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The Effect of Traditional Gender Roles on Sexual Desire

A new study finds that gender equality promotes passion.

Key points

  • Gender roles play a key role in sexual desire.
  • A new study shows couples who reject traditional roles and embrace equality experience greater sexual desire.
  • The implications are important in light of the growing "trad wife" trend.
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Estrada Anton / Shutterstock

The discrepancy in sexual desire remains one of the most common yet complex issues treated by sex and relationship therapists. Couples often feel frustrated when their partner desires sex more or less frequently than they do. These frustrations create tension in other areas of the relationship, diminishing relationship satisfaction and increasing conflict within the dyad.

It has long been held that a confluence of factors affects sexual desire. Broadly, therapists consider the influence of biological, psychological, social, and relationship factors that influence one’s desire for sex. Biological factors include things like hormones and physical health. Psychological factors include things like mental health and self-esteem. Relationship factors include things like the degree of relationship conflict, and social factors include the effect of cultural norms, religious beliefs, and gender roles.

People who subscribe to traditional gender roles believe that it is men’s responsibility to provide financially for the family and women’s responsibility to raise children and maintain the household. Men tend to be the lead decision-makers, and women are expected to take on a more submissive role to their male partners.

Gender roles play a complex role in sexual desire. While research universally shows that men have higher desires than women, presumably due to higher testosterone levels, previous studies have found that the gap is even wider in male-dominated cultures. This is likely due to the emphasis on sexual prowess and virility in male-dominated cultures.

The women in these cultures likely experience lower desire due to feelings of inequity and exhaustion from the burdens of household labor and childcare obligations. Furthermore, women who take on mothering roles to their partners often feel diminished sexual desire.

A recent study examined 675 Israeli men and women who had been in monogamous relationships for at least one year. Most (~80%) were married and living with their partners. The researchers examined how gender roles influence desire among heterosexual couples.

The researchers found that participants who held more traditional beliefs about gender roles had lower desire and less attraction towards their partners. The researchers posit that the lower desire found in this study could be because of more conservative beliefs around sexuality.

In other words, men who subscribe to traditional gender roles may be more sexually conservative, which inhibits the sense of freedom they feel to fully express themselves sexually. Likewise, women with more conservative values may subscribe to the belief that they must remain sexually pure.

Conservative women are more likely to withhold their authentic desires and also more likely to experience sexual guilt and shame. Women who subscribed to traditional gender roles tended to have sex only or mostly when their partner initiated. This highlights the feelings of inequality or even inferiority that women feel when they subscribe to traditional roles.

The study’s authors found that participants who opposed traditional gender roles had sex more frequently compared to those who supported traditional gender roles. These findings suggest that people who push back against traditional gender roles prioritize personal agency and have sex in the name of romantic connection and mutual pleasure as opposed to marital obligation. The study found that participants who opposed traditional gender roles experienced greater alignment and synchronicity in dyadic desire.

In short, gender equality is sexy. It makes partners more attractive and promotes desire. People who experience greater gender equality are more likely to be sexually expressive and more satisfied as a result. While these findings may not be entirely surprising, it is important that clinicians be aware of them, especially in light of the growing “trad wife” trend, in which couples are choosing to adopt traditional gender roles despite having the freedom and autonomy to live more equitably.

These findings suggest that both men and women are likely to experience greater sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and desire when partnered up with people who treat them as equals both in and outside the home (and between the sheets).


Gewirtz-Meydan, A., Sowan, W., Estlein, R. & Winstok, Z. (2024) Rights or Obligations: The Extent to Which Sexual Desire and Gender Roles Determine Sexual Intimacy in Romantic Relationships, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2024.2310693

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