A man sits on the couch and watches TV. His partner, a woman, prepares dinner while mentally going through her to-do list. That includes returning her partner’s shirts, which she ordered for him online last week, and booking a GP appointment for her youngest child.
He walks in and asks her “what’s for dinner?” then goes back to the TV.
Later that evening he is surprised that she is not interested in sex.
The characters in this scenario are a woman and a man. But it could be a woman and her child. The dynamics are very similar—one person provides instrumental and emotional care, and the other receives that care while showing little appreciation, gratitude, or reciprocity.
You read about a man who is dependent on his partner for everyday tasks that he is actually capable of. Some people call this the “man-child” phenomenon.
Maybe you lived it. Our research shows it’s real.
The male child is real
The husband-child phenomenon (or the perception of a partner as dependent, as we call it) describes the blurring of roles between a partner and a child.
You may hear women refer to their male partners as their “dependents” or one of their children.
When a partner feels like they have a dependent child, it is not surprising if this affects a woman’s sexual desire for him.
We wanted to investigate whether this might explain why many women who date men report low sexual desire.
Surprisingly, until our study, there were no studies that attempted to directly measure the impact of the man-child phenomenon on women’s sexual desire.
ALSO READ: Sperm counts are declining at an accelerating pace around the world, studies show
What we have done
We conducted two studies of more than 1,000 women from around the world in relationships with men. All of our participants had children under the age of 12.
We asked women to rate their agreement with statements such as “Sometimes I feel like my partner is like an extra child to take care of.” We also asked her about the division of household chores in her relationship and her sexual desire for her partner.
We found consistent evidence that:
- When women did more housework than their partner, they were more likely to perceive their partner as dependent (ie the man-child phenomenon).
- Perceiving a partner as dependent was associated with lower sexual desire for that partner.
Taken together, one could say that a woman’s partners have an unsexy role – that of a child.
There could be other explanations. For example, women who perceive their partners as dependent are more willing to do more around the house. Alternatively, low desire for a partner can lead to the partner being perceived as dependent. So we need more research to confirm this.
Our research paints a rather bleak snapshot of what interpersonal relationships can entail. And while the man-child phenomenon may not exist for you, it does reflect broader gender inequalities in relationships.
Man-child equivalent in same-sex relationships?
Our research dealt exclusively with relationships between women and men, with children. But it would be interesting to explore whether the male-child phenomenon exists in same-sex or gender-matched relationships and what impact it might have on sexual desire.
One possibility is that in relationships between two women, men or non-binary people, housework is negotiated more equitably. As a result, the mother-child dynamic may be less likely to arise. But nobody has studied that yet.
Another possibility is that one person in the relationship (regardless of gender identity) adopts a more feminine role. This may involve more maternal caring work than their partners. If that were the case, we could see the man-child phenomenon in a broader range of relationships. Nobody studied this either.
perhaps, anyone could be the “man-child” in their relationship.
ALSO READ: Smoking marijuana may be more harmful to smoker’s lungs than tobacco, new study finds
What do we not know yet?
Such future research may help to examine different types of relationship dynamics more comprehensively.
This can help us understand what sexual desire might look like in relationships where roles are fairly negotiated, chosen, and renegotiated as needed.
We could learn what happens when domestic work is valued as paid work. Or what happens when both partners support each other and can rely on each other in everyday life.
Women may experience their partners as less dependent and feel more sexual desire for them. In other words, the closer we are to equality in actively caring for one another, the closer we might be to equality in the ability to feel sexual desire with our partner.
This article originally appeared on The Conversation and has been republished with permission. Read the original article here.