Sex and Parenting

Probably one of the most popular topics on parenting, mommy, and daddy blogs is what happens to your sex life when you have kids and what you can do about it. This is a very well-trodden topic and one that is clearly a challenge in every relationship where kids are involved.  This can be complicated by any number of factors.  Sexual relationships take all different forms.  Each variety can cause its own complications.  Regardless of the sexual relationship the merger of having a healthy sex life and raising children is fraught with peril and it appears that few couples can pull this off well.  Before we throw children into the mix, the numbers on people’s satisfaction with their sex life are not good.  The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy published a study of Australians between the ages of 16 and 64.  Only 46% of men and 58% of women in heterosexual relationships were satisfied with the frequency of sex in their life.  According to the study, dissatisfied men overwhelmingly desired more frequent sex.  Notably only two in three of the dissatisfied women were looking for more sex.  It should also be noted that the age group between 35 and 44 was the least satisfied group.  These numbers are independent of whether the couple had children.  This seems to indicate that people in general want more sex and some women less.

According to a Parents Magazine / HLN poll of 1000 respondents who are parents 45% said they had sex with their partner at least once or twice a week.  30% said once or twice a month, 10% less than once a month, and 15 % less frequently than once a month.  This lines up fairly well with the statistics about sex frequency and the general population.  So it may not actually be the case the parents are having less sex than the normal population.  The sources of this narrative should probably be explored.  In the same Parents Magazine poll there may be a few clues as to what is going on.  According to this poll they found that 30% of those polled did not believe that their partner was “pulling their weight” at home and a whopping 66% of respondents believed that their relationship with their children was more important than their relationship with their partner.  These numbers show that in relationships where kids are involved first, there may be a fair amount of simmering resentment and that at least one partner is likely entirely kid-focused.  It’s not a stretch to conclude that the kids-centered partner may also be the one who is harboring the resentment.

There is no evidence to support that the birth of a child in and of itself is the cause of a slowdown in sexual frequency.  According to a survey by prior to the birth of a child partners report on average having sex two to four times per week.  Couples in their twenties in this survey averaged closer to four and couples in their forties averaged closer to two.  Typically parents abstained for about two months after the birth of a child.  Surprisingly, most couples reported that during the first year after the childbirth their sexual activity returned to the pre-pregnancy frequency.  Realistically, according to the data, it appears that the drop in sexual frequency appears to be the result of either age or the longevity of the relationship itself rather than the birth of the child.  Though the narrative suggests that the demands and challenges of parenting may be the source of this decline yet there is not evidence to support this.

It appears then that parents are using their role as parent as a reason to avoid dealing with sexual dissatisfaction in a relationship that has occurred for other reasons.  It is probably best for parents to take on the topic of their dissatisfaction with sexual frequency as having sources other than their children.  It is likely that this will be a more productive conversation.  The largest role parenting seems to have in sexual dissatisfaction is its ability to provide an easy and excusable out for not dealing with other issues.  Those issues are varied primarily due to the parent’s decisions surrounding their sex life.

Most online narratives about parenting and sexuality seems to surround heterosexual monogamous couples who have children living with them.  This is what our American society tends to view as “normal”.  That is probably, at best, debatable.  Given this most writers tend to suggest a series of ways to increase sexual frequency.  It is common for writers to suggest protecting time for “date nights”.  Often articles suggest the purchase of “sexy” clothing and consider exploring having sex in places in the house outside the bedroom.  Beyond this, it is very common that alcohol (particularly wine) is suggested as part of the solution.  Whether you have kids or not, you are likely to have more sex if you go on dates, dress in sexy ways, experiment, and drink.  None of this has anything to do with the relationship between sexual frequency and children.  Any couple in a long-term monogamous relationship will grow comfortable with each other and stop dating.  It is normal to expect that the frequency of intercourse will naturally drop.  It is unrealistic to assume that if you didn’t have kids that your sex life will suddenly become fabulous.

Looking at the above list, one item that is a frequent flyer in articles ostensibly about increasing the sex drive of parents is the addition of drinking alcohol.  Though it is likely that the addition of alcohol is likely to increase the probability of intercourse through the lowering of inhibitions it seems odd that a couple would be encouraged to drink as a way to achieve this end.  It is clear from the above statistics that people are generally are less than happy about the frequency of sex in their lives.  The fact that more than half of parents have shifted their primary relationship away from their partner to their child can not be cured by a glass of wine.  This is likely a case of encouraging someone to use alcohol to “numb up” and continue to avoid what is suppressing the libido or keeping someone from feeling genuinely aroused by their partner.  Hyper-focus on the needs of your children to the detriment of your own needs is the root problem.  The glass of wine may give you the ability to relate to your partner more sexually in the moment, but once you leave the effects of the wine, the sexual drive issue will remain.  The root issue is not dealt with.  The parent being absorbed in the parent-child relationship is no different from a person without children being absorbed in their work life.  Both are choosing the reward of something other than the loving relationship with their partner as a source of happiness.  Both can have sex by altering their mental state and then return immediately to their out of balance reality.  Drink wine if you want a glass of wine.  Don’t drink wine to have sex.  Don’t use the fact that you are a parent as an excuse to drink wine to have sex.

