Sex is rewarding, but we need to make something clear: Sex itself should never be a reward. You are in no way obligated to give your partner some good lovin’ just because they picked up the kids from school or *gasp* did the dishes and laundry, or anything else that is outside of the norm (but yet is probably just something normal that makes your life a lot easier).
Expecting sex as a reward is essentially a form of transactional sex, and while this might work if one party is a sex worker, it quickly becomes a problem when couples start using sex as a transaction.
When couples do this, they’re “treating sex as a commodity, not a shared interaction between couples that is mutually beneficial,” Gigi Engle, a certified sex educator, tells Scary Mommy. “There is a lot wrong with this, particularly that if sex is treated like a transaction, the partner giving away sex as a reward will almost certainly become resentful, and this will impact their desire for their partner.”
As a result, says Engle, couples run the risk of all sex becoming transactional, which will likely lead to sex being taken off the table at some point. “It becomes something you have to do rather than something you want to do.”
Why is “expecting sex as a reward” prevalent in certain long-term relationships/marriages?
From Engle’s experience, this type of dynamic happens most commonly in cis-het relationships. It’s rooted in two main things: the division of household labor in cis-het couples and the kinds of sex these couples are having.
“Women take on the lion’s share of domestic duties in the home. A recent study showed it to be over 60% in 2022,” Engle notes. “When this happens, cis-women can begin using sex as a form of reward in order to get their male partners to take on some of the domestic duties. This has a lot of negative implications. In this instance, we’re essentially becoming our partner’s mothers, treating them like man-children who need a treat in order to pull their weight.”
The other big reason sex becomes a reward is because of the sex cis-women are having — not good sex that brings orgasms.
“We’re still under the belief in society that penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex is the only kind of ‘real sex,'” Engle explains. “[However], cis-female people get the vast majority of orgasms from external clitoral stimulation. We’re conditioned to be givers and to subjugate our pleasure to that of our male partners. We don’t ask for what we want, and therefore, the sex we’re having is not very good.”
So it makes sense that women are not into the sex on offer and simply see it as a way to get the help they want, like help around the house.
What should you do if your partner expects sex as a reward?
According to Engle, if your partner demands sex as a reward, there is most likely a lot going on in that relationship dynamic beyond that.
“There is clearly a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding of what partnership looks like,” she says. “Partners should be sharing domestic duties. Your partner is not a ‘good boy’ for helping with chores and domestic labor. It’s not your job to be handling everything yourself. You don’t deserve a treat for being an equal partner in a relationship. You absolutely do not have to give your partner sex as a reward for pulling their weight.”
She advises against agreeing to this dynamic because it will likely make you feel “resentful and miserable.”
What, then, do you say to your partner who suggests “getting some” for taking out the trash? Engle recommends being direct and saying the following:
- “I’m not going to give you a reward for doing your part to take care of our family.”
- “Sex is not a transaction between partners, so I won’t put that on the table as a treat. When we have sex, it’s about intimacy and connection. If you genuinely feel like sex should be a reward, we should probably talk about the kinds of sex we’re having.”
- “Asking you to be an equal partner who splits the household duties doesn’t mean you get sexual favors in return — that isn’t how partnerships work.”
- “I’m really sorry you feel this way, but I’m not your mommy, and I’m not giving you rewards for behaving like a responsible adult.”
When should you consider therapy?
Engle suggests going into couples therapy if this situation presents itself. “It tells me that the couple has poor communication, a poor understanding of what partners look like in a relationship, and a very poor sex life,” she says. “Couples who have a great sex life and good communication don’t use sex as a transaction for good behavior. Sex is about building a connection with your partner, not tuning out and thinking of England so that they do the bare minimum of their adult duties.”