Study: Preterm babies less likely to enjoy romance, sex in adulthood

WARWICK, England — Here’s a scary thought: the fate of your love life may be predetermined as soon as you’re born. That is, at least according to a new study out of the University of Warwick that found preterm babies have a much harder time making romantic and sexual connections in adulthood compared to those who were born full term.

In fact, researchers conclude that babies born before 37 weeks gestation are less likely to form romantic relationships, have sex, and eventually become parents.

The study’s authors theorize that this seemingly disproportionate level of romantic hardship among preterm babies may be linked to their tendency to be more reserved, cautious, and antisocial as they grow up and mature. It is recommended that preterm babies’ parents focus extra hard on socializing their children from an early age.

“The finding that adults who were born preterm are less likely to have a partner, to have sex and become parents does not appear to be explained by a higher rate of disability. Rather preterm born children have been previously found to have poorer social interactions in childhood that make it harder for them to master social transitions such as finding a partner, which in turn is proven to boost your wellbeing,” first author Dr. Marina Goulart de Mendonça explains in a release.

Researchers performed a meta-analysis on 4.4 million adults, and found that preterm babies are 28% less likely to ever enjoy a romantic relationship compared to other babies. Additionally, preterm children are 22% less likely to become parents. As far as sexual activity, preterm children are 2.3 times less likely to ever have a sexual partner compared to full-term births.

It seems that the earlier a child is born, the worse their chances of enjoying a satisfying romantic life become; children born both very early (<32 weeks) and extremely early (<28 weeks) displayed even lower odds of having sex, experiencing a relationship, or becoming a parent at around the same time as most other people. For example, extremely preterm births were 3.2 times less likely to ever have sex.

On a positive note for preterm babies, the study did find that when a preterm born adult is able to find a romantic partner these relationships are usually just as strong, if not stronger, than other romances.

“Those caring for preterm children including parent’s health professionals and teachers should be more aware of the important role of social development and social integration for preterm children. As preterm children tend to be more timid and shy, supporting them making friends and be integrated in their peer group will help them to find romantic partners, have sexual relationships and to become parents. All of which enhances wellbeing,” senior author Professor Dieter Wolke comments.

The study is published in JAMA Network Open.

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