Should Men Work Harder for Their Partners' Sexual Pleasure?

Why straight men should care about women’s sexual pleasure.

Posted May 23, 2020

We know that men should be doing more housework. Women do a disproportionate share of the housework even when they have full-time jobs. Women also do a disproportionate share of the sex work in a long-term relationship. Meston and Buss (2010), in their book Why Women Have Sex, found that a major reason women have sex is because their husbands pester them for it. They have sex to please their husbands so that their husbands don’t suffer sexual frustration. Should men do similarly? Should husbands also have sex even when they are not in the mood to make their wives happy? It is work to have sex when one is not in the mood. In a long-term relationship, we do it not because we are getting paid, as in prostitution, but because we care about our partner's sexual happiness and we don’t want them to feel sexually frustrated or rejected.

Are You a Selfish Lover?

We are most motivated to have sex when our sex drive is high, and we feel a desperate need for relief from that sexual tension. When our sex drive is low, it’s work to get oneself in the mood. Most of us would prefer to take a pass on having sex when we are not in the mood; it just seems to take too much effort. We rightly feel that sex should be fun. It shouldn’t be work. But when we are stressed out, tired, and preoccupied with our worries, we don’t want to be burdened by any more work than we already have to do. In fact, we resent it quite a bit when more work is dumped on us despite already being overburdened by our responsibilities. We really don’t want to be pressured to have sex when we’re not in the mood. We wish our partners would be more sensitive to the pressures that might put a damper on our sex drives and not be so preoccupied with their own sexual needs.

This situation creates a problem for the partner who is eager to have sex. None of us really wants to have to pressure a partner to have sex when that partner isn’t in the mood. Nevertheless, the research of Meston and Buss suggests that many men will do just that. More ideally, we want to have sex with partners who are just as eager to have sex with us as we are to have sex with them. It helps if the feelings are mutual: We all like to be desired. So, it is certainly less than ideal to have sex with a partner who doesn’t desire us as much as we do them and isn’t as eager to have sex with us as we are with them. But many of us would settle for that if it’s that or no sex at all when we feel sexually needy.

If we’re not that desperate for sex, we might just wait until our partner is more in the mood or do whatever we can to help our partner get in the mood. Yet it becomes increasingly difficult to wait for our partners to be in the mood if it seems like they are hardly ever in the mood as much as we need them to be. Then we feel increasingly sexually frustrated and sexually rejected, and our feelings of sexual desirability plummet. It’s hard not to take the situation personally.

On the one hand, we shouldn’t feel pressured into having sex when we aren’t in the mood but on the other hand, we should be aware of the emotional impact that our sexual disinterest has on our partners’ feelings. We should care about our partners’ sexual happiness, sexual frustration, and feelings of sexual rejection. We should have some empathy for the suffering that our sexual disinterest inflicts on our partners. If we have compassion for our partners’ sexual misery, we might be inspired to do some sex work, a “mercy lay” so to speak. If we care about our partner's sexual happiness, it should make us happy to make them happy.

Maybe it’s a kind of selfishness to only have sex when we are in the mood. Maybe doing sex work isn’t that different than doing your share of the housework. We don’t really want to do it, but we do it to make our partner's life better. And if you do the housework and the sex work with a good attitude, it is much appreciated.

Male Sexual Performance and Sex Work

Male sex work is constrained by the fact that most men can’t generate and sustain erections when they are not in the mood. Men might not be capable of sex work if that means having vaginal sex with an erection for however long it takes until a female partner has an orgasm. In fact, the expectation to do so could generate an inferiority complex and considerable performance anxiety that makes sustaining an erection all the more difficult. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other types of sex work that men could perform in a loving way, be it affectionate cuddling, massages, kissing, patient foreplay, oral sex, and/or manual sex. And it’s quite possible that in doing that sort of sex work, men might get in the mood after all.

The stereotype is that it’s men who always want sex and their wives who aren’t in the mood, so it’s the women usually having to do the sex work or make excuses to get out of it. Nevertheless, many women want sex more than their male partners do, and that seems to increase with age as many men begin to develop erectile dysfunction and lose interest in sex, especially if they have underlying health issues. Thus, men may need to do more sex work with advancing age in long-term relationships if they want to keep their wives happy. As the saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life.” A 2014 study by Carr, Freedman, Cornman, and Schwarz in the Journal of Marriage and Family found empirical support for that proposition.


Josephs, L. (2018) The Dynamics of Infidelity: Applying Relationship Science to Psychotherapy Practice. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.