Let’s Talk About Sex….Postpartum; Discussing Sex After Birth
You’re not the only one to wonder about or struggle through this topic: sex after birth. In this article, let’s be unafraid to get honest, and open up that discussion.
There are so many psychosocial pressures to maintaining a strong and healthy loving relationship these days. One of the most concerning and yet least talked about pressures is reviving your sex life after having given birth.
How extensively will a baby affect our sex life?
Will it ever be again like it was before?
Will it hurt?
Do I have to think about this now???
I have little or no interest in sex and I feel so unattractive and guilty - what to do?
My partner wants to have sex again, but I can't even deal with the whole thing. I just need a hug. Is this normal? How to get in the mood??
Not only is sex after birth not often discussed, especially on a mental/emotional and relational level, but the so-called “fourth trimester” is practically completely forgotten in many parts of the modern world.
Let’s begin to shed some light on an important topic in an open manner, shall we?
Where to Begin?
Many studies have been conducted on sex after birth. But, there were always two factors that limited our social perception and perhaps our understanding of how to effectively prepare couples for intimacy after pregnancy.
Namely, studies were always done on a biological level, and they were always focused on the mother who’d just given birth—almost always never the partner.
In a recent study done at the University of Michigan, they focused primarily on sexual desire in the partner after their child was born.
They discovered that a good portion of a woman’s sexual and sensual desires, after giving birth, were mainly dependent on her partner’s own perception of her at the time. This is just one study, and studies have flaws: but what seems more true in my experience and research, is that a woman's sexual desires are more dependent on her. This is empowering!
Suffice to say, this is indeed an extremely self-conscious time for the new momma.
We’ve also discovered that this could be an equally insecure time for the partner as well. Many partners felt excluded from the family due to the new and acute bond between mother and baby.
It’s evident that communication is so crucial at this stage between partners. If both partners knew how vulnerable they each were, the pressure to “perform” or “satisfy the other’s desires” would probably greatly diminish. And what you can learn, is that if a woman knows her desires and her desires are satisfied, her cup is full and she will naturally want to please her partner...or not. If a woman is turned off and unsatisfied, you can forget about her interest in desiring to serve her partner. But no one really talks about it.
This lack of communication isn’t only within the couple itself but throughout society and even between client/patient and midwife or doctor.
“Sexual problems are common among new parents, but discussing them with doctors or close friends is not.” (“Sex and Intimacy,” New York Times.)
Are There Any Practical Steps?
While there’s no one trick to get your sex life rocking and rolling again, much like the first time (fortunately or unfortunately!), you’ll both have to rediscover yourselves and find your own groove.
But again, here is the big and empowering news. A crucial ingredient to a wonderful life that includes awesome sex, is largely dependent on the woman. Reclaim and own your feminine power, which defies logic. As a woman, it helps to dig deep to know what your desires are and what turns you on - using all of your senses, so that you can create what you want, stay in your pleasure, be turned on and communicate your requests to your partner. Partners tend to really want to please, and do not always know how or what their love is thinking. There’s probably nothing easy or nonchalant about finding your desire again either, but know that it takes time and that it is doable.
Regina Thomashauer has been advocating for women and studying the discipline of female pleasure for years - in all aspects of life, “so as a woman, you can actually design a life that will allow you to experience pleasure any time you wish, ongoingly. Pleasure is deliberate, not casual. She requires planning, she does not happen by default.”
In her latest NY times best selling, provocative but life-changing book, Pussy: A Reclamation, “you’ll discover what no one taught you about the source of your feminine power and how to use it. It’s no secret that women today are still undervalued at home, at work, and in a relationship. Too many of us are at war with our bodies and disconnected from our truth.
See, we live in a culture that teaches us to turn off. To play small. To take care of everyone else first. To keep a lid on our dreams and a cork on our truth.
This book is written to reacquaint a woman with her own power source—which is the part of herself she has been taught to ignore, push down, and despise...
It’s a call for her to tune in, turn on, and not drop out—but live more richly, fully, and lusciously than she ever thought she could.”
Here’s what else you’ll learn - how to know and speak your truth, how to radically accept, love and celebrate everything that is you and feel the rewards of this life-changing practice, how to move from depletion, obligation, overwork and resentment into embracing what life brings your way and all of what you feel, how to cultivate an attitude of immense gratitude, how to healthfully process your emotions, how to listen to and trust your sacred inner wisdom, creating sisterhood, and passionately creating and loving your life. This will ultimately rock your sex life, but you will also learn practices on how to further enhance it. I am convinced this book is a must-read for all women.
