If a husband takes on more chores, does a grateful wife repay his efforts with more sex?
It might depend on which chores.
Lori Gottlieb, a psychologist and author of "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough," suggested in a New York Times Magazine article that partners in so-called peer marriages, or more equal marriages, report having less sex than partners in marriages where the husband and the wife perform more traditional duties.
This runs counter to the thinking that marriage improves when both parties share the joys and the scut work. But Ms. Gottlieb concluded instead that any sexual heat depends on the type of chores he takes on, not the number of chores he does.
Stacking wood while wearing a flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up to reveal muscled forearms is hot. Sorting underwear in the laundry room — not hot.
She combed through a study called "Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequence in Marriage," and found men who did manly chores like taking out the trash and fixing the car had sex 1.5 more times a month than those couples where the men performed less manly chores.
I totally get this. We want our partners to help, but their cooperation is not a turn-on. There is nothing sexy about loading a dishwasher. But the sight of him washing the car in a T-shirt and gym shorts might be. That's the key, according to Ms. Gottlieb. The sight of him.
My husband does the laundry in our marriage, but it is an excuse to watch sports on television. He is not lifting a burden from me but creating an opportunity for himself, and it does not cause my heart to pound.
Building a fire, cutting the grass, carving the turkey. These are chores from a stereotypical gender script — a guy's chores — and maybe it is because they are that they don't carry any baggage for me.
Ms. Gottlieb concluded that tag teaming through chores and splitting child-care duties isn't sexy, and she is right. Although when one or the other is too exhausted and angry to have sex, you can suppose marital satisfaction would decline.
Meanwhile, Brigid Schulte, writing in The Washington Post, looked at the same study and came to a different conclusion: When you tally up the hours men spent doing chores instead of sorting them by kind of chore, the men who put in more hours reported having more sex.
She also pointed out that new data collected by the American Time Use Survey shows that while men are not spending much more time doing chores than they did 20 years ago, they have tripled the time they spend on the kids. And women are spending more time with the kids, too.
Doesn't leave much time for sex.
And, she writes, equal partner marriages aren't sexy because "while it is nice to have a 'kindred spirit,' it's not hot." It's the power differential that can make sex interesting.
In any case, Ms. Schulte concludes, we don't understand the evolving sexuality of women nearly well enough to conclude that all it takes to turn her on is a little more pitching in. Besides, we would be suspicious of his motives.
And finally, author Iris Krasnow of Annapolis, who has made a kind of cottage industry of writing books about her contemporaries — from "Surrendering to Motherhood" to "Sex After ..." — tells us that our best sex is ahead of us.
Her conclusion is based on the stories told to her by more than 150 women, and it is not at all scientific. But she says women older than 70 report having the best sex of their lives.
It sounds as if things get better in the bedroom when the pressures of work and family are removed, which makes perfect sense, scientific or not.
Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @SusanReimer on Twitter.comTo respond to this commentary, send an email to email@example.com. Please include your name and contact information.