Under the Hood

Less Sex Between Parents Puts Children At Higher Schizophrenia Risk, Study Finds

A new study has found a link between the sexual activity of parents and the development of schizophrenia in children. Researchers said that a short period of parental sexual contact between couples prior to pregnancy puts the baby at risk of developing the mental disorder in the future. 

The findings, published in the journal Schizophrenia Research, backs previous research that suggested the pregnancy complication, called preeclampsia, contributes to the development of schizophrenia. It also supports another study that showed a long period of exposure to sperm before pregnancy increases a woman’s protection against preeclampsia.

"Our results conclude that offspring born to couples married for less than three years, across all paternal ages, harbor a small increased risk for schizophrenia, which was independent of parental psychiatric disorders and paternal age,” Dolores Malaspina, study author and professor of psychiatry, genetics and genomic sciences and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said in a statement

For their study, Malaspina and her team analyzed the risk for schizophrenia in more than 90,000 babies. They found that the babies had a 50 percent higher risk when born to parents married less than two years and who had less sex. 

Those who were born four years after their parents’ wedding had a 30 percent increased schizophrenia risk. But the babies with parents married for five years showed a 14 percent lower risk of developing the mental disorder. 

"Our findings... is timely in light of recent discovery that some genes implicated in schizophrenia are placental genes with differential expression from prenatal adversity like preeclampsia and hypertension," Malaspina said. "The data suggests that prenatal immune activation from preeclampsia could produce lasting inflammatory vulnerability for the mother and fetus, increasing the susceptibility for psychiatric and metabolic conditions."

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that causes hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, negative mood and cognitive impairments. Some studies showed that many genes contribute to its development. Environmental factors, such as exposure to viruses, malnutrition and problems during birth, were also noted.

The researchers hope to conduct more studies to further understand the direct link between the duration of marriage and other psychiatric disorders in babies.