Some other must have sexual resources
Women’s Anatomy of Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston CNM
Pure Sex: The Intimate Guide to Sexual Fulfillment by Anne Cooper
But Let’s Talk Basics First: When and How to Resume Sex After Birth
For most new mommas, sex after birth can be as daunting as the very first time. While much of social convention will have you thinking that partners are more than ready to jump right back into bed, this is most often not exactly the case. And they can be exhausted too, doing what they can to help, keeping up with work, also getting broken and less sleep, while adjusting to being a dad of this new baby.
At this stage in your relationship, open and honest, kind and sensitive "nonviolent" communication are the key.
On a practical level, most practitioners recommend waiting between 4 to 6 weeks before trying intercourse again in order to give the new mother time to heal - at least until the bleeding stops and any tearing has healed. But, we are finding more and more that this recommendation is based mostly on physical readiness. Many women after giving birth, report not being ready for sexual intercourse for much longer.
What about your psychological readiness? How do you work through the possibly daunting task of beginning sex again after birth, when you may feel some or all of the following: your breasts are full, tender and leaking milk, baby is nursing every few hours, you feel overtired and are not getting the sleep or help you need, you feel dry and still sore vaginally, you feel fat and less attractive than you used to, you are preoccupied with caring for your new baby and balancing all of your other responsibilities, you are afraid to get pregnant again, you can barely find the time to eat, you are feeling emotional and overwhelmed, you just need hugs and cuddling, have very little, if any interest in sex, but feel guilty and pressured to do it for your partner when you really don’t want to, and you are just madly in love...with your baby.
A great way to begin is knowing that what you’re feeling is totally normal and very common.
Not only is it normal for your libido to be low during this time after birth but many women have expressed how intimidating it is to have the sex conversation at the six-week mark. They don’t even want to think about sex for another 6 months, sometimes even longer.
And, there are many reasons for not feeling ready or downright apprehensive.
The key is to listen to and honor your feelings, talk your feelings through with your partner and get to know what your partner’s feelings are as well. You might be relieved at what your partner reveals. But do not have sex if you are feeling pressured into in it, out of guilt or obligation, if you really do not want to. That is not intimacy; it is actually is non consensual sex, which can lead to an unhealthy sexual relationship, or worse if it becomes ongoing - deep psychic pain and sexual trauma.
Dealing with Discomforts After Birth
Social perception tends to emphasize birth as the predominant and climactic purpose of pregnancy. But, in uncovering this forgotten “fourth trimester,” we’ll find that the numerous discomforts, huge lifestyle adjustments a new momma has to make after giving birth can be just as strenuous if not more so than labor and birth. Even though this is part of life, we have been birthing and mothering since the beginning of time, we had a village, a community of support; but today many women are alone. That is why I urge preparing for postpartum support during pregnancy and provide extensive planning guidance in my Love Your Birth online course, as I do with the mommas in my practice.
Here are just a couple of examples of predominant issues to deal with after birth - not to make you fear them but to know what is normal, to prepare and find support for them. While these may be fairly obvious, I’ve paired them with some of the worries and concerns a partner might be feeling and not telling you.
Hopefully, this opens the door to more real and meaningful conversations that deepen your connection.
*Related articles: How Can Prenatal Yoga Help in Birth, Postpartum, and Beyond?
There are ways to prevent you from tearing when the baby emerges at birth; many women do not tear, or tear a little but do not need stitches. But sometimes, despite all you and your attendants efforts, tearing occurs and needs to be repaired with stitches under a local anesthetic. Tearing, of course, requires the proper time to recover. So take it slow and cultivate patience and trust. The body has an incredible capacity to heal.
It’s important to note that episiotomy is another aspect of more severe tearing that has recently been deemed no longer necessary; it is actually one of the most harmful unnecessary routine procedures that had become so widespread, and remains despite the evidence that does not support its use in normal childbirth. Now, it’s been found to actually cause more damage than any natural tearing would. It can, however, be necessary in rare emergencies in which the baby needs to be delivered right away.
