By David Allsop
This blog is a summary of our published article: Allsop, D. B., Impett, E. A., Vannier, S. A., & Rosen, N. O. (2022). Change in 21 sexual concerns of new parents from three to twelve months postpartum: Similarities and differences between mothers and partners. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2022.06.004
The transition to parenthood is both a joyful and difficult time. One way this time may be difficult is when it comes to sexual relationships. Research has found that new parents are concerned about their sexual relationships after a baby is born, in aspects like how often they have sex or how they feel about their bodies.  What is unclear, however, is how parents’ sexual concerns change over time. Knowing how parents’ sexual concerns change over time would help parents, doctors, and therapists better know what to expect postpartum, which may make the transition to parenthood easier.
What did we do?
We looked at how 21 distinct sexual concerns of new parents change over time from 3 to 12 months postpartum, and if mothers and partners have different patterns of sexual concern postpartum. We recruited 203 couples that were first-time parents who completed online surveys where they were asked every three months about their sexual concerns. Then, we looked at trends in this data over time.
We had 2 hypotheses:
- The levels of most of new parents’ sexual concerns would decline over time, though some might not change.
- For most of the sexual concerns new parents face, mothers would have higher concern levels than their partners at three months postpartum.
What did we find?
The results were mixed. Mothers and partners were less concerned about some areas of their sexual relationship at 12 months postpartum than they were at 3 months postpartum. However, in other areas, they did not change in their levels of sexual concern, and in one area, mothers were actually more sexually concerned at 12 months postpartum than they were at 3 months postpartum.
- Sexual concerns that declined tended to be specific to experiences in the transition to parenthood, like delivery, postpartum recovery, or nurturing an infant. Examples of these include sexual concerns about child-rearing, breastfeeding, time for sex, a lack of privacy, a mother’s physical recovery, desire differences, low desire, vaginal dryness, intercourse pain, intercourse frequency, and body image changes.
- Sexual concerns that did not change over time tended to be things people might be concerned about sexually at any time, not just when they become parents. These were concerns like giving or receiving affection or how someone feels about themselves sexually.
- Mothers were more sexually concerned about returning to work at 12 months postpartum than they were at 3 months postpartum.
The results about whether mothers would have higher levels of their sexual concerns than their partners were also mixed. On 11 of the 21 sexual concerns measured, mothers had higher sexual concern levels than their partners at three months postpartum. However, partners had higher sexual concern levels than mothers on 4 concerns.
What does this mean?
Different sexual concerns tend to change in different ways for new parents from 3 to 12 months postpartum. In some ways during this time, parents become less concerned about sex, but in other ways, their concern levels stay the same, and in one area for mothers, returning to work, sexual concern levels grow. Mothers and their partners are similar, yet different, in what they are most concerned about sexually postpartum and how their sexual concerns change over time.
Doctors, therapists, and new parents can use a checklist, provided for free online, to guide them as they talk about sexual concerns postpartum. See below for the postpartum sexual concerns checklist.
 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. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13(10), 1455-1465. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.08.006