Being a parent has many joys, but a great sex life is not usually one of them.
Even after the “shock and awe” of the time-intensive baby years has passed, many parents feel too tired or busy to have the sex life they once enjoyed with their partner.
But recent research has promising news for parents who wish their sex life were more like it was before kids.
The key finding from this research? Couples who split childcare duties evenly between both partners have the best sex lives, as measured by both frequency and quality of sex. These couples also have the most satisfying relationships in general.
Researchers studied data on almost 500 couples, dividing them into three groups: those in which the woman did most of the childcare (60% or more), those in which the man did most of the childcare, and those in which both partners split the childcare duties. (One limitation of this study is that it did not also include data on same-sex couples).
Then they compared these three groups with each other in terms of frequency of sex, quality of sex, and overall relationship quality. They found that couples who shared childcare responsibilities reported the best sex lives and most satisfying relationships.
Notably, the couples that reported the lowest quality sex life and relationship were the ones in which the woman did the lion’s share of childcare tasks.
One of the study’s authors says it best: “One of the most important findings is that the only childcare arrangement that appears really problematic for the quality of both a couple’s relationship and sex life is when the woman does most or all of the childcare.”
This research does not tell us why couples who share childcare duties have better sex lives, but as a psychologist who works extensively with couples and parents, I suspect that one reason is this:
Sex in a committed relationship is most likely to happen when both partners experience emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy can’t happen when one partner feels that his/her needs are taking a back seat more often than not.
For example, if Dad typically comes home from work and plops down on the couch while Mom makes dinner and corrals the kids—after her own day of full-time work at the office or with the kids—this pattern over time is likely to create resentment and emotional distance.
Emotional distance is a sex-killer in a relationship.
Yes, Dad is tired and needs a break, and so does Mom. Taking care of children can be tedious and exhausting, there’s no way around that.
However, when one person in a relationship is regularly not pitching in on the shared project of child-rearing, that lack of participation can erode the critical sense of “we’re in this together” that underpins a satisfying relationship.
In contrast, when both parents treat raising kids as a shared project with shared responsibilities, they are more likely to see their relationship as a true partnership with give and take.
This, in turn, supports emotional intimacy, and emotional intimacy is a cornerstone of good sex.
So, if your sex life is suffering, take a look at how you and your partner share the work of parenting.
Here are a few ways to get started:
1.Talk to your partner and strive to find ways to create more balance in your childcare responsibilities.
This can be difficult, especially for couples that have become entrenched in a routine (e.g., one watches TV while the other one cooks or cleans up), even if that routine is not working for both individuals.
2. If you are the one in the relationship that is regularly doing the majority of childcare, don’t just point the finger at your partner. While he/she is also responsible for the current state of affairs, you must also ask yourself what role you have played in creating the current situation.
3. If introspection and talking to your partner aren’t helping in your situation, consider seeking professional support, such as couples counseling, to improve awareness and communication in your relationship.