Why good dads have less sex

A dispatch from the American Association for the Advancement of Science


Kate Lunau is in Chicago covering the 2013 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), where some of the world’s finest brains and the celebrities of science mix, mingle, and share their latest ideas. From Feb. 14 to 18, she’ll be blogging and tweeting from Chicago on some of the latest—and most exciting—research. Follow her @katelunau #AAASmtg

Do good husbands and dads really have less sex? First came a 2013 study finding that when men did so-called “feminine chores”—laundry or dishes, for example—couples had sex 1.5 times fewer per month than those where husbands stuck to “masculine” duties, (fixing the car and taking out trash). And, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago today, anthropologist Lee Gettler of the University of Notre Dame described his findings that when men become fathers, not only do their testosterone levels drop, they also have less sex.

But Gettler, who studied 400 twenty-something men in the Philippines as they became fathers, is quick to caution that responsible dads are in no way less “manly” than their peers—and that testosterone generally has little direct bearing on one’s own sex life. In fact, these hormonal changes might make men better fathers, causing them to be more caring and protective of their families, and less aggressive. (He’s also charted a rise in the hormone prolactin, related to lactation, in new fathers.)

While his findings on new dads’ sex habits might make headlines, the link between testosterone and libido is complex. “The idea that testosterone drives libido is a folk myth,” Gettler says. A couple’s sex life is affected by all sorts of factors, from working schedules (maybe one partner has taken an extra job to help cover child-care expenses), to their own mental well being. There are many other questions left to ask: Like, how long does this change in hormone levels last? Do stay-at-home dads show different shifts than those who continue to work? Does it vary between cultures? Gettler’s just beginning to scratch the surface.

It’s fascinating to think that, just as new mothers undergo huge hormonal changes, fathers experience their own shift. He hypothesizes that this might attune them more closely to their family’s needs, better preparing them for fatherhood.

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