Here’s What is Wrong with Sexual Quid Pro Quo

Some men who consider themselves feminists have some strange ideas about housework.

***History Lesson Alert***

On the one hand, we all understand that in the black and white days of The Dick van Dyke Show, chores were considered “women’s work,” and that allocating domestic responsibilities along traditional gender roles imposed unfairness onto those couples for whom those roles just didn’t work. So by the time The Mary Tyler Moore Show appeared in color, it was clear that women shouldered a disproportionate burden of the type of domestic work that remains unpaid.

While many men embraced those aspects of the feminist movement that allowed re-entry of women into the workforce, and the theoretical reallocation of domestic labor that this implied, the data from modern households shows that women still do most of the unpaid domestic work — even in households where both partners have equal job responsibilities.

*** Fin***

One solution that seems to make sense to some male feminist satire writers is to set up a sort of barter economy that offers women relief from certain domestic responsibilities (cleaning, cooking, and laundry, chief among them) in exchange for sexual favors. Robert Cormack describes this economy as the sexual quid pro quo a his recent Medium post. And he evidently wants to know what’s wrong with it.

I have some ideas.

In sexual quid pro quo, everything becomes a transaction: Who is going to pick up the kids? Who is going to mow the lawn? Who is going to do the dishes? Who gets to choose the movie?

The marriage becomes an endless series of negotiations that would put used car dealers to shame, and no one ends up attracted to anyone. Except maybe their affair partner.

When I married my ex-husband at the naive age of 21, him 25, we were what Esther Perel would describe as “exuberant lovers.” We had sex in the back of his Pathfinder after going to a movie because we literally couldn’t wait the 20 minutes it would take to get home to tear into each other. Most of our free time together was spent in bed, sweaty and naked. The want was visceral and palpable. Our attraction to each other was a living, breathing thing. Nothing gave me more satisfaction than when I could feel the weight of his body on mine. I was sooooo attracted and a huge component of that was that I thought I had landed a “partner”.

After a short 6 weeks of dating, he asked me to marry him and I accepted.

(My advice would be “Um, Don’t do that”, but that’s another post.)

I thought he was emotionally mature, physically attractive, strong in character and ideals, sexy, capable, funny, and that he cared about me and wanted a life partner. He helped with chores, made dinner with me, and did all of the laundry (because he didn’t like the way I would forget clothes in the dryer and they would get wrinkly).

He kept his “frame” for less than a year but, by the time I started to see cracks in his fascade, I was married, pregnant, and desperate for it to work. He started saying, “I’ll get it tomorrow”, when it came time to do the dishes. I started making the meals and, when I would make something he wasn’t in the mood for, he’d make something else to eat instead. He’d go to bed a solid hour or two before me, to watch movies on his laptop, while I stayed up getting the chores done. He started doing only his laundry, because doing mine too was “too much”. He went to our first few prenatal appointments but, by the end of my pregnantcy, I didn’t even bother to ask him to come because I knew the answer would be some bullshit excuse.

My desire for him, one month from delivering our first child, had evaporated. He wasn’t any of the things that he had packaged and presented to me. His short game was great. His long game didn’t seem to matter because I was already “caught”.

I started having a lot of headaches.

He was not a partner and I was not attracted to him.

By the time our marriage ended 16 years later, just the thought of touching him literally disgusted me. After four children and a hysterectomy, my belly stayed pregnant with resentment and contempt. What changed was that he turned into a child before my eyes. He killed my attraction by trying to morph me into his Mommy instead of his partner, and it was not a turn on for me. I will care for my children unconditionally because they are helpless. I will care for my pets because they are 100% dependent upon me for their well-being. But such dependence in a sexual partner is not an attractive quality, because I have no interest in having sex with emotional children.

Children put their own needs first because that’s all they know how to do. Nevertheless, they are quick to master the kind of transactional economy that Kormac describes, partly because parents explicitly create that economy for them (think Pink Floyd in The Wall, “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”) My ex-husband was this kind of child. He tried to see how much he could get out of our marriage and how little he had to give to get it. He set up a market in which blowjobs were premium, unattainable luxury goods, but my vagina could be purchased with the currency that was more within his means…chores.

An actual “partnership” was never on the table.

When I realized that I married a self-interested, immature child who refused to do the work to become a grown-up man, I had to come to terms with my options. I could either divorce him and become an impoverished single mom to an ever-growing number of children (100% my fault, I know), or I could decide to tough it out, “make it work”, and extract what I could out of the deal-making scenario with my vagina, all while lusting after other men in my imagination. Since my husband didn’t mind my duty-fucking and preferred contempt (I never stooped to physical infidelity) to stepping up to become a more participatory partner, he was satisfied to stay in our marriage, too.

That was until I discovered that the only way this worked for him was to attempt to purchase from sex workers the passion that he used to get from me for free.

And that didn’t work for me.

But that’s the way that the sexual economy worked. Markets are mechanisms of price discovery. Buyers and sellers will always seek the best price. Fifty dollars on Craigslist for a BJ and gaslighting me about missing money was cheaper than the time and energy it would take for him to re-invest in our relationship and re-ignite my attraction.

