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Why Parents Should Make Sex A Priority (And 6 Ways To Do It!)

Jessa Zimmerman, M.A.
Sex Therapist By Jessa Zimmerman, M.A.
Sex Therapist
Jessa Zimmerman, M.A. is an AASECT-certified sex therapist, licensed couples’ counselor, author of Sex Without Stress, and the host of the Better Sex Podcast. She holds a bachelor's from Cornell University, a master’s in Psychology from Saybrook University, and has completed a certificate in Sex Therapy from the University of Michigan.
Why Parents Should Make Sex A Priority (And 6 Ways To Do It!)
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Nothing brings joy and wonder like being parents and sharing that together—but nothing brings quite as many challenges to your relationship, either.

Having kids is a major turning point in your life together, and it's hard to know exactly how big an impact it will make until you experience it. But maintaining your sex life through your parenting journey is a powerful way to keep your bond as a couple strong and stay connected to each other through the chaos of parenting.

Why sex is so different as parents.

Before you start rolling your eyes, know that I get it. Once you add children to your family, there are some monumental challenges to doing your relationship the same way you used to, especially in the sex department.

As every parent knows painfully well, time is its own beast to manage: Your workload increases dramatically, be it feeding and diapering, shuttling to daycare, carpooling, soccer practice, lunch packing, or laundry. But aside from how much more there is to do, the energy demands go way up as well. Not only are you busier, but many parents find they don't have the bandwidth by the end of the day to do more than decompress and head to bed. Your mental bandwidth may be filled with the logistics, planning, strategizing, and decision-making involved in parenting so that you don't think about your partner or your relationship very often. Many parents report being "touched out"—not as open to physical contact with their partner. Together, time and energy constraints can become a potent barrier to sex:

Privacy can be a real issue, too. Not only may the kids have freedom to roam in the house, walking in when they want or sleeping in your room, but you may barely have the space to finish a sentence or two without interruption. Some of this gets easier as the kids get older, but their presence in the house may affect your ability to relax and feel comfortable being intimate with your partner.

Lastly, your relationship may change as you adapt to your roles as parents. You step into a new level of adulting once you are raising kids, and sometimes that can change the way you look at each other. As you take on the additional workload of parenting, you may also fall into roles at home that separate the two of you, especially if you aren't happy with what falls on your pile. The differences of opinion that you may have with your partner about parenting can also cause strain, making it harder to want to connect with them in an intimate way.


Why parents should prioritize their sex life.

Given all these challenges, it's easy to become complacent about your sex life. People can get so busy with their live and their kids that they don't pay attention to it. They may believe their partner and their sex life can wait until some time in the future since the kids' needs are so immediate. But there are real benefits to maintaining focus on intimacy while you navigate parenting together:

1. It's good for the kids.

Putting your relationship first and staying close to each other models a healthy, intimate partnership. It creates a stable bond that can be the foundation of the household. The kids find security in knowing that their parents are happy and connected, even if it means they get slightly less attention. No matter how much they may squeal "Ew!" when you hug or kiss, they benefit from the knowledge that you love each other.

2. Intimacy can help you and your partner stay on the same team.

When you're both making the effort to stay connected and intimate, you will find that you feel closer. You will feel better about each other and less likely to fall into resentment and irritation. It's easier to collaborate on the demands of parenting when you stay on the same team, knowing that you matter to each other. Maintaining your sex life also lets you escape your parenting roles and reconnect with your partner as a lover and friend, creating resilience through the other challenges.


3. It keeps your cup filled.

Sex has benefits, and they may be even more important to reap while you're depleted through the work of raising kids. Sex is good for your heart, like exercise, and research has demonstrated time and time again that sex improves your sleep and reduces stress—vital assets for strung-out parents. It also improves your mood and increases your overall well-being. In a sense, having sex is a form of self-care—one that benefits your relationship and your family just as much as it benefits you yourself. As long as you are feeling good about your sex life with your partner, you will likely find all these benefits to make a big difference in your life.

How to keep sex in rotation.

So how do you invest in your sex life while juggling the kids and their needs? Here are a few strategies to try:


1. Schedule time.

Scheduling is not a dirty word. Given your busy lives, you will likely have to set aside time for chances to be intimate. Something else will have to give. Be willing to let the dishes wait, go to sleep just a little later, or pass up that book club.

Think of these times as opportunities for sex, but let go of the expectation that it has to be sex. Show up and connect with each other, allowing yourselves to shift gears from your parenting roles. Kiss, touch, play, and see where it goes.

2. Get away whenever possible.

It's also important to schedule dates and getaways as you can. Getting out of the house (or out of town) helps you step back into your relationship and your role as a partner and lover. Have some fun, away from the young ones. Do things that make you laugh, that tap into your passions, and that you can enjoy together. Your choices may be limited by finances or childcare, but it's worth fitting this time in as often as you can.


3. Train the kids.

Set the expectations with the kids that your relationship is a priority, and the two of you get some privacy and some alone time. Put a lock on your bedroom door. Teach them to knock and wait for an answer before they enter your room. Work with them to stop interrupting conversations but to wait to be included. Get them used to your date nights and weekend trips. Even if you're well into your parenting journey at this point, you can still establish new norms. It may take some time, but you get to set the tone and the expectations about how your family works.

4. Learn to be flexible.

You may need to adjust your expectations about what sex is and what time you can take while you're in the midst of raising young ones. The demands of parenting are great, and they do take a toll on your energy and your time. Learn to make the most of what you have. Enjoy whatever time and physical touch you can share. Be willing to be flexible about what you do together. There's an element of learning to take what you get while still working toward improving your sex life however you can.

5. Get help if needed.

Sometimes after a long while without sex or with many unsuccessful attempts at initiating it, some couples can start to fall into what I call the "avoidance cycle." If your sex life is feeling loaded or stressful instead of fun and satisfying, consider getting some help. A good sex therapist may get you back on track quickly by helping you unpack some of that tension and bad energy that may have settled around your sex life. (And if you're experiencing sexual dysfunction or pain, definitely make sure you consult a physician to get help—there are many treatment options for most kinds of sexual pain.) There are also many good books and resources available if you seek them out.

The main lesson is to address any problems, resentment, or disconnection rather than letting it fester. The sooner you tackle any obstacles, the easier it's going to be to solve, and the faster you will be back to enjoying your relationship.

6. Keep talking.

Communication with your partner is your throughline. Keep talking about how you feel, what you think, what you want, and how the two of you might address your challenges. Have regular check-ins with each other to keep those lines of communication open. Make sure you're on the same page about how you are proceeding through life as parents, but also make sure that you're still curious about each other and learning about who each of you are becoming as you grow in this process. If you have concerns about your relationship or your sex life, bring those up. If you have gratitude and appreciation for your partner, share it. Anything you can talk about you can probably solve.

The challenges to your relationship when you have kids are real, but the benefits of staying close and remaining intimate are greater. Making your intimate partnership and your sex life a priority will go a long way toward keeping you happy, both individually and as a couple. 

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