Many women who had tearing and stitches fear sex will worsen the tear or open the stitches after they are healed, which you can rest assured, this does not happen. Many women feel lingering discomfort and dryness, which some organic natural lubricant can relieve. Explore the various natural scented and unscented sensual massage oils and see which one is your favorite. Partners also may feel uneasy or nervous about penetration for these reasons. You might be thinking that the sex in your relationship will not be the “same” for a long time. But in time, if you do the work to cultivate and grow personally, and deepen your intimate connection and sexual relationship...it will get better and better. The possibilities are endless.
Don’t be afraid to try something new, and have fun with it.
Invite the ambiance that is important to you - the scented candle or massage oil, the music, the feel of your lingerie or sheets, the lighting, anything in the environment that sets the mood. Experiment with doing something you enjoy together, watching comedy, games and role playing, slowly and sensually feeding each other strawberries or dark chocolate, reading erotica or romantic poetry together, looking into each other’s eyes, placing your hands on each other's heart, caressing in a variety of ways. Expand the focus of intimacy way beyond sexual intercourse.
'Foreplay' is a huge part of arousal for a woman, but I am not crazy about the word. It implies less important activities that have value only in that they lead to sexual intercourse, but do not really count as sex. It makes the end goal of the man's happy ending the main focus, when in actuality, these 'foreplay' activities enhance pleasure by themselves, build stronger intimacy, and are all part of the sexual experience - not separate from it. In addition, over half of all women do not reach orgasm from sexual intercourse alone; more women have an orgasm through oral and manual stimulation of their clitoris. The clitoris has 8000 nerve endings designed only for a woman's pleasure and ecstasy, so it is really essential for the both of you to get to know her. A woman's sexual pleasure is just as important as a man's. So bring on the whispered loving words, the soft touching, massaging, caressing, licking, kissing and hugging - it is not only such fun for both of you, it also will ease reintroducing sexual pleasure into your relationship and strengthen your connection.
“One study found manual genital stimulation to be a form of sexual activity considered most exciting and most pleasant by both genders postpartum,” (Sexuality and Breastfeeding: What Do You Know?, pg. 221). A woman's clitoris has 8000 nerve endings designed only for a woman's pleasure and natural ecstasy, so it is really essential for the both of you to get to know her. It is very sensitive and honest, and takes its patient feminine time. It knows what it likes and what it does not like. It tends to like to be touched softly or stroked gently, especially around the left upper quadrant. Sensations can move. Experiment with your clitoris. Learn what feels real good, so you can help your partner touch you in ways that are deeply pleasurable. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Gratitude and communication in loving honesty are key, as is a playful sense of humor!
While breastfeeding is a very intimate and tender part of motherhood, it does cause hormonal changes which also contribute to vaginal dryness. Using one of the lubricants mentioned above will make all the difference. This is more commonly talked about in the literature and with your midwife or doctor.
What is less discussed are the feelings of jealousy and exclusion that the mother/baby dyad might create in the partner. While this may not be a concern readily brought up by your partner, it does create an opportunity to validate and embrace your partner's feelings as well as your own, discuss the importance of more partner/baby time, and quality time alone with just you and your partner.
A partner can feel quite out of the loop especially if they don’t have much or any parental leave at this time. So, how can they feel more involved and nurture their own special relationship with the baby?
Having this discussion with your partner can create a more unified and open relationship, making it easier for each partner to feel vulnerable with the other and so facilitate maybe not a resumption of your sexual relationship itself but at least the conversation. Also, as soon as you are able and feeling ready, ask a family member or hire a trusted babysitter, so you and your partner can go out - I would say aim high, once a week, even if only for a few hours, leaving behind a supply of pumped breast milk. Do something you love and make it simple - especially in the beginning. It might be just to have a quiet cup of tea, eating at a lovely restaurant, going on a walk, playing a game at a coffee shop or in the park. With time, you can expand into going to a concert, sports game or show, doing a meditation or taking a tango class together. Imagination has no limits. You can play with taking turns planning and surprising each other with fun activities.
Contraception - Fear of Getting Pregnant Again, Before Feeling Ready or Wanting To Be
Full time exclusive breastfeeding has been relied upon since the beginning of time to space children - at least for the first 6 months, as it causes a rise in hormones that suppresses ovulation. While there is no guarantee and much variability here, there are things you can do to enhance its reliability in preventing pregnancy. It is called the Lactation Amenorrhea Method - and it is as effective as the birth control pill. But I have women in my practice that are nursing a toddler a few times a day and have not yet returned to their menstrual cycling, and women who get their periods back within 6-8 weeks after birth - despite exclusively and frequently breastfeeding on demand, keeping baby close, and not using pacifiers or bottles. It happened to me with all four of my kids. We did our best. Dr. Sears explains why.
