Housework-hurts-sex study causes a dust up

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

You may have seen — and let’s face it — given a giant eye roll to a recent studythat claimed men who helped out with chores traditionally deemed the province of women, i.e. laundry, dishes, and dusting, had less sex than men who cut the grass and changed the oil but generally left the more feminine chores to their wives.

Health reporters cried foul.

One of the best ledes came from The Telegraph’s Michael Hanlon:

The relationship between sex, marriage and gender roles is so complex that unravelling it makes the work of the Large Hadron Collider look like playschool.

Hanlon’s story had plenty of strengths, including a quote from an expert who questioned the reliability of the data:

The fact is that people lie about, or at least misremember, how much housework they do almost as much as they lie about the amount of sex they are having.

His expert also pointed out that the two variables – sex and housework – might correlate, but may not necessarily be causal.

The study’s next weak spot? Dated data, explains Deborah Kotz in her Daily Dose blog for The Boston Globe:

First off, they relied on a two-decade old survey in which 4,500 couples were interviewed from 1992 to 1994 and asked about sexual frequency and actual participation in household labor.

“The age of the data may limit generalizability to the present day,” wrote the researchers, but they said it was the only known data set with such detailed measures of married life.

I think an update on this survey is sorely needed.

“This sounds mighty fishy to me,” began Mary Curtis in The Washington Post.  She pointed out that while the headline-grabbing finding was that men who take over more traditionally feminine chores have less sex, the study also found that women were more likely to take over traditionally “male” duties than the other way around. She writes:

That’s right, it turns out that women are crossing the line, probably, I believe from experience, to the detriment of sleep. That’s not likely to increase sexy thoughts.

What’s more, the study contradicts other research, says The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s George Mathis in a post for his blog, “News to Me”.  But perhaps the best line in his story came from an unnamed female coworker. The study, she said, “Is complete [bleep].”

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