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Parents find it challenging to be intimate when they have young children, research finds


Conditions relating to sex can change with the arrival of children. For a couple who are finding it difficult to achieve pregnancy, the transition begins even before conception. If they are to cope with what is a pivotal readjustment, a couple’s ability to communicate and maintain a feeling of closeness is crucial.

Photo of couple kissing

Becoming a parent can represent a major and tumultuous change of direction. Life as an individual and as a couple alters radically.

“It is common for sexual desire to wane when the children are young. I meet many parents of young children who come to us because of loss of libido,” said Eva Elmerstig, clinical sexologist and researcher at the Centre for Sexology and Sexuality Studies at Malmö University.

No time for each other 

Sexual desire is affected by a host of factors, with tiredness and lack of sleep topping the list. For many parents of young children, daily life can be an uphill struggle. They work during the day, they are woken up at night, and they run the children to any number of activities. They are also trying to renovate the house, go to the gym, and meet friends. No wonder couples have virtually no time together, and this could have a negative impact on their sex life.

Sometimes it is simply a case of accepting that during certain periods in life sexuality takes a back seat. The important thing is to communicate with each other and to maintain a sense of closeness. Otherwise there is a very real risk that problems will emerge if you distance yourself. According to Eva Elmerstig, people are very vulnerable when their children are young, and it is a time when many couples separate.

“If you manage to preserve a sense of closeness in your relationship, sexual desire usually returns.”

New conditions for couples who are finding it difficult to achieve pregnancy 

For couples who are finding it difficult to achieve pregnancy, the sexual mood changes – even before conception. 

“For many, their desire for sex gradually disappears when they’re trying to achieve pregnancy,” states Eva Elmerstig. Together with Ulrika Lundin, sexologist and social worker at the Family Law Department in Jönköping, she has recently published a study on how sexuality is affected by involuntary childlessness.

The study shows that it is not an isolated problem. “Couples who previously had a rich and satisfying sex life state that it is reduced to something that is technical and mechanical. It becomes purely a matter of creating a child and sexual desire and pleasure are secondary. The man is under constant pressure to achieve an erection and ejaculation at a given time, and the women feels she has been reduced to the role of a container.

“The couple risk developing irreparable sexual problems if they don’t do something about it.”

The healthcare system ought to discuss the issue of sex

According to Eva Elmerstig, it is important that the healthcare system addresses sexuality when a couple seek help due to involuntary childlessness.

“It is easier to prevent problems if you are aware at an early stage that the conditions surrounding sexuality will change. Simply discussing the issue could have a positive effect, as it offers the couple an opportunity to air their problems. Or being given simple tips on how to handle the situation, such as switching off from the idea of creating a child outside ovulation.” 

Last updated by Amanda Malmquist