Dave and Claudia were overjoyed to welcome their son into their lives last July. But six months later, as they struggle with sleep schedules and work schedules, they’re both dismayed to find that they’ve entered a serious dry spell. They haven’t had sex after the birth of their child. Even worse, they say, is that they haven’t at all felt intimate with each other, that emotional closeness that can be felt through a touch, a glance, or a conversation when one’s defenses are down. Without this connection, they realize they feel a sense of loneliness in their marriage.
The importance of sex after birth
Research shows that sex within a loving, committed relationship can have a positive impact on many aspects of your life, including your mental and physical health, energy levels, sleep, and your relationship. In fact, a widespread belief exists that sex is crucial to a good relationship. The idea is that without sex and intimacy, connecting and empathizing with your partner becomes harder, making conflict more likely. As such, your sex life (specifically, the amount of times you are having sex and how satisfied you are with it) is considered to be the barometer that gauges the well-being of your relationship. Because when your relationship is strained, sex is usually the first thing that suffers.
Unfortunately, if you’re like most parents, you will have noticed a decline in the amount of sex you’ve been having after the birth of your first child. This decline can cause a fair amount of anxiety and conflict within your relationship, exactly because sex is considered so important. On top of this, talking about sex can be quite uncomfortable and embarrassing. This means that couples will avoid talking about it and the problem gets exacerbated.
Why is sex especially important for parents?
If sex and intimacy are vital ingredients for a healthy, loving relationship, it warrants our attention. However, as a (new) parent, you might have loads of legitimate explanations that justify the lack of sex. You’re exhausted. You don’t have time for each other. You don’t feel sexy or aren’t desiring sex anymore. “I’ll be honest, it simply wasn’t a priority for me,” said Claudia. “I was having enough trouble balancing everything else in my life, sex seemed like another chore.”
But there are many reasons why it is a good idea to keep the flame alive. When you become a parent, working on the wellbeing of your relationship is more important than ever. Reasons why it’s so important now include:
- Becoming and being a parent can be quite physically and emotionally trying. Being able to fully count on each other when caring for your kids and support each other through these tough times makes the path of parenthood a lot easier to tread.
- Your children benefit from your loving relationship. Kids learn a lot about love through example. Couples who have satisfying sex lives tend to be closer and exhibit more intimate behavior (such as kissing or touching) when others, including children, are around.
- Your relationship with your partner influences your children’s sense of happiness, health and school performance.
- A good partner relationship affects the parent-child relationship positively.
How to bring sex back after birth
Now that we’ve established the importance of sex and intimacy in your life as a parent, we can discuss steps you can take and important things to remember when trying to improve your sex life after birth.
Know there’s no magic number. A first step in addressing this issue is to establish whether there is even an issue to speak of. There is no magic number for the amount of times that you and your partner should be having sex. The key is that you are both satisfied. In other words, there is only a problem if the couple thinks there is. Plenty of couples can be quite happy when having sex once a month, while others would find that disastrous. The same goes for what it means for sex to be satisfying. For some it’s a question of extensive foreplay or trying new things, while others like a simple routine that will end with an orgasm.
Manage expectations. The initial phase of a relationship, when a couple falls in love, lasts up to two years. This first phase is usually filled with passion and lust. Fueled by the media, we often believe that this passion should live on beyond the first stage of the relationship. The reality is that it doesn’t. As the relationship progresses, it has the capacity to develop into a deep, long-term connection that is filled with love and respect (and sex). But this does not mean that you want to jump your partner every time you see him or her. It’s important to let go of expectations of how your sex life should be and focus on your actual needs in the present.
