Women performing a large proportion of household labor have significantly lower sexual desire for a partner, new study shows
These results support and show that gender inequities are important contributors to low desire in women partnered with men.
Approximately one-third of women report low desire with more common reports among women than men. As the authors suggest, research on low desire in women tends to frame it as a problem or dysfunction, in that women’s desire is lower than it should be.
A common assumption is that low desire is caused by biological factors, such as low testosterone. However, research shows there is limited empirical support for biological explanations of low desire. Testosterone is not the cause of low desire in women with complaints of low desire, and drugs that regulate serotonin have a negligible effect on desire.
Another possible psychological explanation for low desire in women has identifed common problems that might be contributing to women’s low desire, such as tiredness and stress, among others. In previous studies examining factors that may promote or decrease desire, participants frequently mention stress as a factor contributing to their low desire, and fatigue related to having children is a prominent factor for women. However, there are open questions related to why women may be experiencing stress, tiredness, and subsequent low desire. One body of literature that examines external factors that may be contributing to low desire is the study of interpersonal factors.
Sexual desire is an interpersonal experience about desire for another person. Therefore, the quality of our romantic and intimate relationships contributes to sexual desire. In fact, relationship satisfaction and desire for a partner are consistently strongly linked. When people feel satisfied with their relationships, emotionally connected to their partner, and heard by their partner, they report higher levels of desire for their partner. Additionally, when people feel motivated to meet a partner’s sexual needs, to invest in their relationship as a priority, and to spend time together, they report higher desire. However, what factors motivate and facilitate people to attend to, invest in, and spend time with a partner?
The heteronormativity theory of low sexual desire in women partnered with men outlines several reasons why these gender roles might suppress women’s desire. Four key factors that such theory proposes include the inequitable division of household labor, a blurring of mother and partner roles, the objectification of women, and gender norms related to sexual initiation.
In this study, researchers Emily A. Harris, Aki M. Gormezano, and Sari M. van Anders assess how divisions of household labor might be related to levels of desire among women with children who are partnered with men. To do so, they propose the following three hypotheses:
- Women’s proportion of household labor relative to that of their partners will be negatively associated with desire for partners.
- The association between women’s household labor and desire will be mediated by perceived unfairness.
- The association between women’s household labor and desire will be mediated by perceived partner dependence.
The results from two separate studies show that performing a large proportion of household labor was associated with lower desire in women partnered with men. Women who reported that they performed a large proportion of household labor relative to their partner were significantly more likely to perceive their partners as dependent on them, and this in turn was associated with significantly lower desire for their partner.
As the authors conclude: “These results support the heteronormativity theory of low sexual desire in women partnered with men, and show that gender inequities are important, though understudied, contributors to low desire in women partnered with men”.