Ways to Avoid the Post-Partum Sex Slump as New Parents

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Becoming first-time parents is a profound life transition, triggering complex emotions. While it can be joyful, it also comes with significant challenges that can strain a relationship. The sudden shift in roles and responsibilities coupled with the demands of caring for a newborn often leads to less personal time for partners to connect.

A 2021 study found that one side-effect of becoming parents includes a drop in the couple’s sexual well-being. Researchers found that during pregnancy, sexual behavior declines, especially during the third trimester, with perinatal couples experiencing lower desire and sexual satisfaction. Couples face a “sex slump” up to three months postpartum and may only fully resume sexual activity after six months or more.

The physical toll of childbirth, hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, and emotional stress can decrease libido and make intimacy unappealing or uncomfortable. A lack of time and privacy for sexual activity and medical advice to abstain postpartum can also leave couples wary of sexual intimacy.

However, with patience, compassion, and mutual respect, partners can rebuild intimacy as they navigate the complexities of parenthood together.

Here are two ways to overcome the postpartum sex slump as first-time parents.
Remember the Power of Affection

Affectionate behaviors such as touching, caressing, and kissing tend to decline from mid-pregnancy to one year postpartum. Birthing parents may be all “touched out” through caring for an infant or breastfeeding or view affectionate touch as a precursor to sexual activity, which they may not be ready for.

Affectionate touch is an important way through which partners communicate support, availability, and intimacy. Partners who believe that touch helps them regulate difficult emotions might foster an environment in which gestational parents also feel more understood and cared for and who, in turn, are more likely to maintain affectionate behaviors during pregnancy.

Couples need to turn towards each other in the very period that tends to drive them apart and prioritize intimacy and emotional closeness. Communicating openly about needs, desires, and concerns regarding intimacy can foster understanding and empathy, bringing them closer.

First-time parents can also incorporate more affectionate touch by prioritizing small moments of physical closeness throughout the day, such as hugs, kisses, and hand-holding, even while caring for their newborn.

Avoid Romantic Catastrophizing

A catastrophizing mindset can lead individuals to perceive minor issues as insurmountable. One may start to assume the worst about a partner’s actions or intentions, anticipating relationship failure based on small disagreements or constantly worrying about potential betrayal or heartbreak.

First-time parents usually undergo a higher number of relationship conflicts during the perinatal period and their responses to these moments are vital to the well-being of the relationship. Researchers found that if either partner responds to interpersonal conflicts with romantic catastrophizing, it can make them magnify relationship challenges, such as their sexual difficulties.

They found that greater relationship catastrophizing was, in turn, associated with greater sexual distress and lower levels of sexual satisfaction and desire.

Here are a few ways to unlearn romantic catastrophizing.
  • Thought-challenging. Challenge negative thoughts by questioning their validity and considering alternative perspectives.
  • Setting realistic expectations. Understanding that changes in sexual frequency and desire are common during the perinatal period can alleviate pressure and reduce anxiety that the relationship is failing.
  • Practicing mindfulness. Staying present at the moment can help prevent rumination on worst-case scenarios and help couples slow down enough to process their emotions.
  • Focusing on love. Reminding oneself of the positive aspects of the relationship and what has been going well can counteract catastrophizing.
  • Seeking professional support. Mental health professionals can provide valuable tools for managing anxious thoughts and relationship stress and promoting healthier relationship dynamics.

In the whirlwind of becoming first-time parents, it’s crucial to remember that nurturing your relationship is as essential as caring for your newborn. It’s imperative to give each other the time and space to heal and adjust after childbirth, without any pressure to resume sexual activity prematurely.

With time and intentional efforts to reconnect, new parents can navigate the postpartum period with greater resilience and better preserve their connection.