Really? Working Parents Are Too Stressed For Sex?

The headline over at was designed to grab eyeballs: “New Study Finds Working Parents Are Too Stressed to Go to the Gym, Call a Friend, or Have Sex with their Spouses.” (At least it was their spouses!) According to a survey commissioned by, 62% of working parents said they were too stressed to do the activities listed in the headline. A quarter claimed they’d leave their current jobs for ones with less stress and more flexibility.

I find this all fascinating. First, there is survey design. Was “get to the gym, call a friend or have sex with my spouse” all listed as one option? Otherwise, how do you get a neat figure like 62%? If separated out, presumably, you’d find that some number were too stressed to get to the gym, but were fine with sex, and vice versa.

But beyond that… oh, where do I start. Hey, where’s my favorite chart from the American Time Use Survey? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, married mothers who are employed full-time spend 0.66 hours per day socializing. That’s a solid 40 minutes. Dads spend just a minute or two less. Seems like there may be a few phone calls to friends going on in there. We don’t spend much time exercising, but I don’t think that’s because we lack time. Working moms do spend close to 90 minutes watching TV, daily, after all. Married fathers who work full time spend close to 2 hours per day watching TV! We don’t exercise because we don’t want to exercise. Stress is convenient to blame. So is the monster under the bed, or capitalism, if you want to throw that in there. (Actually, dads who work full time spend 0.30 hours per day on exercise and recreation, or a little over 2 hours per week. It’s below the guidelines — 2.5 hours per week — but not much below).

As for sex, people generally do not mention this on time use surveys (they don’t tell researchers when they went to the bathroom either). But… come on. The average mom with a full time job works 36 hours per week. The average dad works about 42.5. If we sleep 8 hours per night (and the ATUS shows we actually sleep a bit more) that leaves 76 hours and 69.5 hours, respectively. Presumably, we could find time for two short romps in there if we wanted.

We have plenty of time for anything that really matters to us. However, we have this cultural narrative that working parents are starved for time. We have no time for fun things in our lives. Our time diaries reveal otherwise, but that’s not the picture we like to create of ourselves.

On one level, so what? We all like to complain. But here’s the problem. All these stories inevitably create an impression for young people that combining work and family is just going to be incredibly difficult. You’ll never get to the gym, call a friend, or have sex again! (Though somehow many of us manage to have more children, so go figure). And so people feel they need to put off having children until the perfect time when they’ve done all the things they want to do, or that if they want a relaxed life they have to work part-time, or that having children is a valid excuse for letting your body and your health go. None of this needs to be true. A big part of my mission with 168 Hours is changing the narrative. As you can see by this number, it’s a big mission.


7 thoughts on “Really? Working Parents Are Too Stressed For Sex?

  1. I agree – I think surveys like this mislead people into thinking that because they are married and have children and work (or work part time or stay home) that life is over and there will never be time for sex or fun ever again. Whenever I find myself complaining that I “have no time,” I remember your words and think, no I am just choosing to do X instead of making time for Y. I must not value Y much at this time. Or if I do, then I should take a look at my schedule and make time for Y. Which is exactly what my husband and I did with sex. We looked at our scheduled and made time for sex. Turns out, there is plenty of time when you make the time.

    1. @Sarah- glad to hear it! It sounds so odd to schedule in time for sex, but honestly, for some couples that’s what it takes. We do what matters to us, and if we keep refusing to make time, it probably doesn’t actually matter to us. So we should either accept that, or make some big life changes.

  2. Don’t these people know that sex is a stress reliever? so is going to the gym and socializing with friends. Maybe they have it all backwards–they are stressed b/c they aren’t doing those things. (I didn’t read it yet)
    As you have said, we have the time for what we choose to make time for, even if we aren’t always aware of the choices we’re making.
    I have recommended 168 Hours to a few former students who are overwhelmed by studying/working/interning etc. I’m sure they will find time to work on their dreams if they know where to cut back.
    I can’t believe the number of books I’ve read recently b/c I’ve given up time in less important areas of my life.

  3. It’s hard to have sex with someone who won’t share the family responsibilities unless he makes like $300,000 and you can pay away all your problems. And even then… for most working, educated women whose husbands are not doing their share it gets hard — my husband irritates me so much more since we had kids and the constant negotiation that “equally shared parenting requires” especially if the guy isn’t into it is a definite libido killer…. sorry ladies but you on here who are like this is crap are in the minority i hate to tell you!

  4. I disagree with general application of time averages. I was talking about this with a physician in solo practice and his wife, a psychologist. Now that their son is in high school, there’s time to exercise, talk on the phone, etc. because he requires less attention and they have blocks of time.

    If the parent of a high schooler chats for 90 minutes during a JV game and the parent of 3 toddlers don’t socialize at all, that results in an AVERAGE of 45 minutes. It doesn’t mean that being the full-time working mother of a high schooler(s) is the same as being the full-time working mother of toddler(s)/preschooler(s).

    Also, see The Juggle blog on the WSJ for a discussion of 100 hr work weeks. Everyone agrees that you aren’t usually working 100 hr, but you can’t do anything ELSE because you have to hurry up and wait.

    1. @Twin Mom- no, it isn’t the same, but the ATUS breaks down by kid age, too. Among moms whose youngest kids are under age 6, those who work full time also spend 0.66 hours per day socializing (40 minutes). Moms who are not in the work force, and have kids under age 6, spend 0.89 hours, or about 53-54 minutes, socializing:
      As for 100-hour weeks… this may be a blog post for later this week. Mulling it over.

  5. Also you need to look at who the working mom is socializing with.. I make very few friend contacts outside of my work circle of more than say a 15 minute phone call – very few .. and I do not go to the gym right now… and I am not wasting time.. I do exercise with my kids, and I will call a friend say for 15 minutes while driving home from daycare (always multitasking and always while doing something else aka driving)
    I do socialize, with my neighbor who has kids and with my mother in law who is my childcare provider but I don’t consider talking to the nanny/mother the same as just calling a friend for 2 hours at night as I might have done pre children… there is a difference..I MAKE A LOT OF SACRIFICES AS A WORKING MOM — I do not read much as I used to, I do not watch movies whenever I want and I only watch tv when I am pumping breast milk or working out… and even then only 3 hours a week.. and I think a lot of women are just not willing to make the sacrifices that are required to parent well, work enough to stay on top of a growing business or career and do everything else… it requires a militant brutal use of time and efficiency that many many people do not find joyful. I find it joyful but it is very very scheduled and many many sacrifices are made.

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