Does sharing childcare boost a couple’s sex life and is that the way to get more men to do it?
A long time ago I interviewed Gideon Burrows about his wonderful book Men can do it! The book suggests that if men shared the childcare more equally women might be less prone to feeling guilty that they were not doing either the work or life thing particularly well, even if they are.
The book cites statistics showing how few men work part time, how couples share housework more equally before they have children and how only a third of couple take it in turns to get up for a new baby during the night.
He says some of the reasons men don’t share childcare more equally may be financial, peer pressure and a lack of positive role models. But he adds: “The truth is that most men just don’t want to do it.”
“Childrearing involves personal, career, ambition and financial sacrifices that most men simple aren’t willing to make, yet have always been expected of women,” he writes in the book.
The book was written in 2013 and things may have moved on, although the figures for men working part time in our annual surveys stay stubbornly the same. What has changed is that more and more women are working full time.
In any event I remember getting to a point in the interview where we were talking about the things women go through to get flexible working, how they twist and turn their lives inside out to be able to look after children, the exhaustion of doing essentially two jobs, the frustration of taking a job that they can do in their sleep, of taking big drops in earnings and ambition, of doing full-time jobs for part-time pay, and I asked ‘do you think men really actually love their partners/daughters/sisters if they don’t do anything to address this?’
I know that men often feel trapped in the breadwinner role and I know there are men out there who do want to change things, but at the time the whole working parent agenda was mainly a women’s one when it was clear that it was men who held most of the power to do something about it.
So how do we change that? How do we give men an incentive to wield that power? I read this week of some US research that suggests helping out with childcare might boost your sex life. For some this is the perfect way to reach dads. Maybe that is the case, but I would like to be less cynical and to believe that men are not purely motivated by a very basic ‘what’s in it for me’ approach.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the research was true and that sharing childcare boosts a couple’s sex life, but I think it is more complex than the woman being less tired, although that must be a factor. I believe it also has a lot to do with the state of the relationship between men and women after children are born. If you feel you are being left to shoulder most of the impact of having a child while the other person sails on with their life as if almost nothing has happened you tend to feel a small kernel of resentment building. Similarly, if you feel a lot of pressure to keep the money rolling in you might feel that the person at home doesn’t understand you. Empathy is a valuable thing in a relationship. Without it passion most surely ebbs.
Sharing childcare might lead to more sex, but ‘selling’ it on that basis rather than on fairness, empathy and, dare I say it, love seems a rather hopeless, cynical position. Maybe I’m wrong and expecting too much [my daughter thinks I am], but hope is always the last thing to die.