A New Baby in the Bedroom: Frequency and Severity of Postpartum Sexual Concerns and Their Associations With Relationship Satisfaction in New Parent Couples

Posted on Sep 26, 2016

A couple in bed, with just their feet showing and white sheets

By Hera Schlagintweit

*Note: This is a summary of our recently published paper: Schlagintweit, H. E., Bailey, K., & Rosen, N. O. (2016). A New Baby in the Bedroom: Frequency and Severity of Postpartum Sexual Concerns and Their Associations With Relationship Satisfaction in New Parent Couples. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Online First. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.08.006 Access the paper: Full-Text Download (Paywall)

The year after the birth of a couple’s first child can often be a difficult one, as there is little that can prepare new parents for the many changes that come with the addition of a new member to the family. One major change that occurs during this time is to new parents’ sexual relationship 1,2. Indeed, research has shown that a majority of new parents have a number of questions or worries related to their sexual relationship. For example, many new parents worry about when to resume sexual intercourse after childbirth, whether sexual intercourse will be painful, the impact of new mother’s body image concerns on their interest in sex, and about differences in the degree to which new fathers and mothers are interested in sex 3.

While research has shown us that sexual concerns are very common among new parents 3, little is known about the impact that these concerns have on parents. For example, we do not know how severe these concerns are. Perhaps some new parents consider sexual concerns to be temporary and natural, and therefore not much to worry about. Alternatively, some new parents may experience sexual concerns as highly alarming and distressing. We also know very little about how sexual concerns impact new parent’s relationship quality. Could new parents who experience many sexual concerns, or perhaps a few severe sexual concerns, be at risk for relationship struggles? A couples’ sexual relationship has an important impact on the overall quality of their intimate relationship 4. Therefore, new parents who experience many sexual concerns, or severe sexual concerns, may also experience declines in the quality of their intimate relationship. When we designed this study, this is exactly what we sought out to explore.

What we did

239 North American new parent couples completed an online survey looking at 20 previously identified sexual concerns 3 and relationship satisfaction. All couples were first-time mothers and fathers to a healthy baby who was born 3 to 12 months before their participation in the study. We had fathers and mothers rate whether or not they were experiencing each of the 20 sexual concerns, and the severity of any of the concerns they were experiencing on a scale from 1 (not at all concerned) to 7 (extremely concerned). We also asked them to rate their relationship satisfaction using a well-established questionnaire called the Couples Satisfaction Index 5.

What we found

Overall, we found that sexual concerns were very common and moderately severe in new mothers and fathers alike. In fact 59% of mothers and fathers reported experiencing 16 or more of the 20 sexual concerns that were measured. The total severity of concerns were rated as 79 and 76 out of a total of 140 (56% and 54%) for new mothers and fathers respectively.

Top 5 sexual concerns of new mothers        

(1 – tie) Concerns about the frequency of intercourse after childbirth

(1 – tie) Concerns about changes new mothers’ body image and its impact of sexual activity after childbirth

(3) Concerns about the impact of child-rearing duties on time for sexual activity

(4) Concerns about the impact of sleep deprivation on sexual interest

(5) Concerns about the impact of physical recovery from delivery on intercourse

Top 5 sexual concerns of new fathers

(1) Concerns about mood swings (not postpartum depression) and their impact on sexual activity after childbirth

(2) Concerns about the frequency of intercourse after childbirth

(3) Concerns about a mismatch in sexual desire: new fathers have more sexual desire than new mothers

(4 – tie) Concerns about changes in new mother’s body image and its impact on sexual activity after childbirth

(4 – tie) concerns about the impact of breastfeeding on breasts

 

We also found that postpartum sexual concerns had an impact on relationship satisfaction. Fathers’ greater severity of postpartum sexual concerns was associated with their own and mothers’ reduced relationship satisfaction, while mothers’ greater severity of postpartum sexual concerns was only associated with lower relationship satisfaction in fathers. In addition, when mothers had more postpartum sexual concerns both they and their partner reported lower relationship satisfaction. However, fathers’ number of postpartum sexual concerns was unrelated to parents’ relationship satisfaction.

What does this mean?

Taken together, these findings show that sexual concerns are highly common and moderately severe in new mothers and fathers alike. New parent’s sexual concerns were also found to have an impact on both mothers’ and fathers’ relationship satisfaction. These findings therefore suggest that providing new parents with education or counselling about postpartum sexual concerns may have important positive impacts on the quality of their intimate relationship. Given that a healthy relationship is important not only for the wellbeing of new mothers and new fathers, but also for the healthy development of the child 6,7, it is highly recommended that health care providers discuss postpartum sexual concerns with new fathers and new mothers alike.

REFERENCES:

  1. Ahlborg T, Dahlof L-G, Hallberg, Lillemor R-M. Quality of the Intimate and Sexual Relationship in First-Time Parents Six Months After Delivery. J Sex Res. 2013;42(2):167-174.
  2. Benowitz NL, Jacob III P, Ahijevych K, et al. Biochemical verification of tobacco use and cessation. Nicotine Tob Res. 2002;4(2):149-159. doi:10.1080/14622200210123581.
  3. Pastore L, Owens A, Raymond C. Postpartum sexuality concerns among first-time parents from one U.S. academic hospital. J Sex Med. 2007;4(1):115-123. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2006.00379.x.
  4. McNulty JK, Wenner CA, Fisher TD. Longitudinal Associations Among Relationship Satisfaction, Sexual Satisfaction, and Frequency of Sex in Early Marriage. Arch Sex Behav. 2016;45(1):85-97. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0444-6.
  5. Funk JL, Rogge RD. Testing the ruler with item response theory: increasing precision of measurement for relationship satisfaction with the Couples Satisfaction Index. J Fam Psychol. 2007;21(4):572-583. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.21.4.572.
  6. Amato PR. Children of Divorce in the 1990s: An Update of the Amato and Keith (1991) Meta-Analysis. J Fam Psychol. 2001;15(3):355-370. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.15.3.355.
  7. Yu T, Pettit GS, Lansford JE, Dodge KA, Bates JE. The interactive effects of marital conflict and divorce on parent – adult children’s relationships. J Marriage Fam. 2010;72(2):282-292. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00699.x.