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Egalitarian marriages and sex

by Dennis Prager

February 20, 2014 | 2:21 pm

Photo credit: Yeko Photo Studio/Shutterstock.com

Photo credit: Yeko Photo Studio/Shutterstock.com

Two weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine published a 6,000-word article, “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” by Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb. It challenges some of the most preciously held ideas of feminism and progressivism.

In a nutshell, her thesis, based on her experiences as a psychotherapist and numerous academic studies, is that what is known as the “egalitarian” marriage has less sexual passion and is prone to greater unhappiness. 

Before proceeding, I need to note on her behalf and on my own, that generalizations presume the existence of exceptions. If some readers know of an egalitarian marriage, let alone are in one, where her thesis does not apply, more power to them. But those exceptions no more contradict what these studies — and common sense — suggest than the fact that some people who wear a seat belt die in automobile crashes contradicts the rule that “seatbelts save lives.”

Here are some of her insights, each followed by mine:

Gottlieb: “According to a Pew Research Center survey … a vast majority of adults under 30 in this country ... aspire to what’s known in the social sciences as an egalitarian marriage, meaning that both spouses work and take care of the house and that the relationship is built on equal power, shared interests and friendship.”

The progressive indoctrination has worked: Outside of traditionally religious Jews, Christians and Mormons, almost no young Americans aspire to build a home in which there is any gender-based role. The two sexes are to be interchangeable — no more masculine and feminine.

Gottlieb: “[A study] which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.”

“Having their partner, say, load the dishwasher — a popular type of marital intervention suggested by self-help books, women’s magazines and therapists alike — doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on their [women’s] libido. ... No matter how much sink scrubbing and grocery shopping the husband does, no matter how well husband and wife communicate with each other, no matter how sensitive they are to each other’s emotions and work schedules, the wife does not find her husband more sexually exciting.”

“The quandary many couples find themselves in comes down to this: ‘The less gender differentiation, the less sexual desire.’ In other words, in an attempt to be gender-neutral, we may have become gender-neutered.” (Italics added.)

According to Gottlieb, these conclusions surprised a lot of people. Especially, I suppose, most of those who attended a prestigious university or went to almost any graduate school. The ideal taught to these women (and men) was to leave behind any notion of male and female roles in life and in marriage. The female ideal has been to achieve professional success and then find a man who will be so liberated (from any notion of masculine or feminine roles) that he will volunteer to iron and vacuum exactly as much as his wife does, and value professional success no more than she does.

Those are the ideals of the “peer” or “egalitarian” marriage. But it turns out that “the less gender differentiation, the less sexual desire.” 

It gets worse. It turns out that it’s not just sex that suffers in most egalitarian marriages.

Gottlieb: “A study put out last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that if a wife earns more than her husband, the couple . . . is 32 percent more likely to report marital troubles in the past year; and 46 percent more likely to have discussed separating in the past year.”

Now, why would that be? Perhaps it, too, has something to do with a primal desire on the part of men and women to preserve the masculine and feminine roles in marriage. But in every area of life, progressive ideas have warred upon notions of masculine and feminine — to the point of increasingly denying male and female even exist. Facebook now lists more than 50 gender identities that one may check off instead of “male” and “female.” It is close to certain that soon babies will be born to parents who refuse to list “male” or “female” on their baby’s birth certificate. The progressive view is increasingly this: Let the child, not genitalia, decide what sex, if any, with which to identify.

Gottlieb’s conclusion: “Frequently I hear from husbands and wives who say they want progressive marriages, in which women have the option to do anything their husbands do and vice versa, then start to feel uncomfortable when that reality is in place. And that discomfort, more often than not, leads to less sexual desire — on both sides.”

My conclusion: The problem with egalitarian marriages is not the belief in equality — every thinking person knows men and women are equals. There are two other problems. 

One is that for most men and women in egalitarian marriages, “equal” has come to mean “same.” And when men and women think they are the same, among many other bad consequences, passions are inevitably diminished; it’s more like loving a pal, or business partner, or even sibling. The other problem is that, regarding men, the most important thing to most women is to be loved by a man she looks up to. And the most important thing to a man is to be looked up to by the woman he loves. In the eyes of most men and women in egalitarian marriages, that truth is denied.

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