Parenthood, common sense and a million stand-up comics can tell you, isn’t the best thing for your sex life. And single parents, forced to juggle work and child rearing with whatever semblance of a love life they have left, have it the worst. Or do they? A surprising recent study in The Journal of Sex Research finds that single parents — at least those with young kids — actually date and have sex at the same rates as childless single people.
A team led by Peter B. Gray of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, plucked 2,121 single parents from a nationally representative sample of 5,481 Americans, and then asked them a bunch of questions about their dating and sex lives. The researchers expected that, in line with theory and past research (both of which argue that single parents are a lot more likely to devote their limited resources to raising kid than seeking a new partner), single parents would report less dating and sex than their childless counterparts.
Instead, they found no statistically significant relationship between how many kids under 5 the singles had and their number of sex partners in the last year, the frequency with which they thought about and had sex, their number of recent first dates, and whether they were actively seeking a new partner. (Single parents with kids older than 5 did report less dating and sex.) “The overall pattern in these findings,” the researchers write, “is that parents of very young children evidence few differences in dating and sexual behavior and in a few cases report higher rather than lower” such activity.
Why? The researchers don’t come across as particularly confident about the answer. One possibility, they write, is that single parents “may be more oriented toward establishing a new romantic and/or sexual relationship than partnered parents of young children.” Well, yeah. But that’s not a new observation, and it doesn’t account for past work that has pointed in the other direction.
For now, this finding is a bit of a mystery — a sexy, sexy mystery.