In a 2020 article published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers from the Center of Brain, Biology, and Behavior at the University of Nebraska studied couples pre- and post-pregnancy to understand the association between “sexual frequency and relationship quality” and its context in the postpartum sexual relationship.
For many couples, concerns of becoming parents and sexual intimacy expectations following the birth of a baby are valid. The researchers note that, from an evolutionary standpoint, decreased sexual activity plays an important role in focusing “parental investment in the current offspring.” Researchers at the Center sought to test their theory using behavioral observations and interviews. A longitudinal study followed 159 heterosexual couples across their pregnancy journey, noting changes in emotional intimacy, received partner support, observed relationship quality, and sexual frequency.
Based on the understanding of how relationships change during “important reproductive changes,” researchers predicted a greater decline in sexual activity among couples with “higher relationship quality.” Their hypotheses proved correct: results from the study showed less postpartum sexual activity but greater emotional intimacy and support during partners’ pregnancy period than those who reported less intimate and supportive relationships.
The article cites numerous other clinical studies on sexual intimacy and relationship quality in the postpartum period, pointing out new mothers’ concerns of sexual decline being influenced by body and hormone changes. Several studies highlight the benefits of communication building and expressing preferences in sexual function, particularly during postpartum, but in other stages of life as well. The researchers emphasize that rather than stressing about the outcome of their post-birth sex life, parents should adopt a perspective of how they can deepen their sexuality and intimacy to take on new meaning in their roles as parents.
In closing, researchers point out that having a “close and supportive bond during pregnancy” is more important for parental investment than concerns of lower sexual frequency. In fact, healthcare providers and parents should be mindful of messages to new mothers encouraging them to “bounce back” to physical intimacy levels prior to pregnancy. Instead, a healthier approach that sets expectations of changes in sexual frequency may help new parents understand that less sex does not necessarily equate to declines in relationship quality. From a reproductive standpoint, changes in sexual frequency are normal and to be expected as parents focus on raising new offspring and strengthen their family dynamic.
A Close and Supportive Interparental Bond During Pregnancy Predicts Greater Decline in Sexual Activity From Pregnancy to Postpartum: Applying an Evolutionary Perspective
Tierney K. Lorenz, Erin L. Ramsdell, and Rebecca L. Brock
Frontiers in Psychology, January 2020