Having a great sex life isn’t always easy for parents. Past research has shown that couples with children have less satisfying sex lives and a greater sex drive disparity than their nonparent counterparts. These changes are not limited to those first few tentative years of parenthood but continue throughout time, and this is especially true for women.
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But according to new research, one thing that might separate parents with great sex lives from the parents whose sex lives lag is communication. And no, it’s not just about talking more. It’s about what researchers call “positive communication.”
A new study in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy surveyed 93 mixed-gender couples in their mid-30s with children about how they communicated with one another and about their sex lives. (Ninety-one percent of individuals identified as heterosexual, with 5.4% identifying as bisexual and 2.7% as pansexual.)
The results found that those who had high levels of positive communication had higher levels of sexual satisfaction in the relationship. Positive communication, according to previous research, includes four key elements: positive disclosure, physical and emotional intimacy, exchanging compliments, and expressing fondness.
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For women specifically, the factors that affect sexual desire are “partner-level, skill-based factors including ‘intimate communication’ and describe this communication as conversations that promote closeness through positive disclosure.” Essentially, feeling heard and listened to can be key to getting horny for your partner. The researchers write, “When a woman perceives her romantic partner expressing interest when she is disclosing something about herself, she tends to have higher levels of sexual desire for that partner.”
Additionally, the study found having a good opinion about your partner also improved sexual satisfaction among the parents. This tidbit might make you scratch your head and think, “Why would you be with someone you don’t like?” With all the trials and tribulations of parenthood, you can find yourself falling into a pit of resentment and anger toward your romantic partner.
This is why positive communication and “partner appraisal” (the researchers’ term for thinking your boo is awesome) go hand-in-hand. When you give your partner a sense that you feel fondly for them, both people will be more likely to have sexual feelings for each other and enjoy sex together. It’s easier to be turned on when you’re feeling affectionate toward your partner and you know they’re feeling affectionate toward you. In that same vein, the study found that women are more likely to report relationship satisfaction if their partner gave them words of affirmation.
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Parents would do well to keep this in mind and make an effort to make sure they’re still expressing affection and fondness toward one another. Compliments and talking positively to and about each other can make a big difference overall for how much sexual desire you feel toward each other. According to the authors, “positive communication is important for all romantic relationships, and this skill set may be vital for couples with children.”
Having children is super stressful, but in order to be your best self, a good partner, and a good parent, you need to be invested in your pair bond. And investing in great sex as parents is one good way to do that.