The Economics of Sex

Sexual freedom and economic theory. What does it mean for men and women?

How to Have Better and More Sex (Maybe)

Two things you never knew about how to have lots of good sex.

Do you want to have more and better sex? Do you believe in social science? Here goes.

If so, there are two things that you should do:

I. Romance a Feminist

Rudman & Phelan (2007) recruited over 400 people from various websites, and asked about their romantic relationships, and whether they considered themselves feminists. Lo and behold, the men with feminist partners reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction than did the men with nonfeminist partners. Both men and women who reported that their partners were feminists also reported greater sexual satisfaction.

Why This May Seem Surprising

 There is some evidence to suggest that people think of feminists as fat and ugly man-hating lesbians. If so, it might be surprising to discover that romancing a feminist is a short route to a hot relationship.

Why This Could Make Sense

Feminist women may be more forthright and assertive about what they want in bed. Feminist men may be more committed to satisfying their partners.

Limitations

It was a correlational study, which means that we cannot really be sure that having a feminist partner causes greater sexual satisfaction. Maybe having great sex causes people to become feminists (seems unlikely but you never know). Something else may cause both feminism and great sex (this is the classic “third variable” explanation for any correlation, A and B may be correlated, not because A causes B, or B causes A, but because C causes A and B). Regardless, who cares? If something else is causing your partner to be both a feminist and great in bed, s/he is still great in bed.

It was also a haphazard, not representative sample. So who knows? Maybe the results do not generalize to the entire American population. But, then, maybe they do.

Also, all results were based on self-report, and self-report on sensitive subjects like sex are not always completely trustworthy. 

Still, so far, I doubt the above will be too controversial, at least not in the leftwingy social science circles most psychologists travel in. After all, the above says “feminists are better” and saying people on the left are “better” almost always plays well with other people on the left (i.e., most social science types).

But then, if you want to have lots of sex with your spouse, there is this:

II. Men: Don’t Do the Housework

Kornrich et al (2012) recently found that the less housework men say they do, the more frequently the couple has sex. The effect was quite large, such that, when men who did very little housework, the couple had sex about 50% more often (on average) than did couples in which the men did most of the housework.

Not only that, but both the husbands and, strikingly, the wives reported higher sexual satisfaction, the less housework their husbands did. The effect of husbands doing fewer chores on wives‘ sexual satisfaction was even larger than the effect on sexual frequency or husbands’ sexual satisfaction.

This study was based on a representative sample, including thousands of people (4000-9000, depending on the analysis). This makes the results highly credible.

Why This May be Surprising

1. It seems to conflict with the first study. I mean, feminism, equality, good sex (in the first study) versus traditional sex roles and more sex (in the second). Not a total contradiction, but pretty inconsistent.

2. It is pretty clear that women do want men to do more of the housework. One might think that making a wife happy would produce more frequent sex. And maybe it does, in other ways. Apparently, though, not via doing more chores.

Why This Could Make Sense

This study inspired a long New York Times article that included much thoughtful speculation, plus interviews with psychologists and therapists, about how and why this might occur. If you have access to the Times, you can find it here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/magazine/does-a-more-equal-marr...

I am neither endorsing nor disputing the conclusions of the author of that Times piece, but here is one quote:

"No matter how much sink-scrubbing and grocery-shopping the husband does, no matter how well husband and wife communicate with each other, no matter how sensitive they are to each other’s emotions and work schedules, the wife does not find her husband more sexually exciting, even if she feels both closer to and happier with him."

In short, the interpretation seems to be something like this: Although wives do like when their husbands share more of the household chores, they do not get sexually turned on by husbands mopping floors, doing dishes, or folding laundry. In fact, whether they admit it or recognize it or not, it seems to be a bit of a turnoff.

Regardless of the explanation, however, the bottom line was that couples had considerably more frequent sex when men did fewer chores.

Limitations

The study is based on self-reports, so it suffers the exact same limitations as the Rudman & Phelan (2007) study on sex and feminism. So, to be logically coherent, you need to either reject both studies on the grounds that self-report is a weak variable; or you need to accept both studies, on the grounds that self-reports are probably good enough. The one thing you cannot do is cherrypick one study as good and reject the other because it relied on self-reports.

Like the Rudman & Phelan study, this study is correlational, so, again, it is hard to pin down causality. Maybe more virile men are less willing to do household chores. Maybe doing household chores lowers men’s testosterone levels. Maybe the type of man more willing to do household chores is also the type of man less interested in sex. Or maybe seeing a guy do household chores is a turnoff to women. It could be any of these, all of these, some of these, or some combination of these and other things no one has yet thought of.

The study was based on data collected in the early 1990s. Maybe things are different now. Maybe in 2014 tidying up around the house is the best way to inspire wifely interest in erotic adventures. Maybe, but I doubt it.

Bottom Lines

If you believe these (social) scientific articles, then it would seem that, if one wants a romantic relationship with lots of good sex: 1) Romance a feminist; and 2) If you are a guy, do as few of the household chores as possible. 

Of course, one thing the Kornrich et al (2012) study did NOT do was follow couples for a long period of time. Perhaps guys who do not do housework have relationships that do not last as long. Then again, perhaps they last longer. It wasn’t studied, so it is impossible to know. Regardless, if you believe the result, it sounds like it was good while it lasted.

 But what if you do not believe the science? That’s fine. I completely agree that just because some science or social science journal reports something DOES NOT necessarily make it true.

Maybe it is all hogwash. Maybe sex with feminists is not better than sex with anyone else. Maybe the whole chores/sex thing is silly. That’s fine; I think there are ample reasons to be skeptical about science. See, e.g. my blogs here,:

The Scientific Critique of (Mostly) Psychological Science

Conservatives Distrust Science: Are They Right to do So?

Nonscientific Influences on Social Psychology

Just one request, though. Please DO NOT cherrypick! Most readers of this blog are interested in psychology, and, therefore, disproportionately likely to be liberals (though there are plenty of nonliberals, too). So the “pro-feminist” Rudman & Phelan article is probably more “appealing” than the Kornich et al article to many readers. That’s fine. But, really, on most scientific grounds, the Kornrich et al article is of much higher quality (much larger sample, a nationally representative sample, very sophisticated statistical techniques). 

One last note. I have simply reported the results of these studies, and their implications. I am neither endorsing nor contesting their claims or conclusions. Nor am I providing advice. Even Kornrich et al did not show that a husband reducing his share of chores will increase marital sex. Perhaps that would be so upsetting that the relationship would go to Hell. Who knows? Not I. Also, who says having lots of good sex is a good thing? Personal decision, none of my damn business. You should reach your own conclusions.

References

Kornrich, S., Brines, J., & Leupp, K. (2012). Egalitarianism, housework, and sexual frequency in marriage. American Sociological Review, 78, 26-50.

Rudman, L. A., & Phelan, J. E. (2007). The interpersonal power of feminism: Is feminism good for romantic relationship? Sex Roles, 57, 787-799.

The Economics of Sex