The heterosexual monogamous relationship is far from the ubiquitous in America today.  According to, as of 2015, 35% of all children live in single-parent households. For White children this number is around 25%, for Hispanic or Latino children this number is 44%, and for Black or African American children this number is 66%.  It makes sense to address the reality of the single-parent as part of this article. A quick perusal of articles about the sex lives of single parents immediately bring up two questions.  One, what do you do with the kids when you are dating?  Two, how do you find a guy/girl who is okay with you having kids?  These are very real questions.  However, again the numbers are still in tact here.  According to the Center for Sexual Health Promotion 5% of singles between 25 and 59 report having sex two to three times per week 25% of married men and women in the same range report that they are having sex at this frequency.  In short married men and women are not only having more sex, but they are having a lot more sex.  Single parents are similar to their non-parent partners and have similar problems.  The constant issue for the single in the sexual arena appears to be finding a suitable partner for sex.  The glaring fact here is that if they found such a suitable partner there is an increased likelihood that they will not remain single long.  If they are in a satisfying sexual relationship than they will not self-describe as single.

It seems that the societal norm that sex is something that is part of a long-term relationship is alive and well.  This appears to be the single largest thing that inhibits the single parent’s sex life.  Even if the sitter could be gotten, even if a suitable partner could be found it appears that most singles will not engage in sex until they are also in a longer-term relationship.  It is clear that when a single moves into a long-term relationship their sexual frequency will likely increase.  As much as our society appears to exhibit casual sex between singles to be normal the numbers do not support this.  The worn advice that single-parents need to “get out there” and “get their groove on” more may be misguided.  If the single-parent is seeking more satisfaction in sexual frequency the likely solution is to go looking for a partner with whom they can build a solid friendship and let that grow into something that can be the context that can sustain a healthy sexual relationship.  This, again though, is not advice that is not in anyway uniquely geared toward single-parents any more than it is toward all sex-starved singles.

With respect to same-sex parents there may be some difference.  According to a study by Dr. Kate Prickett  same-sex parents are reporting more frequent sexual intercourse than their heterosexual peers, and are reporting a 40% increase of time dedicated to parenting than those peers.  This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that parenting sucks the life out of ones sexual existence.  It may actually suggest that an investment into parenting may actually increase ones sex drive.  There, however, is a certain logic here.  If one sees their family life as an integrated whole with sex and parenting as not being in opposition, but rather sees sex and parenting two actions that support the whole of a relationship then maybe parenting can be an activity that leads to more sex and greater happiness with sexual frequency.  Perhaps the same-sex parents have something to share with the rest of us.

There has been countless articles written on how to make parenting and having a happy sex life work together and the statistics seem to point to a simpler way of thinking than what most of these articles propose. Blaming your children for your flagging sex life will do nothing to raise happy healthy children, nor will it do anything to improve your sex life.  These two aspects of your life are related but not in the way you may think.  Being a contentious parent can be for someone with kids part of feeling sexy.  Being and feeling sexy are part of being able to function as a confident parent.  People who can build successful friendships with good boundaries seem to be the group that are having frequent sex and seem to be also the group that are successfully parenting.  You can buy all the sexy outfits, all the wine, and spend all the baby sitting money you want, but unless you are happy as a parent you are not likely to be having a lot of sex.  This appears to be the counter-intuitive conclusion that the statistics are pointing to.  The true enemies of frequent sex for parents appears to be the same enemy to frequent sex for non-parents: superficiality, reliance on externals, and compartmentalization.  One is not going to be able to have a rich sexually fulfilling reality so long as that reality lacks substance and integrity.  Superficial compartmentalized people are simply just not an attractive partner and consequentially remain sexually unfulfilled.  Unfortunately, this group may be in the majority in America today.

The take away here is that having a fulfilling sex life as a parent starts with making the fundamental choice to live an integrated and happy life.  Your sex life is not independent of your life as a parent.  This, in short, says that, though parenting is not the domain of a heterosexual couple, it is ultimately the domain of a couple.  This is not to dismiss the heroic efforts of single parents, it does however claim that the single parent is in a better place if they are having frequent sex.  They are having frequent sex if they have a regular partner in the context of a long-term relationship.  They are most likely in that long-term relationship if they are parenting together.  The single parent has a barrier.  The advice to just get out there and have sex is bad advice for the single parent.  The advice should probably be, make a friend.  Make a good friend that is a potential partner.  Work at that relationship.  If that relationship is supportive of you as a parent then invest in it personally and sexually.  If not, make another friend.  In short, it is not good for a parent to be alone.

In a committed couple, the advice is consistently to do something without your kids to renew your sex life.  The counter-intuitive answer may actually be to do something together with your kids.  Focus on how you and your partner relate togogethr with your children and let that be how you fall in love again.  Instead of trying to fit sex in or find ways to get into the mood, realize that being a successful parent is actually sexy.  Yes, after a long day with the kids you are likely to be tired and likely to be ready for bed.  Take the time after that day to share with each other what you enjoyed about spending time as a family and how you enjoyed seeing your partner interacting with your children and you may be surprised that such a conversation may actually lead to a mutually satisfying sexual encounter.  Sex is born out of confidence and intimacy.  It’s not about stepping away from your life, but about stepping into it and doing so in such a way that you can’t help but share that with someone in a very physical way.

There is nothing more sexy than two parents walking arm in arm behind their children who are playing happily.  There is nothing more sexy than being two parents who worked hard to make sure their kids are able to stand on their own two feet.  Sex is not something that stands apart from parenthood.  It is literally the act that creates both children and parents, and it is the act that ultimately celebrates family and parenthood.  If you are dissatisfied with your sexual frequency, first, find the person you can parent with and build a friendship that supports you both as parents and then, let that work as parents be the source of a celebration that involves your bodily communication with each other.  Its all about wholeness, hard-work, and integrity.

2 thoughts on “Sex and Parenting

  1. Wow, what a great article! Thank you for sharing. We are due our first child in May so looking forward to seeing how parenthood affects our relationship, no going back now!

    1. | I hope their &#dr;022ecor8ing with Howard Benson” doesn’t take as long as it has taken with Blindside… If I remember correctly, weren’t they working on their new album with him? 🙂

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