Baby, are we meant to be? A longitudinal investigation of couples’ sexual growth and destiny beliefs in the transition to parenthood

By Sophie Marchetti

This blog is a summary of our published article: Rossi, M. A., Impett, E. A., Dawson, S. J., Vannier, S., Kim, J., & Rosen, N. O. (2022). A longitudinal investigation of couples’ sexual growth and destiny beliefs in the transition to parenthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior51(3), 1559-1575.

In relationships, couples may have different beliefs about how their sexual well-being may ebb and flow over time. When couples experience changes in their sexual behaviours and sexual experiences during challenging periods, such as the transition to parenthood, sexual beliefs become more important. Prior research has found that it is common for new parents to report declines in sexual desire and an increase in sexual distress during the transition to parenthood, for mothers more than their partners [1]. When assessing the impact of sexual beliefs (i.e., what someone believes about how their sexual relationships with their partner will change over time), vulnerable periods for couples welcoming their first baby should be analyzed to better understand factors which may protect against declines to sexual well-being (including a decline in sexual desire).

In this study, we explored two types of sexual beliefs: sexual growth beliefs and sexual destiny beliefs.

Sexual Growth Beliefs: Sexual growth refers to an individual’s belief that sexual problems can be resolved through effort. For example, believing that uncomfortable sex with a partner can be resolved through communication and collaboration.

Sexual Destiny Beliefs: Sexual destiny refers to an individual’s belief that sexual problems reflect incompatibility with their partner. For example, believing that uncomfortable sex with a partner is unchangeable and definite.

Declines in sexual well-being including declines in sexual desire may be impacted by differing sexual beliefs, which may have implications for the couple, the soon-to-be family, and child development [2]. Identifying factors that either promote or interfere with sexual well-being, can help new parents learn how to adapt to changes in sexuality that occur in the transition to parenthood.


What did we want to know?

We wanted to know whether couples’ sexual growth and destiny beliefs correspond with changes to various facets of couples’ sexual well-being over time, specifically with regard to the transition to parenthood.

What did we do?

We asked 203 first-time parent couples to individually complete online self-report surveys at 6 different points in the perinatal period (conception to 1 year post-partum) where they answered questions about their:

  1. Destiny and growth beliefs at one point, mid-pregnancy (32-weeks)
  2. Measures of sexual well-being (satisfaction, desire, and distress) throughout the perinatal period (20- and 32-weeks pregnant and 3-, 6-, 9-, and 12-months postpartum).

What did we find?

Notably, we did not find evidence that new parents’ sexual growth beliefs provided any benefits for couples’ sexual well-being during the transition to parenthood. In other words, if parents had growth beliefs, this didn’t benefit their sexual well-being compared to couples who had destiny beliefs. Also, we found that beliefs in sexual growth and destiny didn’t affect changes in couples’ sexual well-being beyond the first 3 months after childbirth.

Other findings include:

  1. Pregnant women with sexual destiny beliefs reported having more sexual distress and less satisfaction 3 months after childbirth.
  2. When partners of mothers also had sexual destiny beliefs, both partners and new mothers reported higher sexual desire at 3-months postpartum.
  3. Unexpectedly, when partners of mothers reported sexual growth beliefs during pregnancy, mothers reported having lower sexual desire at 3-months postpartum.

What does this mean?

These results suggest that informing couples about sexual beliefs in late pregnancy may be helpful in improving couples’ sexual desire, mitigating the declines in new mothers’ sexual satisfaction and the increases in sexual distress at 3-months postpartum. Our findings support a lack of uniformity in sexual beliefs across the perinatal period, making them neither unhelpful nor adaptive, especially beyond 3-months post-partum. We identified a novel psychosocial factor—sexual growth and destiny beliefs—as a predictor of couples’ sexual desire, satisfaction, and distress at 3-months postpartum, but not at any other point over time.


[1] Schwenck, G. C., Dawson, S. J., Muise, A., & Rosen, N. O. (2020). A comparison of the sexual well-being of new parents with community couples. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 17(11), 2156–2167.


[2] Stroud, C. M., & K; Wilson, S; Durbin; E. (2015). Marital quality spillover and young children’s adjustment: Evidence for dyadic and triadic parenting as mechanisms. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 44(5), 800–813.