Keeping chores sexy

MEGAN NICOL REED
Last updated 05:00 02/03/2014
Lawnmowing
JOHN KIRK ANDERSON/ Fairfax NZ

PRIMAL PREFERRED: Men doing manly things really what we want.

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OPINION: We were camping, but there was nothing camp about any of it. Free-diving for mussels and opening beer bottles on the table's edge, they were like a pair of salty old sea dogs.

Their bodies hadn't seen a bar of soap since we'd left town. They heaved on anchors and shouldered ashore their own weight in canned food.

They were in their element, and the lines of communication with their feminine sides were down. And, my friend and I concurred, in that moment, in that state, we found our husbands desperately and utterly attractive.

Schooled as I was in the 1980s, we girls were taught that if a tyre needs changing, best you know how to do it yourself. And, while your happiness should never be determined by a man, if you were foolish enough to hanker after a mate, sensitivity should top your list of prerequisites.

I figured this meant I should seek out a man whose delicate arms had never once lugged a mate's couch, who dried his own lavender with which to scent drawer liners, and who served me fallen apples he'd stewed himself for breakfast.

In reality, though, I just didn't fancy weedy men with an interest in essential oils and preserves. When it came time to choose a partner in life I was forced to admit that, actually, I wanted one who knew how to handle a jackhammer.

Los Angeles psychotherapist (I know, I know, but give her a chance) Lori Gottlieb pissed off countless scores of women with her book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Recently, she again risked their ire with a treatise in The New York Times questioning whether a more equal marriage means less sex. That while the modern egalitarian marriage may be the most harmonious in history, there might not be a whole lot of bonking going on.

Gottlieb cites a 2013 study from The American Sociological Review which found that couples who divided chores along non-traditional gender lines got it on 1.5 times less per month.

So although it's true women are rarely champing at the bit to bed their husbands when they're breaking out a sweat with the mop while he snoozes on the couch, neither are they gagging for him when he routinely makes the bed and rearranges his day around her work commitments.

"The less gender differentiation," explains an author of the study, "the less sexual desire".

Curious how this applies to gay and lesbian relationships, Gottlieb spoke to a researcher at the Kinsey Institute. Apparently, as a rule, male couples have more sex than female couples because they choose their sexual opposite (eg submissive to their dominant), whereas women look for shared goals/common values in a partner (man or woman), which may make for a happy home, but not necessarily fireworks in the sack.

In my house, the cooking and the childcare are fairly evenly split (although I do more because I'm homemore), but the other stuff - the lawns, the laundry - is still very much divided according to traditional gender roles.

The truth is, while I'd tell my husband where to go if he tried to tell me I couldn't back the trailer at the tip, I don't actually want to. I'd rather plump the cushions. And when I see the sweat beading on his forearms as he shovels topsoil onto the raised vegetable garden bed, it crosses my mind that I wouldn't be averse to jumping his bones.

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Even in the most equal relationship I know, she schedules the after-school activities, and he assembles the new bookshelves.

Somehow food and kids are the only areas where the gender lines have truly blurred. Pop culture has it that the man who can whip up a lemon syrup cake while jiggling the baby is a stud muffin. But the man who sorts the spice drawer while he waits for Mr Muscle to degrease the oven? Hmm, not so much.

Over drinks with friends recently, a discussion on modern feminism digressed to the subject of a man we knew and why this brilliant and witty fellow just wasn't attractive to us.

Could it be, ventured one tentatively, because under all that intellectual capability he's actually a bit of a wet blanket?

Could it be that we were culturally conditioned to think so?

Couple's therapist and YouTube sensation Esther Perel says: "Egalitarian marriage takes the values of a good social system - consensus-building and consent - and assumes you can bring these rules into the bedroom. But the values that make for good social relationships are not necessarily the same ones that drive lust."

At the end of the day, she reckons, most of us get turned on at night by the very things that we'll demonstrate against during the day.

- Sunday Magazine

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