BACKGROUND: One of the major factors impacting on a couple's relationship is the desire to have children. To many couples having a child is a confirmation of their love and relationship and a means to deepen and develop their intimate relationship. At the same time parental stress can impact on relationship quality. Relationship quality in lesbian couples is, currently, sparsely studied. The aim of the present study was to compare lesbian and heterosexual couples' perceptions of their relationship quality at the commencement of assisted reproduction, and to relate this to background data such as educational level, having previous children and, for lesbian couples, the use of a known versus anonymous donor.
METHODS: The present study is part of the prospective longitudinal 'Swedish study on gamete donation', including all fertility clinics performing donation treatment in Sweden. Of a consecutive cohort of 214 lesbian couples about to receive donor insemination and 212 heterosexual couples starting regular IVF treatment, 166 lesbian couples (78% response) and 151 heterosexual couples (71% response) accepted participation in the study. At commencement of assisted reproduction participants individually completed questionnaires including the instrument 'ENRICH', which is a standardized measure concerning relationship quality.
RESULTS: In general, the couples rated their relationship quality as good, the lesbian couple better than the heterosexuals. In addition, the lesbian women with previous children assessed their relationship quality lower than did the lesbian woman without previous children. For heterosexual couples previous children did not influence their relationship quality. Higher educational levels reduced the satisfaction with the sexual relationship (P = 0.04) for treated lesbian women, and enhanced the rating of conflict resolution for treated lesbian women (P = 0.03) and their partners (P = 0.02). Heterosexual women with high levels of education expressed more satisfaction with communication in their relationship (P = 0.02) than did heterosexual women with lower educational levels.
CONCLUSIONS: In this Swedish study sample of lesbian and heterosexual couples' relationships, we found that they were generally well adjusted and stable in their relationships when starting treatment with donated sperm or IVF, respectively. However, where lesbian women had children from a previous relationship, it decreased relationship quality. For the heterosexual couples previous children did not affect relationship quality.