chores no more

Help! My Husband Finds Cleaning ‘Charming & Feminine’

When the division of domestic labor impacts your sex life.

by Penelope
Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

Welcome to Ask A MWLTF (Yes, that’s Mother Who Likes to F*ck.), a monthly anonymous advice column from Scary Mommy. Here we’ll dissect all your burning questions about motherhood, sex, romance, intimacy, and friendship with the help of our columnist, Penelope, a writer and mental health practitioner in training. She’ll dish out her most sound advice for parents on the delicate dance of raising kids without sacrificing other important relationships. Email her at

Dear Penelope,

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no Martha Stewart when it comes to housework. I’m proud to say that I don’t take pride in the spotlessness of my kitchen or the gleam on my floors. To be sure, I’m a mother of three and I live in a house so I certainly do my fair share of domestic labor, but I do exactly the amount I can do without feeling resentful. Sometimes this means there is mess. If my husband and kids don’t like it, then they are free to add more elbow grease to the equation. I’ve explained this philosophy to them and in general, it’s served us well.

Recently, however, my husband made a comment that gave me pause. His brother and sister-in-law recently moved to town and invited us over several times to socialize. They have one child, a nanny, and a maid. Needless to say, their home is spotless. Their pantry looks more like a special collection at a museum of fine arts than a place to keep cereal and crackers. You could scour the house without finding a single stuffed animal discarded on the floor, much less a hunk of desiccated Play-Doh. At one of their parties, I heard my sister-in-law say to a friend who had complimented the state of her home and asked how she did it, “You just have to set high standards. Mess is very triggering for me.” I tucked what she’d said away as a piece of post-party gossip to share with my husband when we got home. To my surprise, he grew pensive. He said with a slight, teasing smirk, that actually he didn’t find what she’d said ridiculous at all, that on the contrary he thought it was “kind of charming and very feminine.”

Feminine? Was he serious?

I laughed it off, but the truth is it irked me. Does the man I’ve chosen to spend my life with really equate housekeeping with feminine sex appeal? In 2023? I obviously know that’s absurd. I also know that if there wasn’t some small part of me that worries he’s right, it wouldn’t have gotten to me as much as it did. I’m 38 years old and have never seen my semi-slovenly, free-spirited approach to housekeeping as unsexy. But now I keep wondering if I'm wrong. Would becoming less of a slob make my marriage and my sex life better? Or should I tell my husband where he can stuff his ideas on feminine charm?


A Messy MWLF

Dear Messy,

As a fellow MWLF who also has to clear away the clutter before I take nudes to send to my lover, I’ve also wondered from time to time if there is something “mannish,” or at least, unsexy, about my untidy presentation and lifelong loathing of housework. I’ll never forget, for example, the time I was studying abroad during my junior year of college and developed an obsessive crush on a strapping German who lived in the dorm where I was staying. After months of pining and a bottle or two of vino, I finally lured him to my bed one Saturday evening, and could hardly contain my flushed enthusiasm when all at once he stopped kissing me, looked around, and said — in English to make sure I understood him — “you really need to clean your room.”

I was mortified, but later my mortification soured into resentment. How many slobbish dudes’ dorm rooms had I gotten naked in without a thought. It didn’t seem fair that a dude who never made his bed and collected empty beer bottles on the windowsill was just a dude, whereas I, as a woman, was held to some higher standard. This vague feeling of shame and inadequacy followed me into my marriage and beyond, until a few years ago when somewhere around the age of 40 I experienced the change. I’m not talking about menopause. I’m talking about the parallel process that occurs for many women around the same age where they find themselves fresh out of f*cks to give on living up to other people’s standards.

That said, at the same time this change occurred, another strange thing happened. I realized for the first time in my life that under certain conditions and in the right frame of mind, I enjoyed straightening up, or, as I came to think of it, doting on a particular room in my home. Opening my closet and finding the clothes neatly hung on hangers, the floor clear of random flips flops and yoga blocks I never used made me feel better about getting dressed in the morning, which made me feel like the kind of woman who likes to get dressed in the morning. I’m not sure that I am that kind of woman, but it was fun to feel like I could be, or could at least play at it. I wonder if it was this kind of freshness or playfulness that your husband was alluding to when he mentioned the feminine charm of an orderly home. Things that are new or different often feel charming, or at least exciting. But there are plenty of ways to reintroduce that newness into a marriage without the gendered double-standards.

In other words, the question isn’t so much whether or not changing your housekeeping habits would turn him on, but if it would make you feel new and more in touch with some yet unexplored part of yourself. Creating a home or a room or even a nook that feels like it was made explicitly for your aesthetic enjoyment can be an act of sensuality and self-love. If your husband thinks of that as a strictly feminine trait, that’s a real shame. Maybe the next time he broaches the topic, you could tell him that you find housekeeping as hot as the next person. Then ask him where he wants to start.