Are you pregnant and wanting to sustain your sex life through the transition into parenthood?
Did you recently give birth (or maybe not so recently) and you're wondering why sex is just not happening?
Has sex been painful? Are you wondering when you should start having sex again? Are you feeling disconnected from your partner and maybe even from your Self?
I asked myself many of these questions in my first year after giving birth. On the day I reached 6 weeks postpartum, I had sex with my partner because my doctor said I could. It felt extremely strange and somewhat painful, but I thought maybe I just needed to get used to it again.
We tried again a week later and it was even more uncomfortable. I went to take a shower afterward and just cried. Months later, continuing to have sex, I was more confused, disappointed, and turned off than ever before. But I felt guilty not doing it. A year after giving birth, I avoided sex like it was the plague. I didn’t know if it was because of low libido from breastfeeding, if I needed more foreplay and candles, or if I just couldn’t feel sexy as a mom. I felt so alone.
Until I finally found what I was missing....
Through the work of Kimberly Ann Johnson, I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I saw that it is possible not only to love my body and create my new identity as a sexy mom, but also that intimacy can be healing and sex can be more fulfilling after having a baby.
I finally understand what's actually going on, so I created a road map for you...
Normalize the Challenges
It’s a huge shift going from pregnant to actually having a baby. We need to acknowledge what an important and difficult time it can be by shining light on what postpartum can feel like in the area of sex:
Confusion - can’t identify why you’re having a sexual block - still in love - feeling guilty
Painful sex - scar tissue, prolapse, just feels different - hoping it’s going to get better
No sex - Tried it once or twice and so uncomfortable afraid to try again - partner becomes apprehensive because they don’t want to hurt you - nobody initiates
Hormones - prolactin (breastfeeding hormone) reduces sexual desire
Fatigue - Um, hello it’s exhausting caring for a baby!
Focus - So much of our focus is on baby, there’s less on each other
Birth trauma - Maybe traumatic birth experience, didn’t feel supported or protected, or shift in partner dynamic
Internal changes - becoming a parent - right of passage - transition - maiden to mother - boy to man
Anxiety or Depression - We don’t have a tribe to help us understand what’s going on and solve problems
Pressure - We feel like we have to fulfill our partner’s needs - feel like we’re expected to reach climax
Body image - Haven’t accepted how our bodies have changed
Body parts - Breasts used to be a sexual object
Emotions, Identity and Becoming Parents
We know who we are as individuals, as a girlfriend or boyfriend, maybe as a wife or husband. But discovering who we are as parents is a whole new territory. You might find yourself asking, “Who am I as a mother/father? And where does being a partner fit into that?” There is no instruction manual for your new identity as a parent. Suddenly all eyes are on Baby. And in this sensitive time when hormones are changing, sleep is sporadic, having gone through the intense experience of bringing a life into the world; we can get kind of lost.
Our Baby Needs Us
There were times in the first year postpartum when my sexual desire was so non-existent that I actually thought I’d be happy if we never have sex again. But I knew deep down that eventually our relationship would crumble without that connection. The pillar of a child’s health is the relationship of their parents. In most cases, that child was born out of that union. Family life depends on connection between the parents. Making life all about Baby will not lead in a healthy direction for anyone. Children feel when we are really bonded. Being connected is not just important for us as partners, but for the family unit as a whole.
Childbirth Lifts Huge Veils
When people have babies, everything unresolved rises to the surface. Shadow parts of the relationship, which there always are, tend to come to the surface. Birth is a maturing process, and as we mature, who we are emotionally, physically, spiritually, and sexually - evolves. The problem is that our cultural conversation around sex doesn’t really include that evolution. If you’ll be really honest with yourself, you might find this rings true for you…
“I do want sex, I just don’t want the sex that’s being offered to me. I realize now that we only had one kind of sex before; same warm up, same position, same ending. I thought I liked that, but looking back on it, I was tolerating it. I was performing sex, I wasn’t being in my sex. And it doesn’t work for me anymore. I want things to be different and yet this is a time when it’s so hard to articulate that.”
What is sex, really?
What we know as sex is generally considered to be penetration. It is mostly driven by porn, even if we don’t watch porn. It determines what we think about pubic hair, how genitals are supposed to look, how orgasm and climax happens, what’s acceptable and not acceptable, what we’re supposed to want, and what sex even IS. Porn is indirect sex education. And it’s designed for men. There is a way to be sexual and connect sexually that can be satisfying to both people - that doesn’t have to be the sex that you had before - that doesn’t have to be hard/fast penetrative sex. Any type of sex is available to you, but it can be a choice, not a default mechanism.
Giving, giving, giving
Let’s get responsible for our martyr tendencies. If you don’t want to be having penetrative sex and you’re doing it anyway, it’s not benefitting anyone. Your partner doesn’t really want a sexual favor from you just because you feel like you have to. It might feel physically good but it’s not satisfying. We want it from someone who’s turned on by it also and who wants to connect. So stop being a martyr. Give love to yourself, and you shall receive.
The Myth About Foreplay
The problem with foreplay is that we think and act like it’s leading up to something. Society is so focused on penis/vagina sex that we feel like we’re failing if we don’t connect via penetration. The postpartum time is about slowing down. This can actually be an exploratory time of pleasure! In our physiology as women, it takes 35-45 minutes to get full arousal and engorgement. Most of us don’t even have a reference for what fully aroused sex feels like! This time of exploration allows us to elaborate our pallet of sensation and access to pleasure. When we develop our range of pleasure sensations, our sex will naturally blossom and grow in different directions, possibly making it more fulfilling than ever before.
Change the Context
What if we stop asking what’s wrong with us? What if we stop trying to fit ourselves into the old context, of who we knew ourselves to be? What, as a woman, do WE get to RECEIVE out of sex?
This is the time to start naming our desires. Sexual connection is a place where we should receive energy, not exhaust it. We are exhausting our energy by nourishing a new life. This is where we’re at, and from this place, what sounds good? What feels good to you right now? A massage? Kissing? Holding hands? Breathing together? Whatever it is, name your desire and ask for it. By the way, that’s not foreplay or a lead in. That is connection.
Pathway to Connection
There is no wrong way, right way, or formula for saving your sex life after having a baby. But there are tools and practices you can bring into your life that will make a difference in this big transition. While this time can be challenging, it’s also a huge opportunity. Sex can be your biggest source of energy and it’s possible to have a more enriched, deeper connection than ever before.
Acknowledge, normalize, and accept this challenging transformational time.
Communicate; be transparent.
“I really want intimate connection with you. And I’m having a really challenging time finding my way there. What can we do?”
How are you doing as a person?
How are you doing as a mom/dad?
How are you doing as a partner?
How are we doing? (separate from this parenting project that we’re doing)
Make an appointment and visit a pelvic floor therapist.
This will be a healing game-changer.
Play the 3 minute game; practice naming what you want and getting it.
Get a timer
One person names a desire and the other person fulfills it for 3 minutes
Then you switch
Keep genitals off the table unless you feel ready for that
Suggestions: massage, breathing together, holding hands, feather-stroking arms
Feminize sex; this is how we naturally soften and open.
Feeling well taken care of and supported
Beauty in our environment
Attention to sensuality
Not all about penetration
Bonus Opportunity / Resources
Read books and listen to podcasts…
The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson
Birthful Podcast Episode 92 - Vaginal Rehab
Healthy Birth Happy Babies Podcast Episode 47 - Is Scar Tissue Limiting Your Postpartum Recovery?
Vaginal Kung Fu Online Course with Kim Anami
Coming Together Online Course with Kim Anami
Check out our blog post on Physical Challenges with Postpartum Sex