sex. Why must this be any different?
Gottlieb finishes the article, perhaps with this sentiment, but with a compromising rather than embracing tone:
She quotes couples therapist Esther Perel as saying: “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.”
Do we just roll over and give up on our sex lives in exchange for equality, or is that not a compromise we have to make?