The XX Factor

“Choreplay” Is a Lie

Two people who definitely do not want to have sex with each other right now.

Photo by VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

Moments in my life when I wished I weren’t female have been rare. One of them happened this week, when I noticed the word choreplay was entering the lexicon. It came up prominently in a New York Times op-ed co-written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant about how men also benefit from gender equality. The authors cite the dubious study showing that couples who share chores also have more sex. Sandberg says that she advises men who want to please their wives to skip buying the flowers and instead do a load of laundry.

“A man who heard this was asked by his wife one night to do a load of laundry,” she writes. “He picked up the basket and asked hopefully, ‘Is this Lean In laundry?’ Choreplay is real.”

I don’t fully understand what this man toting the basket of “dirty” clothes was hoping for. Is “lean in” now a sexual term? Did men use to say these are “pretend to be my secretary” flowers? Did that couple “choreplay” right there on the laundry room floor, or does the innuendo carry you deep into the night? Either way, I really, truly do not relate.

First, let’s examine how Sandberg and Grant, in their enthusiastic praise of feminist men, have confused the concepts of “awesome” and “sexy.” Equality is not a zero-sum game, they write. When men do chores, everyone is happier, less depressed, and less apt to start fights. So far, so good. We already learned that from Carol Channing on the Free to Be You and Me album. Also fatherhood is good for men. It makes them more patient, empathetic, and less likely to be drug addicts. Lots of new research shows that.

But does a man with a vacuum turn a woman on? We wish. If that were so, then we modern smug marrieds would have solved the eternal dilemma of long-term coupledom. But the more interesting and convincing research shows that we have not. Marriage equality has created its own set of problems, and many of them have to do with sex. One well-known study shows that couples in which men do more chores have less sex, and this is especially true if men do traditionally feminine chores, like cooking, vacuuming, and yes, FOLDING LAUNDRY.

I choose to believe that the study, even if it means less sex for me, because the one that Sandberg and Grant cite is just too depressing. What’s fundamentally insulting about the concept of choreplay is the assumption of the controlled and tidy female libido. Lady wearing rubber cleaning gloves coldly eyes man with the basket of laundry and lets it be known that if he uses the softener correctly, he’ll get a “ ’tang for his trouble,” as Tracy Moore writes in Jezebel.

For eons we described men’s sexuality as urgent, ungovernable, rooted in pure physical pleasure. Women, by contrast were cuddlers, more interested in securing the nest than getting it on. Then in the last few years, sex researchers have figured out that this is utter bullshit. Daniel Bergner’s book, What Do Women Want?, is an examination of the weird and surprising things that turn women on. The idea that for women desire and domestic comfort are linked turns out to be not so straightforward, for example. As researcher Marta Meana found, a recurring type in women’s fantasies is something like a gentleman predator, someone who wants them so much he loses control, but not so much that he actually hurts them. It’s a narcissistic fantasy about being so irresistible that you throw the ordered universe out of balance, not a tame one involving Downy and perfect creases. Did we suffer through Fifty Shades of Grey and learn nothing?