Un-Desperate housewives: we don't do sex (but we will mow the lawn)

A survey of 1,500 women lifts the lid on marriage in middle England's leafy suburbs. And it's nothing like Wisteria Lane. Sophie Goodchild reports

Saturday 17 September 2011 13:13
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Life is hard in the hot tubs and conservatories of suburban England. Husbands hog the remote control, the in-laws are a nightmare, while many middle-class wives now have to earn a living - on top of doing the cooking and housework.

But unlike the fictional inhabitants of Wisteria Lane, such as Gabrielle Solis, played by Eva Longoria (right), who has an affair with the gardener, the affluent women of middle England are far from desperate - and are certainly not looking for extra-marital sex.

In fact, the picture that emerges from a new study of married women who live in the leafy suburbs or in expensive townhouses is that they no longer look to their husbands to make them feel secure, to give them status or to cure their loneliness. And as for sex, they can take it or leave it.

This revealing portrait of modern marriage is based on a survey of 1,500 women published this week in the September issue of Woman and Home magazine. It exposes everything about their marriages, from how much sex they have to the secrets they keep from their husbands. The typical readers of the genteel glossy, which provides tips on home furnishing and dinner-party recipes, are women in their mid-thirties who either juggle high-powered jobs with taking care of their husbands or make a career out of being housewives.

More than three-quarters of those surveyed would not hesitate to walk up the aisle with their spouse if they had to make the choice again, and more than 90 per cent believe their marriage will last.

But the majority of women do not want to end up like Lynette, the harassed mother-of-four in the American series Desperate Housewives who is always close to breaking point. Only just over a third say that having children is an important factor in tying the knot.

Unlike the character Edie Britt, the man-eating property developer, real middle-class women do not rate regular sex as very important. In fact, only 4 per cent put it first or second on a list of six best things about marriage. The majority say that growing apart from their husbands would be the main grounds for divorce, not a non-existent sex life.

Feminists will blanch at what the survey reveals about equality within the marital home. The majority of women still struggle to get their partners to share the chores, with housework still overwhelmingly done by women - more than three-quarters do the laundry, ironing and cooking - and they now appear to be taking on chores that are traditionally seen as male. These include paying the bills as well as taxing and insuring the car and doing the gardening. There is one chore that men are happy to carry out - more than 60 per cent of husbands, compared with just over 40 per cent of wives, pour the drinks in the evening.

Promising to spend the rest of your life with someone has other downsides. The majority rate their husband's irritating habits such as hogging the TV remote control and leaving the loo seat up, as the worst aspects of married life. Next in the scale of importance for more than a third of women is the sense of being stuck in a rut, followed by more than a quarter who say that dealing with his family is a big turn-off and one in six who rate his conversation boring.

The message for men is to marry a woman from the North - they are slightly more forgiving than their sisters in the South.

Women who have been married less than five years are less likely to forgive their partners for a sexual fling. Just under a half of those in this bracket rated this as the act they would find hardest to forgive. However, a secret financial investment which blew all their savings came a close second to infidelity.

'Dave does chores if he has time, but I have to do them regardless'

By Lauren Veevers

Sally Scoggins, 45, from Deal in Kent, has been married to David for 24 years. The couple have two grown-up children aged 21 and 19.

"I think I used to be like Lynette from Desperate Housewives with all the kids and a house to run, but now I'm more like Susan Mayer. I would find it very hard to forgive a fling. Buying an expensive gift for another woman would be very hard to forgive.

"Dave will do chores when he's got time, but I have to do them regardless. I do the cooking, ironing and always buy the presents for the family. Dave has started to do the washing and I leave the car insurance and bills to him.

"Romance was important at the start of the relationship, and I'd get a present every payday. It all takes more of an effort these days. But we're very happy."

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