New Mom's Parenting Stress Impacts Couple's Sexual Satisfaction

A new study finds that a mother’s stress from becoming a first-time parent has a significant effect on both her own and her male partner’s sexual satisfaction. The father’s parenting stress, however, doesn’t appear to affect either partner’s satisfaction, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State who published their results in the journal Sex Roles.

“The transition to parenthood has gained importance recently,” said Chelom E. Leavitt, doctoral student, human development and family studies.

“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.”

For the study, the researchers examined data from 169 expectant heterosexual couples who had participated in the Family Foundations prevention program. When the baby was six months old, the couples were asked to report on the parenting stress they were experiencing. Then once the baby turned twelve months, the couples were asked about their overall sexual satisfaction.

“Interestingly, we found that men’s parenting stress had no impact on either men’s or women’s sexual satisfaction,” said Leavitt.

However, the parenting pressure that new moms experienced affected the sexual satisfaction of both partners. This may be due to the fact that women generally bear greater responsibility in caring for the new baby, says Leavitt, and social pressures may lead women to strive to be the “perfect mother.”

“When new moms feel fatigued by the added responsibilities of parenting, they may feel less sexual,” said 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 survey, each participant was asked to rate several statements regarding the stress of becoming a parent on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to five (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.”

At the 12-month survey, 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 one (not at all satisfied) to nine (very satisfied).

The findings revealed that 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 six or above on the scale — and 55 percent of men reporting being somewhat to very satisfied.

“This was a good spring board for people to understand how parenting stress affects sexual satisfaction,” said Leavitt.

The findings may help parents, therapists and others gain a better understanding of how the stress of becoming a new parent can impact a couple’s relationship.

Source: Pennsylvania State