Sex After Baby?
by
Mary M Buxton LCSW, Inc.
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist

A parent’s magazine survey found that diminished sexual interest and loss of sexual intimacy are almost always a concern after the birth of a child.  Why does this happen?  What can you do to maintain sexual and emotional intimacy during the post partum period and beyond?  New parents experience many changes in themselves and their relationship that affect sexuality.

Self-Image

New parents often slacken their identity and personal boundaries in the face of the round the clock demands of a newborn and infant.  Sense of self becomes caring for others.  The focus can move almost completely off of self.  Getting dressed and taking a shower are major accomplishments in the day of a new parent.  One parenting teacher at the Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto very aptly referred to the first five years in a child’s life as “Boot Camp”.  It is easy to see how having time, energy and

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interest in sex could fall by the wayside during this phase of parenting. 

As the child grows older, being overwhelmed, exhausted and out of time lessen a bit.  At some point it is healthy to reclaim time and interests for yourself.  When that rebalancing occurs is every parent’s personal journey.   It takes time to find your balance again and it’s an on-going process. 

Body Image

For many women, pregnancy and birth cause major physical changes in their body.   You can be round and curvy from weight gain, develop stretch marks, have broader hips, or droopy breasts.  Unfortunately, “sexy” in our media saturated society means that you need to look like you never gave birth at all.  A 1998 Glamour magazine poll of 27K women found 50% dissatisfied with their bodies and 40% spend 1/3 of their time dieting. 

This media portrayal of perfect bodies and unrealistic, automatic functioning in sex does nothing but hurt our sexual self-esteem.  You end up criticizing your body and feeling self conscious about physical intimacy.  At some point, to be able to enjoy sex again, you have to take your body back and develop a positive body image. Here’s how you start to celebrate your body just the way it is:

  • Notice what you like about your body
  • Compare yourself with others in the quest for finding yourself well within the wide spectrum of body shapes and sizes.  You are looking for permission to accept your body just the way you are.
  • Choose your own Rubenesque body image models.
  • Sort out the messages about body image that were engrained during childhood and get aware of the messages that surround you now.
  • Share positive talk of body acceptance with your partner, friends or in online chat groups.  Stop yourself and those around you from perpetuating negative messages about body image. 
  • Exercise

This will take conscious effort over time to change the way you talk to yourself and the ideal images of your body that you have in your head.  The goal is to feel good about your body as a woman who is also a mother.  And that will be one less barrier to having sex again.

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Postpartum Physical Problems

There are a variety of physical problems that can get in the way of sex.  Episiotomy tenderness, c section recovery, breast feeding problems, dryness due to breast feeding hormonal changes, incontinence, being “touched out”, and fear of pregnancy.  The fear of pain and embarrassment paired with difficulty talking about these new and private matters can start a pattern of avoidance and sexual tension.  Talking specifically about sex in the best of times is difficult for most couples as most people feel that sex should just take care of itself.  However, it’s very important to explain what is going on for you physically to prevent misunderstandings between the two of you that can lead to anger and hurt feelings.  Many women are so conditioned to put their partner’s needs first that they won’t speak up if something hurts.  Treat the sexual parts of your body just as you would a sore back.  Speak up and make adjustments.  Before starting, make sure your partner is aware of any body trouble spots.  Do not protect your partner’s ego at the expense of yourself.  If you have pain, stop and say so and make changes.

Postpartum Emotional Problems

New parenthood is sometimes triggers mood swings, postpartum depression, sexual abuse survivor issues and sexual dysfunction problems.  Get help for these problems as soon as you can from a qualified mental health counselor. 

Medication Causes of Low Sexual Desire

Antidepressants can prevent orgasm and birth control pills can cause low desire.  Other drugs that have sexual consequences are:  Anticancer drugs, anticonvulsants, anti-hypertensives, anti ulcer drugs, neuroleptics and sedatives.  If you are using any of these drugs and are having sexual side effects, talk to your doctor.

Sex Negative Cultural Context

This is a short-list of cultural context that can cause avoidance of sexuality.

  • Victorian heritage - Good girls don’t have sex, pleasure, or knowledge about their bodies or talk.
  • Protestant work ethic - Work is valued and pleasure is not.
  • Religious - Mother’s are chaste.
  • Socio-economic - Role overload for the woman who is mother, worker, partner and self.
  • Media influence - Unrealistic portrayal of sex, relationships and body image.

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Good Sex Takes Effort

Many women hold the belief that their partner should be in charge of sexual encounters and should turn them on.  Many women also feel responsible for their partner’s satisfaction.  They feel pressure to meet a “quota” for sexual contact and that sense of obligation works against her desire. 

To break this cycle, you may need new motivation, effort and attitude.  The most important thing that you can do for that baby is keep your couple relationship strong.  Spending couple time and sharing physical intimacy are important ways of doing that.  Having sex after having a baby is going to be a new experience for both of you. Get curious about how your sexual responses have changed.  Take initiative to get yourself in the mood.  Discuss and implement your conditions for good sex and use fantasy, masturbation, erotic literature and videos.

Finding Time

 Time is now a precious commodity.  To free up time, shop online, don’t send Christmas cards, hire housecleaners, gardeners and babysitters, order take out, shop and cook in bulk, and get comfortable with a little clutter in the house.  Say no to super mom tendencies.  Ask for help from family, friends, other moms and babysitters to allow for couple time.  Try to get a weekend away and a weekly date night.  Date night can also be an afternoon hike or meeting for lunch.  If you’re feeling guilty about taking time away from your child, try to remember that one of the most important things you can do for that baby is to keep your couple relationship strong. 

Where to Find Energy

Exercise, eat well, sleep, get out of the house and do things alone.  This is part of the struggle to balance woman and mother.

Communication

The demands of life as parents can leave many couples leading parallel lives.  Try sharing 15 minutes of focus time together after the baby goes down.  Turn the TV off, look at each other and talk.  The average amount of face-to-face intimacy for American couples is 30 minutes a week.  Only three talks a week beats the national average and results in increased closeness. 

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Sex Without “Sex”

To keep physical closeness alive when time is tight, use body language and affectionate touch.  Eye contact, long kisses, sitting close together on the couch , rubbing your partner’s head or hands while watching TV, spooning or holding hands are activities that can feed that sense of closeness that most couples seek.

The key to a good sex life with kids in the house is planning.  If you don’t make an effort, forgetting to have sex can become a habit.

Where to Get Help
  • Many people often need the boost of professional help to get the many aspects of their concern sorted through and resolved.
  • I offer individual and couple counseling services with a specialization in sex and couple therapy.
  • For referrals to a sex therapist in your area, contact www.aasect.org www.aasect.org

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  • Great Sex for Moms, Valerie Raskin, M.D., Simon & Schuster, 2002.

The Mother’s Guide to Sex: Enjoying Your Sexuality Through All Stages of Motherhood, Anne Semans & Cathy Winks, Three Rivers Press, 2001.

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7/25/11

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