Did I meet your expectations? A longitudinal couples’ study on unmet and exceeded sexual expectations during the transition to parenthood.

By Brianna MacDonald

This blog is a summary of our published article: Rosen, N. O., Vannier, S. A., Johnson, M. D., McCarthy, L., & Impett, E. A. (2022). Unmet and exceeded expectations for sexual concerns across the transition to parenthood. The Journal of Sex Research, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2022.2126814

Welcoming a new baby can be an exciting and stressful time for first-time parents and this transition is filled with many changes to daily routines. Not surprisingly, declines in relationship and sexual well-being are common among couples, due to the new challenges of caring for a newborn, but these declines may put new parents at a greater risk for poorer mental health and relationship problems. [1,2] As such, it is important to identify factors that will promote relationship and sexual well-being during the transition to parenthood. One important factor to consider is the expectation each partner might have about their sexual relationship. Since people tend to use their expectations to evaluate the quality of a relationship, unmet or exceeded needs can impact a couples’ relationship. When expectations are not met it can lead to relationship dissatisfaction, and when their expectations are exceeded it can lead to relationship satisfaction. [3] For new parents navigating the transition to parenthood, exceeding expectations  may lead to better sexual and relationship outcomes, but if expectations are unmet, it may lead to worse sexual and relationship outcomes.

What did we do?

We asked 200 first-time parents (inclusive of mixed- and same-sex couples) to fill out a questionnaire about their sexual expectations, sexual and relationship satisfaction, relationship conflict, and sexual distress at seven different time points: the second trimester, third trimester and 2 weeks postpartum, then 3-, 6-, 9-, and 12- months postpartum.

What did we find?

When mothers’ expectations were exceeded:

  • There were better sexual and relationship outcomes during the post-partum period for mothers, such as higher relationship satisfaction and less sexual distress and relationship conflict.
  • Partners had higher sexual satisfaction, sexual distress, and relationship conflict.

When partners’ expectations were exceeded:

  • While less consistently linked it could predict less sexual distress for mothers at 3-months postpartum

When mothers’ expectations were unmet:

  • There were lower levels of sexual and relationship satisfaction for mothers during the post-partum period.

When partners’ expectations were unmet:

  • There was less sexual satisfaction for mothers and partners.
  • Higher sexual distress and relationship conflict for partners.


  • There was little change reported in sexual and relational well-being from the 3-month postpartum period to the 12-month postpartum period.

What does this mean?

These findings suggest that unmet and exceeded sexual expectations may be associated with mothers and partner’s relational and sexual well-being during the postpartum period. When new parents’ expectations are exceeded, especially for mothers, it was associated with greater sexual satisfaction for both themselves and their partners. On the other hand, unmet expectations, especially for partners, were associated with less sexual and relational well-being and greater conflict. This suggests that when expectations are exceeded or unmet, the effect it may have on the relationship may differ depending on whose expectations are exceeded or unmet. Thus, there could be benefits in educating mothers and partners to develop and maintain realistic expectations of their sexual relationship postpartum. Little change between 3-months postpartum and 12-months postpartum for sexual and relational well-being suggests that early intervention may be more useful at preventing relational and sexual distress for new parents.

Moving forward, clinicians may consider offering psychoeducation regarding realistic expectations for new parents regarding their sexual relationship in the transition to parenthood. Further, clear communication with a partner about one’s sexual expectations may further to support couples’ relationship and sexual well-being postpartum.


[1] Figueiredo, B., Field, T., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M., Deeds, O., & Ascencio, A. (2008). Partner relationships during the transition to parenthood. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 26(2), 99–107. https://doi.org/10.1080/02646830701873057 

[2] Goldberg, J. S., & Carlson, M. J. (2014). Parents’ relationship quality and children’s behavior in stable married and cohabiting families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(4), 762–777. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12120

[3] Arriaga, X.B (2013). An interdependence theory analysis of close relationships. In J.A Simpsons & L. Campbell (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Close Relationships ( 39-65). Oxford Univeristy Press.