The Bad Plan of Bartering for Sex

It’s beyond common. I hear it all the time. Wives saying that they got their husband to perform some task by promising sex in return. I’ve often joked that I can’t get my husband to do anything that way. He knows I can’t hold out long enough to use sex as a bartering chip.

But sex shouldn’t even be a bartering chip.

Here are the problems I see with bartering for sex in marriage:

You scratch my back…
By en:User:Archos, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a selfish version of sexual intimacy. It’s a you-scratch-my-back (or whatever), I’ll-scratch-yours mentality. You are focused on what you can get out of the sexual experience, not what you can give your spouse or what you two can experience together.

It puts one of you in control. If you are the one who surrenders sex when you get some non-sexual favor from your spouse, you become the person in control of your marital intimacy. You hold the keys to whether the door to sex is locked or unlocked. Your spouse must comply with your requirements before you let him in. Yes, an imbalance of control can occur without bartering. But it definitely happens when you barter for sex.

It downplays your own enjoyment of sex. There have been numerous psychological studies on how reward-punishment systems work for other tasks. For instance, there’s an ongoing debate on whether paying kids for good grades is a long-term positive or a very, very bad idea. But one of the conclusions regularly drawn is that when you attach payment to a task, it conveys that the task is not one a person would happily perform without payment. That is, it can make the task itself seem somehow unpleasant.

If you attach sex in your mind to being payment for some other task, you downplay your own desire and enjoyment of sexual intimacy for its own sake. Your end becomes the other task, with sex as the method for achieving that . . . rather than seeing the sexual encounter as an end to itself, an experience worth pursuing and savoring with your spouse.

It communicates to your spouse that you don’t want sex. If you only want to engage in sex when he knocks off your honey-do list, then your hubby figures that you don’t like sex with him nearly so much you like home improvement or whatever. But he wants to know that you desire him, that you want to be intimate with him, that you are happy to be in his arms enjoying his love. Over and over, I hear from husbands who say that sex is 100 times better when they know their wife is enjoying the experience.

So what if you have been bartering for sex in your marriage? How can you change that dynamic?

Do things for their own sake. Don’t expect rewards from your spouse for anything from doing the dishes to remaking the garage into a hobby room. Do it because it’s the generous thing to do and demonstrates love for your spouse.

Communicate your sexual desire. If a spouse has been doing the tit-for-tat, he/she may not be talking honestly about where sex fits into his/her view of the relationship. Openly discuss how you want physical intimacy to be a part of your relationship regardless of how many to-dos get crossed off the list. In fact, sometimes it would be nice to throw the list aside for a bit, let the unnecessary tasks slide, and focus on the necessary joining of your flesh.

Prioritize. Because, really, in the end who cares if your pantry goods have been properly alphabetized or you vacuumed twice instead of once a week? But you will care if your marriage falls apart because you didn’t focus on the important stuff. Consider which expectations you can let go and how you can foster relational intimacy.

Work together. Some things really do need to get done. If possible, work together. Make it a “we” time. Even better, make it a really fun “we” time. Cook dinner together . . . and feed each other as you go. Paint the room together . . . then paint each others’ bodies. Do the dishes together . . . naked.

Of course, there are some chores that you should each handle. For instance, I learned long ago that my husband hangs the pictures. If we had tried to hang each picture on these walls together, I would have divorced killed lost my patience because he is far more meticulous than I with those things. No worries. He does the pictures, I do other things.

Barter chores, not sex. If you don’t work together well on a task, barter chores, not chore + sex. For the majority of my marriage, we’ve had an I-cook-you-clean policy. You can look at that as a division of labor or a bartering arrangement (he gets a meal, I get a bye from doing dishes). But that’s a far more even trade and allows you to act within areas that suit your personality and skills.

Meanwhile, both of you should have the personality and skills to make love with each other.

What about the typical advice that husbands doing chores will get them more sex?

I agree with that actually, but not because it’s a bartering arrangement. Heaven forbid!

I just know that many wives have a very long list of household chores they need to get done, and if they are juggling child-rearing with them, and even add a part-time or full-time job (oh my!), they don’t have a lot of energy left for sex. And since one of the main reasons women say no is fatigue, then whatever a husband does to alleviate that burden makes it more likely that his wife will be up for sex.

Plus, when my husband notices something that needs doing and does it, that unselfish act on his part demonstrates love for me and fosters my admiration for him. All those gushy feelings mean that he looks even more attractive to me as a whole package deal when he comes a-courtin’ for sex later.

But don’t do a task to get sex. Do a task to show and foster your love for your spouse. Have sex to show and foster love for your spouse.

“[Love] is not self-seeking.” 1 Corinthians 13:5

11 thoughts on “The Bad Plan of Bartering for Sex

  1. Anonymous

    I’m a wife who has done something similar. I have worked my heart and soul out serving and loving my husband hoping it would be enough for him to give me the sex I desire. Instead, it made him more and more lazy and selfish to the point where I did everything but earn the paycheck and sex was 2 minute wham bams just for him. I still struggle with thinking that if I just do this enough, or that more, or dress this way, or love him that way, if I read that book on respecting husbands, or pray this way, or maybe if these herbs could make my breasts bigger, or if the kids were better behaved, if I never say no, do whatever he wants, etc….then maybe, just maybe I could be allowed to enjoy sex to the fullest and he would take an interest in my sexual pleasure.

