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:
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.