A recent study has shown a new mother’s stress has a negative impact on a couple’s intimacy.
Penn State researchers followed 169 heterosexual couples over the first 12 months of their baby’s life. During that time, the new parents were asked to rate their level of satisfaction when it came to both parenting and sex.
Women who scored lower on the parental satisfaction questions also tended to score lower on the sexual satisfaction questions. Bad days turned into bad nights. And when women were less satisfied in the bedroom, men were, too.
Interestingly, a father’s stress levels did not seem to have any effect on either his or his partner’s sexual satisfaction. Researchers suspect this is likely because women tend to compartmentalize their lives less than men do. Everything is more interconnected, so a problem in one area can result in problems in another.
Furthermore, women still tend to shoulder most of the parenting responsibilities, particularly when children are young. This can lead more quickly to dissatisfaction and exhaustion.
Okay, let’s get real here: this study is likely not going to come as a big surprise to most new parents. For many of us, it’s comparable with research showing how water is wet. This is not news to those of us who have faced sleepless nights and screaming infants. We already know it’s hard to feel sexy when you’re covered in baby vomit.
But the evidence does validate how many new mothers report feeling: tired and touched-out.
Being able to point to studies like this one and say, “See? I’m not the only one!” has its own power. It allows us to feel more connected to others at a time when many of us feel quite alone in our emotions and our chaos.
In the study, moms and dads were asked questions about how happy they were as parents. Was parenting meeting their expectations? Were they getting as much out of having a baby as they had anticipated?
These are important questions. When we first choose to become parents, we might have ideas that simply don’t live up to reality. Then, when baby comes and that reality hits, it can be hard to feel satisfied unless we can come to terms with the way things actually are.
The study’s authors also speculate societal pressure placed on women to be “perfect mothers” is a likely contributing factor to dissatisfaction in motherhood and, in turn, reduced intimate pleasure for both couples. The strain of trying to be it all and do it all can have real consequences on the relationship.
However, an interesting shift occurs at the end of the first year: By the time the couple’s child reaches 12 months of age, mothers are reporting higher sexual satisfaction than their partners. In fact, 69% of women responded they were “somewhat to very satisfied” with their sex lives, versus 55% of men.
In the future, the researchers want to expand their focus to include more diversity. How do same-sex couples fare in the bedroom with the strains of new parenthood upon them? What about parental age?
By answering these questions, researchers hope to provide useful information to therapists and other professionals who help couples navigate one of the most challenging times in their life together.