New study confirms that children really are the best contraception

Couple angry in bed
Children really are the best contraception, a study has found. Photo credit: Getty Images

A new study has confirmed that when it comes to contraception, children really are one of the best forms of birth control.

Researchers from Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia have determined that not only is parenting a young infant exhausting, it can also potentially deplete parents' cognitive and emotional resources. The study also revealed that raising young children can have a significant impact on the parents' sex life - surprise, surprise.

The research determined it's not the baby's disrupted sleep patterns - which are common in the first months of life - that are the biggest disincentive to parents' sexual frequency; engaging with the baby during crib-side visits is actually to blame.

The study analysed data from 897 parents of babies aged one to 18 months, recorded in an online survey that covered sexual frequency and satisfaction; sleep; relationship satisfaction; depression; and demographic characteristics. The infants' sleep and night-time crib visits were objectively measured over two weeks using novel computer-vision technology via a baby monitoring device.

Using both the online responses and auto-videosomnography technology across a total of 8460 nights, the researchers collectively found that more night-time visits to the child's crib were significantly associated with lower sexual frequency.

For example, parents who engaged with their infant 0-0.5 times per night on average reported having partnered sexual activity 4.2 times per month, whereas parents who engaged with their infant over four times per night had sex 50 percent less often (only 2.3 times per month).

"These findings suggest that it is not infant or parent sleep disruption per se, but rather parent nighttime engagement with the infant that is associated with lower parent sexual activity frequency," said Flinders University researcher Dr Michal Kahn.

The link between night-time engagement with the infant and lower frequency of sexual activity was significant, regardless of the infant's age.

"While young infants require lots of external regulation to fall asleep, most infants can gradually learn to regulate themselves to sleep across the second half of the first year. As sexual and sleep health both have a major impact on wellbeing, parents wishing to restore their sleep and sexual activity can gradually encourage more independent infant sleep," Dr Kahn added.

By contrast, sexual satisfaction was not associated with night-time caregiving, parent or infant sleep, or parent-infant sleeping arrangements in adjusted models, suggesting that satisfaction may not be susceptible to the effects of disrupted sleep during the postpartum period.

The results, published in The Journal of Sex Research, also indicated that the frequency of partnered sexual activity during the first year-and-a-half was on average, 3.8 to 4.2 times per month. Frequency of sexual activity increased with the infant's age, yet increases beyond the first six months postpartum were non-significant.

The authors believe the study highlights how the postpartum period can pose a considerable challenge for parents, particularly regarding sleep and sexual activity.