Opinion

Sheryl Sandberg's sex tips aren't half-bad

Gentlemen, don your aprons

Sheryl Sandberg's latest campaign is all about getting men to lean in, at home. As she explains in an op-ed co-written with Adam Grant, this isn't just about noble ideals of fairness, but life satisfaction, better marriages, and more sex. She's even created a new phrase, "choreplay," to describe what happens when hubby does the laundry.

Unfortunate portmanteaus aside, Sandberg might be onto something here. Even if it isn't quite how she presents it.

Citing research showing that couples who share the domestic workload equally have more sex, Sandberg and Grant advise men who "want to do something nice for their partners" to forego the flowers and do some laundry instead. "Choreplay is real," they assert.

This statement drew a lot of flak from those who saw this transactional approach to sex as both retro and degrading. Hanna Rosin rallied against the implication of a "controlled and tidy" lady libido on Slate, and Tracy Moore mocked the "tang for his trouble" sentiment behind choreplay in a post titled "If Choreplay Is Real, It Is Also Gross," on Jezebel.

I agree. Positioning women's libidos as a give-one, take-one arrangement is both depressing and inaccurate, considering our sex drive operates in a far less predictable manner.

But dismissing "choreplay" entirely on these grounds is overlooking the one very good reason why hubby doing chores might actually lead to more sex: Women are really exhausted and being exhausted is a total libido-killer.

The "I'm too tired, honey" line is often played for laughs on sitcoms, but chances are, she really is. Sleep-deprivation is a well-documented problem for women. Women get less sleep than men, particularly single moms and working moms with young children. We're also more likely to experience sleep-difficulties, including trouble falling asleep and waking up earlier than we need to.

And kids certainly don't help. One study found that women are 2.5 times as likely as men to interrupt their sleep to care for others, and among dual-income couples with infants, 32 percent of women said they experienced sleep interruptions during a given 24-hour period, compared with 11 percent of men. A recent article on Role Reboot, argued that we should see sleep-training our babies as a feminist issue, because women deserve to "have young children and function fully at the same time."

For those women who do manage to get enough sleep, there is still a benefit to having their partners be more hands on in domestic life. Researchers have found that women's free time is more likely to be contaminated than men's, meaning that it tends to be more fragmented or interrupted. Examples of contaminated time include thinking through the to-do list while taking a bath or seeing a movie with three kids. The activity might be one of leisure. The experience is anything but.

Author and relationship therapist Esther Perel believes that there needs to be an element of adventure in monogamous relationships in order to keep the sex sexy — or even just existent. Partners need to maintain some autonomy from one another in order to foster the sense of mystery and spontaneity necessary to access the erotic realm. Too much equality and togetherness, she explains, is actually a death-knell for a couple's sex life. What they need is friction, not emotional scorekeeping.

So no, the act of hubby doing the laundry, in and of itself, is not likely to turn many women on. But if it affords her a chance to inhabit the part of herself that is separate from her role as wife or mom, to enjoy a night out on her own, take a bath without worrying about the chores, or even just get some sleep so she can feel like a person the next day, then it could very well help enrich a couple's erotic life. Just don't ever count it as foreplay.

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