Sensual and Sexual Marital Contentment in Parents of Small Children-A Follow-Up Study When the First Child Is Four Years Old

By Ahlborg, Tone; Rudeblad, Kristina et al. | The Journal of Sex Research, July-September 2008 | Go to article overview
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Sensual and Sexual Marital Contentment in Parents of Small Children-A Follow-Up Study When the First Child Is Four Years Old


Ahlborg, Tone, Rudeblad, Kristina, Linner, Sarah, Linton, Steven, The Journal of Sex Research


Becoming a parent for the first time contributes to many changes in a couple's relationship. These changes may be both positive and negative and affect both partners in the relationship. In contrast to earlier studies focusing on the experience of becoming a first-time parent (Ahlborg, Dahlof, & Hallberg, 2005; Belsky & Rovine, 1990; Cowan & Cowan, 1999), this study explored changes in the relationship of parents with small children over time. Earlier research has shown that sexual intimacy is of great importance for a satisfying relationship (von Sydow, 1999). It has also shown that sexuality is one area where changes are evident after pregnancy and delivery (Olsson, Lundqvist, Faxelid, & Nissen, 2005). Since sexuality is important to a couple's relationship at first year after delivery, this study aims to examine parents' experience of sensual and sexual contentment when the first child is 4 years old. A central question is if the changes that occur after the birth of the first child remain 4 years later. Especially in Scandinavia, where more parents are cohabiting than being married, there is a lack of research concerning the development of the parents' relationship over a longer period of time and the experience of sensuality and sexuality in the role of a partner and parent.

A study that examined when parents resume sexual intercourse after delivery found that sexual satisfaction was low 1 month postpartum but gradually increased during the first year after delivery (Hyde, DeLamater, Plant, & Byrd, 1996). The study also showed that it is more common for mothers to experience diminished sexual desire than fathers. Another study of 820 respondents came to similar results about sexual desire and also found that the majority of parents had sexual intercourse once to twice a month when the baby was 6 months old (Ahlborg, Dahlof, & Hallberg, 2005).

When the frequency of sexual intercourse is low, the sensuality in the relationship might compensate for sexuality (Ahlborg & Strandmark, 2001). Sensuality is here defined as an exchange of tenderness among lovers like hugs, kisses, cuddling, and caressing, while sexuality includes this, but also touching the genitals and coitus (Ahlborg et al., 2005).

Sensuality is related to sexuality, and therefore they are often expressed together, meaning that couples who are sensual with each other also have sex more frequently (Ahlborg et al., 2005). Research has shown that good communication, including mutual confirmation, is of importance for sensual and sexual well-being (Ahlborg & Strandmark, 2001). A study found that both men and women experienced a decrease in closeness and sexuality when their baby was 1 year old (Wadsby & Sydsjo, 2001).

The new family member is a great source of happiness but can also contribute to various strains. The lack of sleep and less time for leisure activities are strains that mainly affect mothers (Olsson et al., 2005). Some mothers give priority to sleep and time for themselves instead of sexual activities with their partner (Olsson et al., 2005). Many parents also experience the baby as a focus of attention, which could strengthen or degrade the relationship (Ahlborg & Strandmark, 2001). In emotionally and sensually strengthened relationships, mothers and fathers confirmed one another well and equally shared the responsibility for the child and housework, while fathers in relationships that had deteriorated felt emotionally rejected when the mothers devoted most of their time to the baby (Ahlborg & Strandmark, 2001).

Belsky and Rovine (1990) found that the experience of becoming a parent differed between couples. Some experience diminishing feelings of love toward their partner, more conflicts, impaired communication, and less satisfaction with the relationship. Others experienced positive changes in the relationship during the transition to parenthood.

That men and women have different sexual desires is supported by research showing that men more often think about sex, have more sexual fantasies, and experience a greater sexual need (Peplau, 2003).

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