Mama Needs Some Sugar: How Parents Can Maintain A Sex Life

This vintage illustration depicts the traditional western gender role for women, which involved performing femininity by cheerfully preparing tasty meals and keeping the house, the kids and herself looking good for the man of the house and the neighbors. She was not believed to have sexual needs and any malaise about her duties was attributed to mental illness. Times have changed (thank goodness!) and now the recipe for marital bliss calls for keeping both parents happy with equal parts shared responsibilities and shared goals/interests, a dash of spontaneity, and a heaping helping of passion.

Wait a minute, why are we thinking about mums having sex? While many people do not like to imagine their own mothers engaging in sexual activity, hopefully parents across the globe are doing just that.

As a landmark research study revealed and more recent longitudinal research supports, sexual satisfaction leads to higher relationship quality (which in turn leads to greater stability) – a phenomena that is also true for parents! However, culturally in America, we stop seeing people as sexual beings after they become parents – especially in the case of mothers. We tend to view mothers in a non-sexual context, hence the often negative responses and embarrassment women experience when they “display” their culturally-sexualized breasts to partake in the natural and healthy maternal act of breastfeeding. The transition to parenting is particularly difficult for women.

Shapiro, Gottman and Carrere followed newlywed couples over six years and found that new mothers are significantly more relationally unsatisfied compared to partnered women without kids and new fathers. In a national study of couples married for five years or less, Risch, Riley and Lawler found that balancing work, family, and frequency of sexual relations were the top two issues reported by couples. In a series of interviews with professional mothers across 13 years, women reported wanting to improve their roles as wives more so than their roles as mothers. Perhaps because tending to the romantic relationship is last on the agenda for many parents after employed work, childcare, household labor, and sleep consume the mere 24 hours in a given day, it’s no wonder that many parents feel as though their romantic and sexual lives are strained.

I’m Too Tired for Sex (And That’s Okay)

Ok, so is there any good news for parents too boost their struggling sex lives? Actually, there are some simple ways parents can buffer against the negative relational impact of raising children in a busy world.

  1. Have sex together not alone. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but recent research (currently under review) conducted by the author and Kinsey Institute affiliates has found that dyadic sex (not solitary masturbation) predicts sexual satisfaction among partnered mothers. So if you’re feeling frisky, make an effort to include your partner.
  2. Express positive thoughts or feelings about each other. Research has found that expressing fondness and having positive things to say about your partner can buffer against the negative influences of low self-esteem and depression, leading to more satisfied romantic relationships.
  3. Finally, regardless of your employment status, figure out ways to display your unique strengths and build your identity as a person. Research of data from two large samples of couples suggests that the quality and saliency of a role better predict sexual satisfaction for mothers than looking at the hours worked outside of the home.

Though becoming a new parent offers challenges, parents’ satisfaction also varies as their children age and every family is different with unique strengths and areas for growth. These are some general research-based tips to help parents validate devoting a little more time or energy to maintaining the passion in their relationships.

Sexual Desire Among Mothers: Not As Low As You Might Think!