This article was written by Social Psychologist Dr. Justin Lehmiller.
Becoming a parent can add a lot of joy, love, and excitement to your life, but it’s not without some personal costs and challenges. As parents begin to shift their time and attention away from each other and toward their children, they often find it difficult to maintain a healthy intimate life.
Indeed, research has found that the transition to parenthood is linked to less frequent sex, lower sexual desire and satisfaction, as well as more feelings of distress about one’s sex life. However, this isn’t to say that parenthood necessarily means that you have to say goodbye to good sex, or even frequent sex. To the contrary, it is possible to have it all—you can be successful parents and passionate lovers at the same time.
In this article we will explore four keys to staying connected and reigniting sexual desire in parenthood.
1. Keep “In Touch” With Your Partner
When people start a new relationship, it’s often hard for them to keep their hands off of each other. However, physical touch has a tendency to fade over time, and parenthood often accelerates this trend. This is where sexual problems often begin to emerge.
Research has found that when couples stroke each other’s skin in a non-sexual way, it decreases their heart rate. Touch is comforting and soothing—it helps to relieve stress. Not only that, but touch releases the hormone oxytocin, which promotes feelings of being bonded to another person. So, if you’re not touching each other, you’re missing out on a lot of benefits!
Sex therapists have found that many couples who are experiencing sexual problems can often resolve them simply by adding more touch back into their relationships. The combined effect of stress relief and feeling connected is vital when it comes to feeling sexual desire—it helps put us in the right headspace to initiate sex, be open to a partner’s advances, and experience pleasure.
Find ways to increase the amount of touch in your relationship, whether that’s holding hands, stroking your partner’s arm or leg while you’re sitting on the couch, giving each other massages, or cuddling in bed.
2. Be Responsive to Your Partner’s Needs
One of the most common intimate issues experienced by parents is a sexual desire discrepancy, which occurs when one partner is in the mood, but the other is not. This makes sense because, on some days, one partner is bound to be more stressed or sleep-deprived than the other.
So how do you deal with this situation effectively? Research shows that parents who are high on what social scientists refer to as “sexual communal strength” tend to be more satisfied with both their sex lives and relationships. Sexual communal strength refers to being motivated to meet a partner’s needs without the expectation of anything in return.
In other words, it’s a motivation to put your partner’s needs ahead of your own sometimes. There are two elements of this: being motivated to meet your partner’s need for sex and being motivated to understand your partner’s need to not have sex.
The parents with the happiest sex lives tend to be the ones who really try to understand each other’s sexual needs and make sacrifices for the betterment of the relationship, such as by occasionally having sex when they aren’t completely in the mood because they truly want to make their partner happy.
However, let’s be clear: this isn’t to say that you should do things you really don’t want to do. Also, please note that this has to be a two-way street—both partners have to take turns prioritizing one another’s needs. If one person is constantly sacrificing while the other is always getting their way, that isn’t healthy.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Plan Your Trysts
A lot of couples think that sex is “supposed” to be spontaneous, so they sit around waiting for it to happen naturally, or they only initiate it when it feels like the “right” or “perfect” moment. However, this approach to sex is one that tends to lead to infrequent physical intimacy, especially among parents. Those “perfect” moments where you’re both in the mood tend to be elusive.
So, don’t be afraid to put sex on your schedule. Planning it doesn’t have to take the fun out of it—in fact, it can make the sex even better!
If you are planning to plan sex or when you know it’s going to happen, you can use that time to build anticipation, such as by sending each other sexts throughout the day or week.
Planning also ensures that sex isn’t just limited to those very short periods when you feel like you have to rush everything just for the sake of having sex. Sure, the occasional quickie can be hot, but sex tends to be better when you have a chance to slow down and take your time.
4. Find Ways to Be Intimate with the Kids at Home
One of the biggest roadblocks to sex for parents is this idea that you can’t be physically intimate with kids in the house because they might walk in on you or overhear. For this reason, it’s important to have a space that you feel is private and where you and your partner can relax and retreat on occasion.
This might mean putting a good lock on the bedroom door to prevent unexpected visitors. It might also mean playing white noise, soft music, or leaving the TV on while you make love. And, of course, it might also necessitate waiting until the kids are napping or sleeping or providing them with an engrossing activity or movie to occupy them while you focus on each other.
In short, identify your concerns and come up with practical and creative solutions that will allow you to feel at ease and find space for intimacy. And if you’re really worried about what the kids might say if they discover you having sex, come up with a script in advance to address the situation so that it doesn’t feel awkward.
Remember: it’s totally normal for parents to have sex! Sex is good for your health and for your relationship—and when your relationship is in a good place, that will only serve to make you better parents in the long run.