Maintaining a Healthy Sex Life as a Parent (Guest Post by Dr. Justin Lehmiller)

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Justin Lehmiller (Social Psychologist) wrote this article.

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. It can be difficult for parents to maintain healthy intimacy when their focus shifts away from their children and towards each other.

sex as parents

Indeed, Research has revealed 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.   

This article will discuss four key keys to keeping connected and reigniting your 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. Physical touch can fade over time and this is often accelerated by parenthood. This is when sexual problems often start to appear.

Research has shown that 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. Touch also releases the hormone oxytocin that promotes the feeling of being bonded with another person. So, if you’re not touching each other, you’re missing out on a lot of benefits!

According to sex therapists, many couples can resolve their sexual problems by simply adding more intimacy 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

Parents often experience a sexual desire conflict, which is when one spouse is having a bad mood while the other is happy. This is understandable as one partner may be more stressed or sleep-deprived than another on some days.

This is how to deal with it effectively. Research has shown 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. This approach to sex can lead to infrequent intimacy, especially between 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. Although a quickie can be very hot, sex is better when you have the chance to take it slow and enjoy it.

4. Find ways to be intimate at home with your kids

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.

To prevent uninvited visitors, this might be as simple as putting a lock on your bedroom door. This could also include playing white noise or soft music and leaving the TV on while you’re in love. You might have to wait until the children fall asleep, or provide them with something engaging or a movie to distract them, while you are focusing on your partner.

Identify your problems and then come up with creative and practical solutions that will help you feel comfortable and allow 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.

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