Maintaining sexual chemistry within marriage is unbelievably challenging, for multiple reasons. The initial thrill and the ease of sexual arousal that begins a passionate relationship is doomed to last a maximum of two years, simply because of our inherent biology, as documented by biological anthropologist Helen Fisher Ph.D.
I think one of the nails in the coffin of such chemistry is when there is perceived unfairness of the division of household labor and childcare between men and women. That’s why I made division of labor on chores as one of the questions on my relationship quiz.
There are two major problems with the perceived unfairness of the division of labor between heterosexual partners. The first issue is the fact that research has shown that angry and resentful women do not feel sexual desire or sexual willingness toward the person they dislike. (Men, with their testosterone levels ten times that of women, often still feel sexual toward a partner whom they resent.)
The second problem is that a woman who spends a huge amount of time with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and the multiple aspects of being a responsible caretaker for children is physically and emotionally exhausted.
No woman would choose sex with a long term spouse over much-needed sleep.
Sex therapists are more prone to talk about a woman’s “willingness” to be open to a sexual interlude these days — rather than using the word “desire.”
Dr. Rosemary Basson has emphasized the fact that male desire is different from female desire, and female desire functions more in the context of relationship. An angry, tired, resentful woman is simply not willing to set aside time to have sexual intercourse.
The unfairness of male/female division of labor is of longstanding. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild documented this phenomenon in her book, The Second Shift in 1989. And things haven’t gotten much better since.
A government survey conducted in 2015, found that American women spent more than twice as much time daily preparing food and slaving over cleaning, and over three times as much time doing laundry as did men.
Men’s chores were somewhat less of a daily grind. Male tasks were related to lawn, garden, and houseplants, and doing interior and exterior maintenance, repairs. Women spent almost twice as many hours as men: 2.15 hours versus 1.15 hours for men.
You might be surprised to hear that among a group of academics, for married women, sex is seen as simply another form of what Susan Maushart calls “wifework” in her book by the same title. Sex is seen as another way in which females routinely service the physical and emotional needs of their husbands, at the expense of their own wishes.
In my office, I never hear from men who like this kind of perfunctory sexual interaction. Men who love their wives get part of their self-esteem and sexual self-esteem from pleasing their wives sexually.
Many of us, me included, would much rather perform childcare than do cleaning or laundry. But when it comes to childcare, sometimes women can be their own worst enemies.
Men often are willing to spend positive and loving time with their children, but their style of childcare may be very different than that of their wives. I’m not suggesting that it is ok to serve Cheerios and Ding Dongs to kids for dinner or let them run in the streets. But I think it’s a good idea to let go of overblown demands about how the children should be cared for, in the service of the mom getting some time for herself.
If you’re experiencing nothing but “mercy sex” in your sexual relationship, maybe it’s time to have a serious conversation about feelings about the division of labor in regards to housework and childcare.
That could be part of the problem. If so, a discussion is in order.
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