Science Says Cleaning Could Be the Key to Great Sex

updated Feb 11, 2020
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Some couples looking to spice up their sex life might follow the neon glow to a seedy shop with blacked out windows. But recent science suggests they could be better off putting down the flogger and reaching for a broom instead. (Or, you know, also. Do your thing.)

Forthcoming research from the Council of Contemporary Families dives into the division of chores between partners at home and finds that heterosexual couples who share housework equally not only enjoy more sexual satisfaction and happier relationships, but they’re having more sex, too.

Daniel Carlson, Assistant Professor of Family, Health, and Policy in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah and the lead author of the study published a preview brief on CCF’s website where he uncovers some eye- and leg-opening research: “Although less than one-third of the couples we studied shared housework equally, these were the couples who, in contrast to couples in earlier decades, reported the highest marital and sexual satisfaction. In fact, this is the only group among which the frequency of sexual intercourse has increased since the early 90s.”

But not all shared chores have an equal effect on relationship satisfaction.

What Men Want

In the brief, Carlson writes one single sentence that caused me to have to take a cold shower halfway through writing this piece: “For contemporary men, sharing shopping with their partner seems to be a turn on.”

Oh yeah.

Men who shared the household shopping responsibilities (think: groceries and Target runs) equally with their partners were happier with their relationships and sex life than men who lived in households where only one person shouldered that burden—whether it was them or their partner.

Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families, told the Chicago Tribune she thinks grocery shopping is a good reflection of confidence in a relationship:

“Dividing it shows real trust in the other person’s judgment, rather than, ‘I know exactly what kind of green onions I want, and I don’t trust him to pick the right ones,'” Coontz told me. “Both partners feel trusted to spend the right amount of money and make the right choices. And if you do it together, you can sometimes have the sort of easy, pleasant discussions that don’t happen when you’re looking into each other’s eyes on date night.”

Men felt a bit differently about cleaning and laundry—they’re equally happy to share these tasks or to have their partner take them on, but “men reported lower relationship and sexual satisfaction and more discord when they did the majority of these tasks.”

What Women Want

For women, the key to relationship satisfaction is having their partner share dish duty. Carlson writes: “As of 2006, women who found themselves doing the lion’s share of dishwashing reported significantly more relationship discord, lower relationship satisfaction, and less sexual satisfaction than women who split the dishes with their partner. Sharing responsibility for dishwashing was the single biggest source of satisfaction for women among all the household tasks, and lack of sharing of this task the single biggest source of discontent.”

Carlson gave an interview to The Atlantic where he revealed his thoughts about why dishes seem to be such a linchpin for womens happiness, explaining:

“Doing dishes is gross. There is old, moldy food sitting in the sink. If you have kids, there is curdled milk in sippy cups that smells disgusting.” Additionally, unlike some other chores such as cooking or gardening, doing dishes well does not beget compliments, he observes: “What is there to say? ‘Oh, the silverware is so … sparkly’?”

The key to all of this research from Carlson — and his co-authors University of Indianapolis sociologist Amanda Miller and Cornell University sociologist Sharon Sassler — lies in the gender equality revolution. Housekeeping was considered women’s work, traditionally, but in heterosexual relationships today, men are taking on more chores at home than ever. The proportion of couples sharing house cleaning has doubled from 1992 to 2006, the study finds, and the proportion sharing laundry duty has increased by 129 percent. (Still, to put it into perspective, the total number of couples from the study who share chores equally today is under one-third. We have a ways to go.)

What that means is that it’s becoming more common, nowadays, to see couples sharing chores like dishes and laundry. So when you’re part of a couple who aren’t sharing those tasks, yeah… it kinda ruins the mood.