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Study shows equal marriages lack sexual spark

Ika Ink

If you share the chores with your spouse, the two of you have what psychologists call a "peer marriage,” an egalitarian partnership. Maybe the husband cooks, vacuums, and loads the dishwasher, and you genuinely enjoy each other's company. But what about your sex life? The answer may reveal an unexpected outcome of modern marriage.

This week on Take Care, Lori Gottlieb, psychotherapist and author of The New York Times article “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” discusses how equality in marriage can impact a couple’s sex life. Her article has triggered a national debate on why peer marriages seem to have lost that sexual spark. Gottlieb is the author of The New York Times bestseller "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough" and three other books, as well as a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Lori Gottlieb.

Gottlieb explains a study where couples in both traditional marriages and egalitarian marriages were surveyed about their sex lives. She says that the results showed a connection between the types of chores the men do and the frequency of sex.

“So what that study showed is that when men did more masculine types of chores, things like taking out the trash, fixing the car, as opposed to doing only feminine chores, such as doing the laundry, cooking, emptying the dishwasher, those couples had sex more frequently than the couples in which the men did the more feminine chores,” Gottlieb says.

But Gottlieb also says that frequency is not the only difference.

“It turns out that the women reported higher sexual satisfaction in [traditional] couples as well,” she says.

Gottlieb was quick to mention that when the men did no chores, they were also having the least sex. But Gottlieb mentions the differences between the sex lives of the egalitarian couples versus the traditional couples could relate to something she calls sameness.

“So there’s all this information out there that seemed to indicate that sameness -- and that’s different from equality -- so, sameness seems to decrease people’s sexual desire for each other,” Gottlieb says.

According to Gottlieb, sameness is referring to a couple who has a lot in common, as opposed to a couple who has an “opposites attract” dynamic. A couple with sameness would have similar values when it comes to raising children and running the household and would both be hands on with those things.

“Basically we marry our clones, almost. And in some ways it’s very nice to have someone who’s very similar to yourself,” Gottlieb says. “People want to be with someone who is very similar in terms of background, intellect, in terms of sharing the chores, in terms of sharing the breadwinning, sharing the child raising… those are the kinds of things that we want, and yet we’ve become so similar that there’s not a lot of gender differentiation in the way that we culturally define gender. So when we’re that similar it seems like there’s less heat going on.”

Gottlieb says that she spoke to a researcher who said she thinks this happens because of something called sexual scripts, which is the way that culture defines what is masculine and what is feminine. So since American culture defines certain chores, like laundry and vacuuming as feminine, Gottlieb says when a man does these types of chores, most women will tend to be less attracted to him.

According to Gottlieb, the best way for couples to overcome this is for them to determine what they are getting out of their marriage, and to appreciate their spouse for what they do.

“Marriage is not going to fulfill people in 100 percent of the ways that they want to be fulfilled. So instead of getting disappointed that that isn’t happening, to really look at, ‘well what are the things I’m getting in my marriage?’ So that’s No. 1,” Gottlieb says. “You will feel a lot more sexual desire for your spouse if you are appreciating your spouse as opposed to feeling all the ways in which he or she is coming up short.”

Gottlieb says it’s important for couples with sameness to communicate about sex and make the time to separate that part of their marriage out.

“People’s lives are so blurred because of the sameness, because of everything that they’re doing together, that they don’t really have a separate spear for this aspect of their lives, and it’s really important that they do,” Gottlieb says. “And I think they are going to see an improvement in their sex life if they can separate that out.”