Talk. If you feel like there’s a problem, talk to your partner about it. Most likely, your partner has the same thing on his or her mind. Sex can sometimes be difficult to talk about, because it brings up deep-rooted feelings of shame and guilt, often going back to childhood. We give sex or a lack of sex a lot of meaning. As Dave pointed out: “The times that I did initiate sex, Claudia turned me down. This devastated to me. I thought she didn’t want me anymore and I was afraid to bring it up because she might get upset.” Remember that if you want to improve your relationship in any way, talking is the starting point. If you’re unhappy about the quality of sex you’re having, by all means (gently) tell your partner. If you’re in a loving, committed relationship, your partner will want to know how to make sex a more pleasurable experience for you. To make the conversation easier, make sure to talk about it at a time that you are both relatively relaxed and not at the moment that you’re feeling particularly anxious about the situation.
Examine the causes. Are you having a dry spell because you’re too exhausted from taking care of your little kids? Or is the problem more complicated? Some other possible factors that play a role are:
- Resentment within the relationship due to other events, pre-existing negative patterns, or poor communication.
- Outside stress resulting from problems at work, work-life balance, family issues, etc.
- Coping with overwhelming depressed or anxious thoughts and feelings.
- Body image issues causing feelings of shame of your own body (quite common for women who have given birth).
- Decreased interest in sex due to physical health problems or hormonal imbalances. Please see a medical professional if this is something you are concerned about.
All of these issues will probably need to be addressed before you can improve your sex drive after birth. You might want to talk to a close friend or a counselor who can help you work through these concerns.
Become aware of a new couple dynamic. If becoming a parent has a profound impact on you as a person, imagine what it does to you as a couple. Think about how you were as a couple before the birth of your child(ren). Did you experience this sense of responsibility and worry that you have now? Probably not. Nor did you spend so much time and effort making others happy, nor were you at complete physical and emotional service to others. You might have a feeling that your body is in service of your kids, as opposed to having the ability to give or experience sexual pleasure. This can inhibit your ability to shift from your role as parent to your role as lover. On top of this, you are seeing a whole new side of your partner as s/he becomes a parent. It may be difficult for you to accept this new person or their parenting style, which in turn might create distance between you.
Work at it. Bringing sex and intimacy back into your relationship is not easy. Usually, it’s a good idea to plan to have sex. Remember: planned sex is better than no sex, so go ahead and make agreements on when and where to have sex. You might find the anticipation leading up to your sex date to be quite exciting! Moreover, fantasizing about your sex plans in advance will surely help you get into the mood. Contrarily, you might very well be worried that scheduling sex will take all the fun out of it. Don’t worry, once you are having sex that worry will turn into pleasure, especially if you are willing to try new things or new places to have sex. If you think your sex life is unsatisfactory due to other issues in your life or relationship, make it a priority to work on those first. Again, this requires talking to your partner, but you might want to consider seeking counseling to work on communication or other issues.
Be patient with yourself. If sex has been out of your life for a while, your desire for sex might have dwindled a bit, especially after birth. But once you increase the frequency and quality of sex, you may find that you experience a certain kick start which will increase this desire. Trust your body and trust your partner. You’ll get there. Also, keep in mind that being exhausted lowers your libido, but that having sex will help you sleep better and feel more energetic. So, the more sex you have, the more well rested you’ll be, the stronger your desire or willingness to have sex will become.
Treat each other as lovers. When you see your partner, acknowledge him or her with a kiss, a hello, a special look, a hug, or any type of greeting that shows you are not taking your partner for granted. Calling each other “mom” or “dad” is not sexy. So please only do so when referring to each other as you’re talking to the kids. In heterosexual relationships, try taking on traditional gender roles, where men take control in the bedroom. It gives women the feeling of being taken care of and it allows men to become more sexually assertive, and is therefore a recipe for more passion.
Do exciting things together. Going out to dinner or seeing a movie can be fun and satisfying experiences. But engaging in exciting activities together, such as (extreme) sports, concerts or trying new things in the bedroom, has the ability to bring couples closer together and more interested sexually.
In summary, sex is important to your relationship, also now that you’re a parent. With young children, you can be so exhausted and busy that it might be hard to make an effort to work on your sex life. Just remember, the pay-off is one of love, happiness, fun and connection for you and your family.