Gender equality in Sweden. Sweden Sverige 

The News Story: Sweden to Investigate Sex Lives

Swedes are having less sex, according to several surveys, and an official three-year government study is being launched to find out why. 

Swedish Health Minister Gabriel Wikstrom finds it “paradoxical that, while our whole society seems permeated by sex, in everything from advertising and social media to much of daily life, the topic is still shrouded by shame . . . and absent from the political debate.” He believes that “[f]ocusing on problems such as venereal disease, unwanted pregnancies and rape, to the exclusion of positive sexual experiences” could “distort” health policy.

But research indicates that in a country famous for its low marriage rates and gender egalitarianism, it will take far more than more discussion of the “pleasurable aspects of sex” to accomplish the type of transformation that Sweden seems to desire. 

(Source: “Sweden to Investigate Sex Lives,” BBC, July 29, 2016)


The New Research: More Traditional Gender Roles, More Sex 

Research has already established that married couples have more sex (and more pleasurable sex) than unmarried couples. Now, in this age of increased egalitarianism in work and domestic roles, many researchers have sought to discover how changing roles influence one component of the glue that binds married couples together—sex. Much media attention has been given to a handful of studies that demonstrate that husbands who do more housework get more sex, as their happy wives are more inclined to acquiesce. Researchers from the Juan March Institute and the University of Washington, however, suspect that the reverse is true. According to their hypothesis, husbands and wives who do more gender-related tasks tend to experience greater sexual frequency.

The researchers begin with the assumption that “greater sexual frequency is generally a desired good: conflict may exist over the timing and frequency of sex . . . but more frequent sex is linked to higher sexual and marital satisfaction for both men and women.” The belief that couples in more egalitarian marriages tend to be intimate more often is widely popular, say the researchers, but also based on “little empirical support.” Instead, the researchers highlight “the gendered nature of sexual scripts” and suggest that men who do more traditionally male tasks and women who do more traditionally female tasks will have greater sexual frequency in their marriages.

Using a large, nationally representative data set that reports on both sexual frequency and participation in household tasks, the authors study both “core” and “noncore” household labor. Core household labor is that typically described as feminine—childcare, laundry, cooking, shopping, and washing. Noncore household labor is more likely to be masculine—outdoor tasks, auto repair, driving, and finances.

The data overwhelmingly suggest that “sexual frequency is highest in households with traditionally gendered divisions of labor” and that “households in which men do more female-typed (core) tasks report lower sexual frequency.” These results “are statistically significant and substantively large.”

The authors are also aware that increased marital happiness would likely increase sexual frequency and so tested to discover whether that link accounts for the housework/frequency link. They report that although happy couples do indeed report greater sexual frequency, this “does not reduce the effect of men’s share of these two types of housework to nonsignificance.” 

The data is clear. Traditional gender scripts seem to have something to do with how ready both wives and husbands are for sexual intimacy, while more egalitarian views tend to lead to roommate-like behavior.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, “New Research,” The Family in America, Summer 2013, Vol. 27 Number 3. Study: Sabino Kornrich, Julie Brines, and Katrina Leupp, “Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” American Sociological Review78.1 [2013]: 26-50.) Republished from The Family in America with permission.

Nicole M. King is the Managing Editor of The Howard Center’s quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, the United States’ leading journal of family-policy research....