Want to improve your sex life at home?

Start doing those dishes guys.

A new study out of the University of Alberta says heterosexual couples have more and better sex when the men are doing their fair share of the housework.

The study contradicts a widely reported 2012 U.S. study that found couples' sex lives were negatively affected when the male partner helped out with tasks traditionally thought of as 'women's work' — things like doing the dishes, cooking and laundry.

Matt Johnson

Lead author Matt Johnson started looking into the matter after a 2012 study reported couples had less sex when men took on household chores. (University of Alberta)

For family ecology professor Matt Johnson, the earlier study's findings seemed counter-intuitive, so he started asking questions.

"That got me going down this rabbit hole, thinking really critically about what it is about household tasks and doing household tasks that might have implications for a couple's sex life," Johnson said.

Unlike the 2012 study, which examined exactly who was doing what jobs around the house, Johnson opted to instead focus his attention on how fair the division of work was perceived to be.

It all comes down to the meaning individuals ascribe to their partner's behaviour, Johnson said.

"If we feel respected by our partners … then that sets the stage for the possibility of a sexual encounter to unfold later," he said.

To test his hypothesis, Johnson looked at five years' worth of data tracking household work and sexual activity of couples.

While he found no clear association between the volume of housework male partners were doing and the couple's bedroom activity, he did find that both partners reported more and better sex in cases where male partners said the division of chores was fair.

According to Johnson, thinking about what is fair requires partners to compare their home life to societal norms, to what they see in their friends' houses, and to their own personal standards and expectations — and that can really raise the ante.

"This active weighing process may be more influential for behaviour than just who does what in a partnership," Johnson said. "If one partner is not doing his or her fair share around the house, then what happens? Either the other partner has to pick up the slack, which is more likely to be a female partner … or the housework just doesn't get done.

"Either of those scenarios is likely to lead to anger and bitterness on the part of the person who feels slighted."

And those negative feelings obviously have very real ramifications in the bedroom, Johnson said.

"Doing your fair share is so powerful because it helps insulate us from these negative feelings."

Johnson's article, Skip the Dishes? Not so Fast. Sex and Housework Revisited, is set to be published in the Journal of Family Psychology.