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Biopsychosocial Predictors of Couples’ Trajectories of Sexual Function and Sexual Distress Across the Transition to Parenthood

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The prevailing narrative about sexual declines during the transition to parenthood is largely based on studies assessing the average couple, but there is increasing evidence of variability in the sexual well-being of new parents. We sought to establish distinct subgroups of couples based on sexual function and sexual distress trajectories and examine biopsychosocial risk and protective factors of these trajectories. A prospective cohort of 257 first-time parent couples reported on sexual function and sexual distress from 20-week pregnancy (baseline) to 6 months postpartum across four time-points. Biopsychosocial factors were assessed at baseline and 3 months postpartum. Dyadic latent class growth analysis identified two distinct sexual function classes (high, 85%; discrepant, 15%) and three sexual distress classes (low, 77%; moderate, 12%; discrepant, 11%). We identified biomedical (vaginal delivery, perineal tear, breastfeeding) and psychosocial (fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, attitudes toward sex during pregnancy, relationship quality, perceived partner support) factors that can be assessed at critical time-points (i.e., 20-week pregnancy and 3 months postpartum) to identify high-risk couples. Current results indicate that the course of change in sexual well-being for new parents is heterogeneous, with most new parents retaining high function and low distress and only a minority showing trajectories in which mothers, but not fathers, experience clinically significant and persistent levels of low sexual function and high sexual distress. These results may facilitate more nuanced approaches to the assessment and intervention of new parents’ sexual well-being.

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De-identified data and syntax for the analyses are available on the Open Science Framework at


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The authors would like to thank Centro Materno Infantil do Norte for their collaboration in recruiting participants for this study and to the couples who participated in this research.


This research was funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and the COMPETE 2020 program (CPUP UIDB/00050/2020, POCI-01-0145-FEDER-0072). The first author was supported by a grant from FCT (SFRH/BD/131808/2017).

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All authors contributed to the study conceptualization and design. IT wrote the first draft of the manuscript and modified subsequent drafts based on other authors’ comments. Material preparation, data collection, and analyses were performed by IT. NR, JH, and PJ reviewed the manuscript for intellectual content and scientific integrity. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Inês M. Tavares.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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The authors report no conflicts of interest.

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Tavares, I.M., Rosen, N.O., Heiman, J.R. et al. Biopsychosocial Predictors of Couples’ Trajectories of Sexual Function and Sexual Distress Across the Transition to Parenthood. Arch Sex Behav 52, 1493–1511 (2023).

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