It’s no secret that sex after baby is complex. Talk about an understatement. It’s the elephant in the room. It’s also what no one is talking about. We can mostly agree that no woman is really raring to go, both physically and emotionally, after her six-week doctor visit when she gets the green light. So what is going on?
We have to set the stage here for the fact that our cultural conversation about sex is impoverished. If talking about sex at all, conversations are usually about frequency or about the types of orgasms we are or aren’t having. There isn’t much discussion about areas of ourselves or connections we are exploring, about what our growing edges or inhibitions are. And as someone who spends her days behind closed doors talking about sex, I can tell you that what you see is not what you get. Women who are glamorous and stereotypically sexy are not necessarily having more or better sex than women who are dowdy or overweight. Body type has nothing to do with the pleasure women are experiencing. How much women talk about sex has little correlation to how much they are having. All that to say, when things get difficult we don’t have a foundation of great communication and information to fall back on.
Why Sex After Baby is So Challenging
1. We are not the same after we give birth.
Our bodies are different. Our identities are different. It’s not the same person that is coming to the intimate experience. So it makes sense that what you want and how you feel about it would change. It’s just that our culture doesn’t value maturation. And we are drawn to try to go back to how it was before because that is what we know. Looking ahead towards what we don’t know is scary, especially at a time when there are so many unknowns. This is part of the rite of passage to parenting. For this reason, we need to learn new communication skills. We need to ask for exactly what we want. If we want to passionately kiss without feeling like that needs to lead to something, we need to say it. If we need to talk about how we are feeling emotionally about being a mother, before we can enjoy physicality, we need to state this. Most of us don’t have practice at placing our needs and our experience at the center. Most postpartum women don’t want hard and fast quickies, so we are left with asking for exactly what we want and how we want it.
2. Birth is an intense event (no kidding).
Whether your birth experience was heartwarming or heartbreaking, it’s a lot to digest for your entire organism. Sometimes it registers in the body as trauma, as something that the body cannot quite metabolize all at once. That metabolism takes time, and sometimes it requires outside support to be able to move through it all the way. If there was an uncomfortable relationship dynamic that surfaced with your partner during the birth of your baby, it is really important to get that out in the open, so that resentment or unconscious distance doesn’t build. The best resources for that are Birth Story Medicine, Somatic Experiencing or another form of body-based counseling.
3. Birth injuries are real.
If you had stitching or surgery, your body registers that as an invasion. It can take time for your body to feel safe to something entering it again. This isn’t always logical. Your mind may really want sex, but your body may not cooperate and open. Vaginas are miraculous, and sensitive. If they do not feel safe, they won’t open. That is not a reflection on how you feel about your partner, necessarily, it may be that your body is holding on to unfinished material from the birth or that earlier traumatic material got stirred up during the birth. Even women whose births went remarkable well or who had C-sections may experience pain in their pelvis, which can be confusing. Sex should never be painful. If you keep pushing through pain, this may lead to further aversion, because your body will start associating pain with sex, and eventually shut down. Seek out support from a STREAM practitioner, a pelvic floor PT, or one of the resources above.
4. Stress hormones and sex hormones work in direct opposition to one another.
If you are producing one, you can’t produce the other. So if being a new mom is stressful, which it is for most of us, you aren’t producing as many sex hormones. In order to shift gears into a sexy mode, so that you can create even more of the pleasure hormones, which will in turn decrease the stress hormones, you have to make a concerted effort to carve out that time. You might let your partner know that instead of trying to turn you on, that he might help mitigate the factors that turn you off, namely the stressors. This is in part why women joke about vacuuming being sexy. When partners help to eliminate the things that cloud our mind, we become more receptive to sharing pleasure.
5. There is no right time to want sex.
There is no “normal” here. There is just listening together with honest communication. Commit to intimacy and communication and see what possibilities for connection arise. Honing these skills as the potential to make your sex life even better than before, but you’ll probably have to work at it a little.
Kimberly is a regular contributor to heymama.co and just released a new book The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions and Resorting Your Vitality. To see her previous posts, check out, What’s Going on With Your Body Post-Baby and our profile on Kimberly and her work.