During the quid pro quo sex, my mind was on how much time this pitiful fuck might buy me until I had to endure sleeping with him again, just to get the goddamn laundry done and get an extra twenty minutes of sleep. I knew that if he took out the garbage, it meant that I needed to put out or I wouldn’t get that garbage taken out again and I’d lose access to whatever minimal help he was offering.

And I was exhausted.

I get that this is difficult for men (and maybe even women who think that this kind of transaction is better than getting no help at all from their husbands) to wrap their brains around and I know I’m not being particularly delicate. There are shades of gray and different depths of participation and contempt but, at any level, the root of the problem is the broken mental model that a sexual quid pro quo somehow increases marital satisfaction instead of what it really does, which is put a band-aid on a marital bullet hole.

The real mind fuck about this is that I couldn’t see any of this from inside of my marriage. I, like Cormack mentioned, hoped that I could “condition” my ex into at least acting (by doing some chores) like a partner, even though he wasn’t actually one. All that really happened was that his chores didn’t breed any variant of “attraction”…only resentment at the fact that a.) he would use me as a pussy gumball machine and b.) that his participation in our marriage was predicated on when he got horny and wanted something out of it for himself.

All of this self-awareness is retrospective. At the time, I had no idea. I felt guilty as hell that I didn’t want to fuck my husband. And he didn’t hesitate to help feed the beast. I thought it was my fault…that I was repressed and a cold fish and that I was less of a woman for not desiring my husband. I thought maybe my hormones were out of whack or that I was going into early menopause.

And it was my fault … because I fucking stayed. I trained him that I was okay without a partner and that I would participate in this fucked up transactional relationship. My fault. 100%.

Little did I know, all it took was a divorce and a new relationship with an actual partner to bring my sex drive back to life.

I understand at least one understandable source of the confusion… people are reading this data wrong:

“Women who shoulder this burden alone report having more conflict, less satisfaction and worse sex with their partners than those whose significant others lend a hand.

I’ve heard this rationale as a justification for sexual quid pro quo in the past and the flaw is that, in the common interpretation, they are reverse engineering the conclusion, as though doing a few chores on the back end after being a shitty husband will make her horny. That aint gonna happen. What it does mean is that once a husband gets to the point of using quid pro quo to get laid, his wife already resents him and she’s not interested in his dick anymore. She’s no longer attracted to him and is using sex out of desperation.

It is fucking sexy when your partner does chores. It is sexy when he helps carry the household burden. But not when he does the dishes that one time to get a BJ out of it. It’s sexy when he does it because he verb loves you and wants to participate.

It’s not sexy on the back end, when he tries to reverse engineer temporary attraction because his lack of participation in the relationship has killed your desire. There’s no amount chores that will relight that fire.

I fucked my ex in exchange for chores as an absolute last resort to reduce my share of the emotional and physical labor of the relationship from 90/10 to 87/13.

Then I divorced him.

It boils down to this, gentlemen: If your woman is otherwise disinterested in sex with you, but her vagina temporarily goes from freezer to fridge when you take out the trash, YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING WRONG. You are probably acting like a child for her to take care of instead of a partner. You aren’t supporting her, you are draining her energy. And her attraction is going right down that drain as well. And she will resent the shit out of you, her “partner”, for it. Sexual quid pro quo is some weird ass marriage-killing covert contract bullshit.

When you have to resort to sexual quid pro quo, it’s because you are already unattractive — otherwise she would already want to sleep with you, having just done chores, or not. Hence, “If a mop makes you horny, you are married to the wrong man.”

Unless you grow up, make some changes in your head, figure out that you want to be a partner and are willing to share your lives, as such, you’re in for a dumpster fire marriage, duty sex, possibly infidelity, and a shit ton of misery.

Until you show her that you will take out the garbage because you are a responsible, loving partner who shares the emotional and physical labor of a household without trying to extract something for yourself out of it, she will continue to dole out dispassionate, infrequent sex like t-shirts thrown into the crowd at a baseball game, in order to decrease her labor demands, and not because she’s attracted to you.

She resents the shit out of you and that resentment leads to contempt. Contempt is a major ingredient in the recipe for divorce. And that’s why sexual quid pro quo is “dangerous”.

If you want an effortlessly clean home, hire a housekeeper. If you want sex without the effort required to nurture a relationship, hire a sex worker (zero judgment and full support to sex workers … and housekeepers). By expecting your wife to do all of the household labor while you sit on your ass, while also expecting her to fuck you when you put a chore quarter in her pussy machine, you’re treating her like both a housekeeper and a sex worker, and that aint what she signed up for. Your payment has simply been perverted from cash into temporary offset of those demands on her energy that she wouldn’t even have if you pulled your weight.

Jesus Christ. Don’t be a dog. Don’t be a child. Don’t be a shitty husband and then think that your wife’s desire will light up like a match because you clean the toilet.

As for my current relationship, my lover gets laid whether he does the dishes or not, because its not about keeping score. I don’t have to, because there’s no winner or loser. We are a team. I’m attracted to his judgement and his intelligence and the way he puts my well-being ahead of any housekeeping needs. So I don’t mind folding the sheets…because he has never expected me to and is happy to do it himself.

No guilt. No transaction. Just attraction.

Mama, writer, lover, fighter — I wear my heart on my sleeve because my pants pockets are too small.

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