    You are right. We shouldn’t barter or bargain.

  2. growingonthejourney

    I have been guilty of trying to bargain occasionally (mostly when hubby is really tired and I really need to feel desired). It has never worked thankfully, but I can understand why wives (or husbands!) would try it. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Anonymous

    Great post, but as a man, I’m a little confused. We are often told that a woman’s sexuality is responsive. We are told that, to help put her in the mood, we need to provide her with a lot of non-sexual affection throughout the day. “Sex begins in the kitchen,” we’re told, and we’re constantly searching for that one sure thing we can do to arouse her — and we find that one sure thing is rarely directly sexural. Now, from where I stand as a man, there’s not much difference between, “Honey, if you wash the dishes, I’ll give you oral sex,” and “Sweetheart, when I see your big strong arms in the soapy dishwater, I get so aroused I just want to strip naked here in the kitchen.” I’m sure that the difference lay in the woman’s heart, but from the man’s Pavlovian perspective, the difference only lay in her presentation, and we men appreciate direct communication. For us, the result is the same. Wash dishes…get lucky.

    1. J

      Interesting point. I think there’s a big difference, but if as a man, it works to say to yourself “Dishes –> sex,” go ahead.

      I just know some husbands would do the dishes, not get sex and then cry “unfair!” But why not just do the dishes anyway…because you love her? Just as I advise wives to have sex with him anyway…because you love him.

    2. Anonymous

      Of course I do the dishes anyway…just because I love her, with or without sex. I know that “love seeketh not her own,” but that’s the problem when sex is mixed in with marital love (as it should be). C.S. Lewis said that one of the first things Erotic love does is obliterate the distinction between the selfish and the selfless. The reality is, I like sex and I want to share it with my wife, both selfishly and unselfishly. In fact, I think my most selfish desire is to unselfishly please my wife, and the most unselfish thing she can do for me is to selfishly desire me. I want to be wanted…selfishly (if any of that makes sense). I just don’t think that, in the world of love and marital sex, we can easily separate the unselfish acts from the selfish ones. So, no, when I’m washing the dishes, I’m not thinking that she now “owes” me sex, but I can’t remove the thought that I just might be doing something that she’ll find attractive. The two are just too intertwined to separate like that (even for a waffle compartmentalized man). My wife rarely (and truly) desires sex, and she’s not motivated enough to try to increase her own libido, so I am constantly looking for ways that I can make myself more attractive to her. I guess my original point was that, precisely because women’s emotions tend to be responsive, it is hard to separate a man’s behavior from her response; thus what we call bartering may just be an inartful way for a woman to express what she finds attractive and arousing.

    3. happywife

      I think there is a big difference between “playful bartering” and serious “scratch my back” bartering. One is “hey hot stuff, how about helping me out with the dishes and then let’s go make some whoopie” while the other is, “I’ll let you have sex with me if you’ll do the dishes first”. The first one is obviously a playful encounter where the wife is just as enthusiastic about the sexual encounter as the husband. The second is the wife seeing sex as a chore that she needs to be compensated for. If your wife is offering oral sex for dishes, then I wouldn’t worry about her motivation… she most likely is enthusiastic about pleasing you. If your wife is offering a 5 minute “are you done yet?” quickie, then I’d be more concerned about the the bartering system here.
      hmmm, I wonder if I could take care of my husband WHILE he is doing the dishes. That would be a big time saver… hehe.

    4. Dave Robinson

      Anonymous, you are correct that a womans desire is responsive. But not to dishes, necessarily. The problem becomes when a man does some household chore and then passively expects his wife to initiate sex because he did something domestic. This is a covert contract…not a biblical covenant.

      A better way to approach the thought process of doing the chores is to reverse engineer the situation. You want time to be intimate with your wife. Dishes take time. If you do the dishes you have created that much more time with her, and less energy expended on her part.

      The reality is that wives desire is responsive…to being desired by and attracted to their husband. So even though you just did the dishes you still need to lovingly initiate with her and she needs to feel how much you desire her.

      God gave men the gift of toil under the curse…I don’t think this only refers to the literal ground. Our wives are frequently compared to a garden, your work as husband ends when you fall asleep and begins again when you wake up. Praise God it’s a great job! 🙂

  4. Anonymous

    I agree sex should never, ever be a reward or punishment. But I do think there is a time and a place when a form of “bartering” for sex is beneficial for both spouses. When saying, “Yes, if…” will enable both husbands and wives to get what they need in their sexual relationship and create a more fulfilling and successful marriage.”

  5. Leah

    My husband and I have bartered sex but in a light-hearted manner. Sex was inevitable but we just had fun getting to the moment. Serious bartering of sex is very dangerous. I’ve had a lot of libido issues since we’ve had kids. It would be easy for me (or my husband) to start bartering in a serious manner. All that would do for us is make one of us feel very used.

  6. Anonymous

    How about the ol’ “If you were a better spiritual leader, I might have sex with you more than 4 times a year”? I can’t think of a bigger turn off, to me. So need and desire for sex is predicated by my spiritual development? I can’t think of a bigger hinderence – nor can God, as it says in the bible that severe lack of sex leads to temptation and failure.

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