Once the first period comes, breastfeeding is not a reliable form of contraception; and those who get pregnant unexpectedly in the early months postpartum, doing all they can to exclusively nurse, get pregnant because ovulation occurs BEFORE the first period - they were not aware they resumed fertility. The World Health Organization actually recommends waiting 24 months after birth before getting pregnant again, to have the most optimally healthy outcome for you and baby. If you are sure you are not ready for another pregnancy, it is important to understand your fertility signs, to look into and discuss options for contraception with your midwife or doctor - there are several effective ways to prevent pregnancy safe for breastfeeding, naturally or not. You will feel better and more relaxed about resuming sexual intercourse knowing you have a good contraceptive plan that works for you.
How to Reclaim Your Sensual/Sexual Self After Birth
Sexuality is a part of Self that cannot be ignored or glossed over, and, just over the last 9 months, you, as a new momma, have become more of an expert on using the senses. All of them. You might have noticed a heightened sense of smell, taste, hearing, seeing and feeling.
But postpartum, you’re probably all “touched-out” as we’d say—your baby has been growing and developing inside you. You gave birth to your baby, which took a HUGE amount of your energy and strength, is a HUGE transformational event in your life and an incredible accomplishment! Now that he or she is here, baby constantly needs you from a physical standpoint as well as a nurturing one. Your breasts are being nursed frequently.
Your greatest desire right now is probably a shower, take a nap, eat delicious meal that someone else prepared, and for no one to even touch you!
That being said, how do you nurture yourself without feeling like you’re neglecting your sexual self and your partner, and equally somehow betraying your newfound momma-hood?
How do you and your partner become intimate once again after a long while of focusing on the baby?
This is a great time to get to know yourself and your partner again. As I said, honest nonviolent communication is focal and crucial at every level of any kind of relationship, more so now than ever. Your relationship will probably never be the same. But, that doesn’t mean your intimacy can’t be as great as it was before...or much deeper and closer.
It really can be better!
The conversation might not be easy. But, this is an opportunity for you both to see who you are now that you’ve crossed over to this new phase of life.
Don’t be afraid to take things slow and do things in a new way. Read and discuss together the books I mentioned above - start in pregnancy if you can, but if you already gave birth, start now - even a few pages a day.
You’ve probably only had a few hours of broken sleep; your baby could wake up at any minute for nursing; you feel fat, nothing fits, and you didn’t have time to take a shower or put on any makeup.
Embrace the postpartum, beautiful self in all of its empowering, draining, frustrating, and glorious moments. Give yourself lots of self-care. A human being just came out of you--cut yourself some slack!
In fact, I hope you’ve tuned into the empowering sense of motherhood and what it means to be a woman.
This is why I really recommend reading Mama Gena’s book, Pussy: A Reclamation. Please don’t be deterred by the title. This is a great work of writing encouraging women to be turned on to their life and their pleasure.
To give you an idea of the book’s content, I want to share with you Mama Gena’s thoughts which she shares in an interview with Dr. Kelly Brogan. Here, Mama Gena is speaking about what her work is all about:
“[when] a woman begins to plug into what it means to have the privilege of 8000 nerve endings dedicated to pleasure, what it means to have her emotional truth embodied and considered important and righteous, and not try to be “sugar and spice, and everything nice” but to actually feel free to express the full range of her passion, her grief, her rage, her devastation, her joy.”
Related article: The Strength of a Woman
Sex, despite being a big social topic, is the least talked about in an honest, caring, compassionate, and vulnerable way--sex after birth even less so.
The best way to figure out how to go about getting back into the mood is through talking openly with yourself and your partner, nurturing your relationship with yourself and your partner, and making sure you are living a turned on life that you love - not simply turned on sexually, but turned on and excited about all aspects of living. Safeguard your own self care and joy, and consider them as important as eating and drinking healthfully. A happy fulfilled mama takes everyone higher, including her family and relationships.
The “when” is entirely up to the both of you and shouldn’t be before you’re ready.
Always take the time to learn about and nurture every part of the Self--you’ll be giving your partner as well as yourself the best of you.
Do you have more questions about sensitive topics and are looking for honest answers and personalized support? Schedule a conversation with me. To connect more in general, get helpful tips, exciting news and promotions I do not share anywhere else, sign up for my free monthly newsletter called Ask the Midwife.
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