Childbirth is a landmark event for a relationship, a joyous occasion that is a life changer for all parties.
While considerable research has explored parental life changes after a baby — be it sleeping, dining, social life, or exercise — one area of life adjustment seldom addressed is sexuality.
A new study explores the issue and finds that childbirth affects both partners’ sexual health, although in a manner perhaps unexpected.
Investigators discovered partners of new mothers often experience shifts in sexuality, and these shifts are often unrelated to biological or medical factors pertaining to childbirth.
The findings, which are published The Journal of Sexual Medicine, expand current understanding of postpartum sexuality, and may help health professionals as they counsel new parents.
Research on postpartum sexuality has typically focused on female reproductive biology in birth mothers — for example, how hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding affect sexual desire, or how birth-related interventions affect sexual activity.
Few studies have looked at sexuality in the partners of postpartum women, even though it may be important for postpartum women’s perceptions of their own sexuality.
Sari van Anders, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and her colleagues designed a study to examine postpartum sexuality as a social and relational process, focusing on co-parents.
A total of 114 partners (95 men, 18 women, 1 unspecified) of postpartum women completed an online questionnaire about their sexuality during the three months following their youngest child’s birth.
Attention was paid to physical, social, psychological, and relational experiences.
The researchers found that partners experience shifts in sexuality, just as birth mothers do. The changes that they experienced were linked to relational and social processes, not just biological or medical factors.
In fact, low desire in partners was largely influenced by factors related to caring for a new baby — such as fatigue and stress — rather than by factors related to the birth and/or birth mother, as more typically presumed.
“Our findings help to clarify how co-parents experience sexuality in myriad ways that are contextualized within partner and parenting relationships,” said van Anders. “What is of note is that we have come to recognize that sexual health of one partner may be related to the sexual health of the other, no matter the cause of the change in sexuality.”