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Image: Women love men who clean house
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updated 2/13/2008 8:58:45 AM ET 2008-02-13T13:58:45

I had a party not too long ago where a funny thing happened. One of the guests — a 30-something, single straight guy — came out to the kitchen and volunteered to do my dishes. “That way you won’t be stuck with a huge mess after everyone leaves,” he said, filling the sink with hot, soapy water.

As he started scrubbing wine glasses, I glanced over at my guests. Every woman in the room was staring at him with what can only be described as pure, unadulterated lust.

Behold the appeal of the dishy man.

Jennifer Matthewson, a 30-year-old caterer from Portland, Ore., has witnessed this heady phenomenon time and time again.

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“My husband is great at cooking and great at cleaning,” says Matthewson, whose spouse handles the kitchen end of their catering company while she takes care of the business and the books. “And every time we would do an event, there would be 10 to 15 starry-eyed women standing around him, asking him all kinds of baking and cooking questions. They’d be like, ‘Wow, does he have any brothers?' Even my mother once joked, ‘Oh, if only he were older.’”

For Heather Peterson, of Cambridge, Mass., the dishy man effect is nothing short of money in the bank.

Part of a tongue-in-cheek organization called the Cambridge Women’s Pornography Cooperative, Peterson and her colleagues recently published a collection of photographs of fully clothed men cooking, cleaning house and offering up comforting cups of tea. The book, entitled “Porn for Women,” has sold more than 140,000 copies after just 11 months and has already spawned both a calendar and the newly released “Porn for New Moms.”

‘That's hot’
“This is a humorous book, but it does manage to convey some of the things that women really do fantasize about,” says Peterson, spokesperson for the group. “When a man is willing to step up to the plate — and wash it for you — you’re going to think about him in a very different way. It’s not just that he’s domesticated. It’s that he recognizes that these things have to get done. That they’re not just automatically going to be done for him. And that’s hot.”

According to a May 2007 in American Journal of Public Health, a guy who pulls his own weight around the house isn’t just hot, he’s a boon for his lady’s health.

Researchers at the American University of Beirut studied 1,652 married couples and found that wives whose husbands were minimally involved in housework were 60 percent more likely to be distressed, three times more likely to be uncomfortable with their husbands, and more than twice as likely to be unhappy.

“Our results showed a significant association between husbands’ involvement in housework and their wives’ psychosocial health,” wrote Marwan Khawaja, author of the study.

Are there any benefits, aside from soulful glances and the satisfaction of a sparkling clean floor, that exist for men who share the load (laundry and otherwise)?

That’s hard to say, although there are some interesting indicators. A recent survey by Parenting Magazine found that “choreplay,” i.e., husbands pitching in around the house, was what put 15 percent of moms in the mood.

Research conducted by Laurie A. Rudman, a psychologist at Rutgers University, also seems to point to a hot soapy love connection. Her study, recently published in the journal Sex Roles, looked at feminism’s impact on romantic relationships. Among other things, she found that men with feminist partners reported both more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction.

“We didn’t ask who was doing the dishes or taking care of the kids,” says Rudman. “We asked broadly about the quality of the relationship and about the agreement of gender roles in the relationship. But we did find that if men were with a feminist woman, they had more sexual satisfaction and their relationship was more stable. Men benefit from having a feminist partner. Now the next step is to look at why. What is it about gender equality that brings about more relationship satisfaction?”

Sharing the load (of laundry)
For Maureen Judge, a 44-year-old marketing consultant and divorced mom from Seattle, that’s a no-brainer.

“Women have been out in the workforce for a really long time and it’s staggering how many women still do most of the housework,” she says. “Not sharing the load has got to be one of the biggest things that can negatively impact a relationship. So, yes, men who do their share of household chores are absolutely more attractive as potential partners than traditional guys who won’t even pick up a toilet brush. That’s where the bar should be set.”

Are men working their way towards this bar? Signs seem to indicate the Tide may indeed be turning.

A handful of housecleaning guides — by men, for men — have hit the market in recent years, each with titles that subtly play up the steamier side of the egalitarian household, i.e., “How to Satisfy Your Woman Every Time: A Straight Guy’s Guide to Housework and Good Grooming,” “How to Iron Your Own Damn Shirt: The Perfect Husband Handbook Featuring Over 50 Ways to Win, Woo and Wow Your Wife,” and “Clean Like a Man: Housekeeping for Men (and the Women Who Love Them).”

Single men have even started to fly their helpmate flags in online personal ads. A quick sweep through Craig’s List yields numerous postings where, along with interests in football, fishing, and romantic nights in front of a fire, men are expressing their affinity for household chores.

Tired of Being Alone, a 43-year-old bachelor from Sacramento, Calif., says he will “cook, clean house, do laundry and quite a few other things.” 210 Reasons to Email Me, a 25-year-old single guy from Phoenix, lists as his No. 1 incentive: “I clean and do laundry and I also know how to use an iron.” Educated Guy with a Great Career, a 39-year-old divorced dad from Minneapolis, provides a complete resume of household skills. “In addition to being able to cook all the meals, I am housebroken,” he writes. “I do my own ironing. I do laundry and fold it. I do the dishes and put them away. I make the bed. I keep the kitchen clean.”

Kitchen sink savvy
Are these ads an indication that guys have stumbled onto the dishy man effect and are trying to edge out the competition with kitchen sink savvy? Are stereotypical gender roles truly becoming a thing of the past? Or is it a little bit of both?

“I have no problem doing household chores,” says Travis Letellier, a 24-year-old civil engineer from Boston, whose ad talked up his willingness to do dishes and give foot massages. “It was always the norm growing up and it’s something I do regularly anyway. I wasn’t really trying to impress a woman by mentioning that I do dishes, but I guess I was trying to entice one.”

John McDougall, a 38-year-old medical student from Bozeman, Mont., says that while he’s never formerly advertised his “dishiness,” he has noticed it scores major points.

“When I cook for a woman on a first date, most of the time they’re stunned,” he says. “They’re like, ‘Not only do you keep a decent apartment, you can cook. Holy smoke!’ It’s like the icing on the cake. I suppose there’s probably a positive feedback loop going on that reinforces that behavior on my part. But I also think housework can be therapeutic if you choose to see it that way. Making a clean space out of a disordered space offers an internal sense of satisfaction.”

Move over, June Cleaver. Looks like you’ve finally got some stiff competition.

Diane Mapes is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "How to Date in a Post-Dating World."

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