New Dads, Take Note: Being Empathetic Could Be Killing Your Sex Life

New dads, you may want to pay attention.

A new Canadian study examined the sex lives of new, first-time parents and found some telling results.

Published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, a survey of 255 first-time parents with infants found that new mothers reported lower sexual desire when their partner expressed more empathy.

That’s right; pretty much the opposite of what you’d expect, right?


“We had results that are all in line with empathy being good for both people, and then we have this one little finding that wasn’t consistent,” said the study’s lead author, Halifax-based psychologist Natalie Rosen. “I would like to replicate this in other studies before drawing grand conclusions.”

According to Rosen, these well-meaning new dads are perhaps so focused and intent on helping their wives deal with the whole new baby situation that they assume that steering clear of sex is the best idea.

But it may not be.

“They might be saying they’re OK with less sex,” said Rosen, a professor with the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Dalhousie University, who also works as a sex therapist.

“They might be saying, ‘I’m just going to kind of back off no matter what sexual needs I might have.’ That might actually lower the desire that the woman has.”

As Canadian Press reports, she witnesses this pattern when counselling people dealing with sexual dysfunctions.


“Partners think they’re being really understanding and supportive, but they’re actually just reinforcing and encouraging avoidance … It comes across as very supportive and both people think it’s a good thing, but it reinforces … that sex is not that important,” she says.

She does, however, acknowledge that it could be a mistake to assume that the father’s heightened empathy caused reduced sexual desires in their partners, as a casual link may be the other way around. Meaning, new moms who experienced reduced sexual desire may actually be causing their partners to express more empathy.

It’s also important to note that the women who said their partners were showing more empathy did not report lower levels of sexual satisfaction, despite their diminished sexual desire.

“You can be sexually satisfied and having no sex,” said Rosen. Fair enough.

As the researchers had predicted, the study also showed that both women and men who displayed more empathy toward their partners showed higher levels of both sexual satisfaction and successful relationship adjustments after a baby arrives.

Furthermore, the researchers studied something called dyadic empathy, which refers to the subjects’ self-reported feelings of empathy toward their romantic partners. Once again, women and men with more empathic partners reported higher sexual satisfaction and relationship adjustment (which really shouldn’t be too surprising to many).


So what does that mean for new or expectant parents?

“We have a tendency to focus on what goes wrong and what the challenges are, but we don’t give people a lot of information about what they can do to make things better,” Rosen said in an interview, according to the Canadian Press.

“We need to have messages out there about things couples can do to promote their well-being during the transition to parenthood … This study tells people a little bit about what they can do. Trying to see things from your partner’s perspective — that’s something that people can hold on to, especially for new fathers,” said Rosen.

She also stresses that sex needs to be talked about, highlighting that effective communication is key in understanding changing needs post-baby.

Another recent study co-authored by Rosen found that the severity of sexual concerns among 239 first-time parents was “highly prevalent and moderately distressing.”


“New parents reported concerns about when to reinstate sexual intercourse after childbirth, pain during intercourse, the impact of body image on sexual activity, and discrepancies in sexual desire between members of the couple,” the study says.

The parents were presented with a 20-item list of possible sexual concerns and asked to rank them on a scale. As many as 89 per cent of new mothers and 82 per cent of new fathers cited at least one concern, and about half of all parents experienced multiple concerns.

None of this surprises me, based on the conversations I have had with my married-with-children friends.

But the one thing I’ve also learned from my friends is this: fear not – your steamy pre-baby sex life will return if you want it to.