New parents tend to have more sexual issues during the year they “transition to parenthood” than couples who are not new parents, suggests new research in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
New mothers also tend to have poorer sexual well-being than their partners, the authors added.
Sexual relationships often change with the arrival of a new baby. Recovery from delivery, hormonal fluctuations, and the stress that comes with caring for a newborn are just some of the factors affecting sexuality at this time.
Past research investigating the effects of new parenthood on sexual relationships has had limitations, and most studies have involved mothers only, not couples. Other studies have focused on one dimension of sexual function only. Many have not had control groups.
In the current study, researchers sought to compare sexual well-being (described as “sexual frequency, sexual satisfaction, sexual desire, and sexual distress”) in two groups of couples:
- New parents (99 couples) who had had their first child during the previous year and were transitioning to parenthood. Couples who had had multiple births were not included.
- Community couples (104 couples) who either did not have children or did not have children younger than one year.
The research team also looked at how sexual function differed between partners.
All of the couples completed questionnaires to evaluate their sexual satisfaction, desire, distress, and frequency. The new parents filled out the questionnaires at 3-, 6-, and 12-months postpartum. The community couples completed them only once.
Compared to the community couples, the new parents had lower sexual satisfaction, less sexual desire, and more sexual distress at all of the assessment points. But these factors did improve over time, and new parents had better assessment scores by the 12-month point. At the 6-month point, both groups of couples were having sex at about the same frequency.
It’s possible that after their baby’s arrival, the new parents had less time to focus on themselves as a couple, which might have made sex less satisfying, the authors said.
Within each couple, new mothers had lower sexual desire than their partners throughout the 12-month period. At 3 months, they had lower satisfaction, but this result improved over time. At all time points, between 39% and 59% of new mothers had low sexual desire. Rates of sexual distress for new mothers ranged from 47% to 57% throughout the study.
The authors pointed out that psychosocial factors, such as body image and changes in sexual expectations could play a role in the mothers’ sexual function.
Among the community couples, there were no significant differences between partners for sexual satisfaction, desire, or distress.
The results may help clinicians explain postpartum sexuality to expecting couples and new parents.
“Education regarding postpartum sexual well-being should be incorporated in routine perinatal and post-natal healthcare practices to support new parents in developing realistic expectations about changes during the transition to parenthood, potentially preventing undue distress,” the authors wrote.