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Choreplay: Housework gets sexy?

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Cover of "Porn for Women" from the Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative (Photographs by Susan Anderson). (Courtesy of the Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative)

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Cover of "Porn for New Moms" from the Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative (Photographs by Susan Anderson). (Courtesy of the Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative)

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A page of "Porn for New Moms" (Photographs by Susan Anderson). (Courtesy of the Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative)

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A page of "Porn for New Moms" (Photographs by Susan Anderson). (Courtesy of the Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative)

A new 2009 “Porn for Women” calendar features a broad-shouldered man with biceps and chiseled abs. Staring seductively into the camera, he wields a prominent, but unlikely, tool.

He’s vacuuming.

The calendar is based on “Porn for Women,” a book featuring hunky guys doing housework that has sold 140,000 copies in less than a year. The caption reads, “I love a clean house.”

For some women, the husband skilled in dusting and diapering has become the husband who knows good “choreplay,” defined in urbandictionary.com as “when a woman is turned on by the sight of her husband/boyfriend/partner doing regular household chores that she would normally be doing.”

For other women, insinuating that spring cleaning is as sexy as spring fever reinforces outdated gender stereotypes.

Most of the scenarios in the Porn for Women series “are based on what lovely men in our lives have done for us,” said Heather Peterson, “spokes-pornographer” for the tongue-in-cheek Cambridge Women’s Pornography Collective, which created the book. “We all know what porn for men is, but this is our version of porn for women.”

Other images in “Porn for Women” include smiling men donning rubber dishwashing gloves or loading the laundry before “taking the kids … so you can relax.”

“Calling this porn for women underscores the idea that once women settle down sexual satisfaction comes from seeing their husbands occasionally vacuum,” said Andi Zeisler, co-founder of Bitch Magazine.

“I guess ‘choreplay’ is cute, but there’s a real issue here: we’re still in a situation where men in heterosexual relationships only do a slightly higher percentage of chores than they did in the 70s and 80s,” Zeisler said.

While male partners who scrub toilets are certainly in the minority, studies show that men who take on household tasks may reap the benefits of “choreplay.”

A May 2007 study published in American Journal of Public Health found that when husbands help with housework, wives are happier. Sociologists at University of California at Riverside found that wives find husbands who do housework with children more sexually attractive.

In a Parenting Magazine poll titled “Sex after Kids,” 15 percent of the 1,300 moms questioned chose “choreplay” over foreplay or romantic gestures to “get in the mood.”

Martha Becton has lived in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Neal, for three years. After considering the term “choreplay,” she said housework has affected her sex life indirectly.

“I definitely find Neal more sexy when I come home and find he’s washed all the dishes, taken out the trash and folded his laundry,” Becton said. “I mean, it really makes me happy.”

Her husband agreed that his participation in housework certainly has an effect on his wife’s mood.

“Martha is borderline compulsive when it comes to keeping things clean,” Neal said. “I’m not necessarily messy, but it’s way down the list for me. If I cleaned everything in the house to her standards I’m sure she’d jump me when she got home.”

These women, who say they want to “jump” their male partners for cleaning, say they feel most turned on when men clean without being asked.

“It’s not really “choreplay” unless he does it on his own,” said Sarah Smith, senior editor of Parenting Magazine, who oversaw the “Sex after Kids” survey.

Jennifer Satterwhite, author and contributing editor to “Mommy & Family” at BlogHer.com, agrees that the “sexiest” thing about choreplay is when her husband, Clint, meets her day-to-day needs without being asked.

“It takes me out of the nag role,” Satterwhite said. “I don’t know what is more of a turn on: ‘Honey, do you want a back rub?’ or, ‘Honey do you have any laundry you need me to do?’ “

Other women are not necessarily turned on by their partner’s doing housework as much as they see the housework as an important, thoughtful gesture.

“When men do housecleaning jobs that have typically fallen to women, women interpret men’s participation in ‘women’s work’ as evidence of their love and caring,” said Dr. Judy Treas, professor of sociology at University of California, Irvine.

Julie Marsh, a mother of three from Denver and co-founder of the Parent Bloggers Network, said her husband Kyle’s helping with housework makes her as happy as flowers.

“It makes me feel emotionally close to him when he recognizes what’s important to me,” Marsh said. “With women, sex starts with feeling emotionally close to someone.”

But some women still find the concept of “choreplay” an affront to female sexuality.

“I feel like this all perpetuates a societal norm that women aren’t sexual and that’s OK,” said Elka Karl, Editor of CasaSugar.com who blogged about how “Porn for Women” “rubs her the wrong way.”

“It replaces sexual desire with a desire for a tidy house. Fantasizing about these mundane tasks seems very unsatisfying to me,” she said.

In its latest iteration, “Porn for New Moms” was published in April and features dads playing with babies, filling out preschool applications, and cleaning up dried milk and spit-up in the minivan.

“No, no! Sit down!” the caption reads beside one of the photos of a smiling guy clearing the kitchen table. “I’ll do the dishes. After nine and a half months of pregnancy, 26 hours of labor, and 18 stitches, you don’t have to do a damn thing around here!”

E-mail: mfh2107@columbia.edu