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Can Your Sex Life Survive Having Children?

couple with their child in bedMany unhappy marriages have one thing in common: children. According to marital researchers at the Gottman Institute, in a study of 130 newlywed couples, two-thirds of new parents self-reported that they were very unhappy after their first child was born.

What differentiates the couples who thrive after having children and those who struggle to survive?

One thing’s for sure: how a couple adjusts their sex life will have dramatic implications on how happy they are post-baby and beyond. After childbirth, a drop in female libido is completely normal and has to do with a variety of factors. A woman’s estrogen levels (a key hormone in desire and arousal) plummet rapidly in the postpartum period. In addition to estrogen changes, prolactin, a hormone secreted in the brain that causes milk letdown, increases while a woman is breastfeeding. This can cause low libido and vaginal dryness. These hormonal changes, in addition to exhaustion, birth trauma, depression, C-sections, tearing, stitches, and/or episiotomy, create a difficult transition from pregnancy to resuming a happy and healthy sex life.

According to the researchers at the Gottman Institute, even a full three years after childbirth, women report feeling “not very sexual” and wanting sex only every week or every other week. Men, on the other hand, reported wanting sex every day and reported feeling extremely sexual.

Once married with children, couples often fall into post-childbirth patterns that may involve irregular or unfulfilling sex. So how can you avoid this rut? Here are some things to consider:

  1. Happy couples make happy children. You may have found that since having kids, you hardly spend time together. You used to enjoy going to the movies or going camping, but it seems like you never do that anymore. You’re stuck in the grind of diapers, permission slips, packing lunches, and trying to convince your children to go to sleep. Many couples forget to focus on each other and get very caught up in their children. Some parents feel guilty or selfish when they think about spending time alone together. In fact, research consistently supports the notion that a strong marital relationship positively impacts the children and the family as a whole. What this means is simple: don’t feel guilty about a periodic date night or outing.
  2. Schedule weekly intimacy. Set aside one or two nights a week for intimacy and head to bed a little earlier than usual. If you’re too tired at night, maybe set the alarm for before the kids wake up in the morning. If you create this time, you can train your mind to look forward to the night and to be thinking about intimacy. Just because you are not in the mood does not mean you cannot get in the mood. Don’t wait for desire to strike you. Remember: desire does not always come before intimacy. Intimacy can generate desire.
  3. Keep sleeping boundaries with your children. There are many wonderful benefits of co-sleeping for both parents and children. It certainly promotes healthy attachments and provides for a lot of great cuddling time. While of course there are couples who make it work, in general it takes a toll on the sex life. By establishing clearer bedroom boundaries, a couple has the space and time to be a twosome instead of always part of a family unit. They have privacy with a closed or locked door, and they can be themselves. Women, who often have a greater need for cuddling than men, can seek it from their partners, which in turn promotes a healthy marital bond. Put simply, couples have more opportunity for regular sex when children are not in the same room—or same bed, for that matter. And regular sex is a key to a strong and happy marriage.
  4. Schedule family time, couples time, and individual time. Everyone needs a balance between family time and individual time. Try to make quality time with the kids and then create quality time for yourself. Having good quality time with the children, such as playing games, taking hikes, or going on bike rides, will reinforce a family bond. Be sure to schedule quality time as a couple as well. You will have a stronger marriage when you have both individuation and space to desire one another. Keeping a strong marital bond while children are in the home requires setting boundaries so that there is family time, couples time, and “me time.” All three are essential to keeping the marriage the foundation of a strong family.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mieke Rivka Sidorsky, LCSW-C

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Lesley

    July 15th, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    There was a time when my husband and I completely forgot to make time for ourselves and focused entirely on the kids. Let’s just say that this was not a happy time for any of us. We were not happy mainly because we made no time for us anymore, but once we started scheduling that time for us again then we found that intimacy that we missed and really did crave from each other. I don’t really know how we let things get so bad to begin with but we did and we had to make up for a whole lot of lost time between us. It wasn’t easy but we managed to make to all work out. I don’t ever wnat to have go through all of that again because there was atime when I thought that we had really lost each other and our marriage too.

  • Caroline

    July 15th, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    My guess would be that the sex lives remain the best for the couples who make the marriage come first, then the kids

  • rondi

    July 16th, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    We made the mistake of letting both of our girls sleep with us and it has been quite the chore to get them to their own beds! To say that our marriage has taken somewhat of a beating as a result is an understatement! It’s hard to be intimate with two toddlers in the bed with you, and when they aren’t and you do have a little bit of time alone you are so tired from lack of sleep with said toddlers that all you wnat to do is take a nap!

  • JON

    July 17th, 2014 at 6:11 AM

    Sure I like sex as much as the next man but what I found that I missed the most sometimes was just a little time alone to talk, to hug, to hold hands without having kiddos climbing all over us and getting in the middle of us all the time. We now try to do better at scheduling that kind of time for ourselves and having a date every week, even if it’s just going out on the patio and having some alone time with coffee before the kids get up in the morning.
    It really is the small things that help hold you together.

  • aria

    July 17th, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    I don’t think that you have to go into all the details with the kids but I do think that it is important for them to understand when mom and dad have the door closed and locked they are having important time for them and they cannot be disturbed right them unless it is an emergency.

    Is there anything worng with that? I don’t think so. I don’t think that that is being selfish or mean, but it is all about carving out time for you and your partner so that the two of you have the time together that you need and deserve.

  • Bryan

    July 18th, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    I say hang in there til the kids are about 12 and want nothing to do with you anymore and you’ve got it made.

  • camilla

    July 20th, 2014 at 5:58 AM

    Hahaha this is so funny because my husband and I just had this same conversation a few weeks ago, wondering where all of our spontaneity had gone since we had kids, and we joked that they just sucked it right out of you.

    And you know, there are times when that really feels like it is the truth! You give them so much that at the end of the day it is hard to feel like there is anything left over for anyone else. You have to continue to make each other your main priority or it can all slip away just like that.

  • Steph L.

    July 21st, 2014 at 4:24 AM

    when my kids get older I want them to look at their dad and I and think that they want to have the kind of marraige that we had. we have our ups and doesn too, that’s for sure, but for the most part we are still very much in love and have always managed to make time for each other even when it felt like the energy just wasn’t there. we all get tired. we all have things going on, but we all need to know that if our marriage is going to stay strong then we have to put one another first.

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