After having their first baby, new parents report being only somewhat satisfied with their sex lives. The stress levels of moms—but not dads—may be a reason why.
“The transition to parenthood has gained importance recently,” says Chelom E. Leavitt, a doctoral student in human development and family studies at Penn State.
“We know that sexual satisfaction is an important element in relationships, but as far as we know, it hasn’t been studied at this transition before. We wanted to know how parenting stress affects sexual satisfaction.”
Researchers looked at data from 169 expectant heterosexual couples who had participated in the Family Foundations prevention program.
The couples were asked about the parenting stress they were experiencing six months after their baby was born.
Twelve months after the baby was born, parents reported on their overall sexual satisfaction. Findings appear in the journal Sex Roles.
“Interestingly, we found that men’s parenting stress had no impact on either men’s or women’s sexual satisfaction,” Leavitt says. But the amount of parenting stress women felt affected the sexual satisfaction of both partners.
“When new moms feel fatigued by the added responsibilities of parenting, they may feel less sexual,” says Leavitt.
“The sexual relationship is interdependent, so when a mom feels greater stress due to parenting, not only is her sexual satisfaction diminished, the dad’s sexual satisfaction is also affected.”
At the six-month follow-up, each parent was asked to rate statements pertaining to the stress of becoming a parent on a scale from 1, strongly disagree, to 5, strongly agree.
The statements included “I find myself giving up more of my life to meet my child’s needs than I ever expected” and “My child smiles at me much less than I expected.”
A year after becoming parents, the mothers and fathers completed the statement, “Regarding your sex life with your partner, would you say that you are overall…”, with a scale ranging from 1, not at all satisfied, to 9, very satisfied.
Mothers reported greater sexual satisfaction at 12 months than fathers did, with 69 percent of the women reporting they were somewhat to very satisfied with their sex lives—a 6 or above on the scale—and 55 percent of men reporting being somewhat to very satisfied.
“This was a good springboard for people to understand how parenting stress affects sexual satisfaction,” Leavitt says.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse supported the work.