Many women struggle with the desire for sex after they have had a baby. Now, without stating the obvious, you have been through a huge change. Physically, emotionally, situationally.
Having a baby completely turns your life upside down in the most amazing, but also at times challenging way. One of the key things, is that we go from managing the needs of ourselves, and often one other, our partner if we are in a relationship; to putting the needs of this tiny person in front of all of that, and not just in front of, but eclipsing everything else in our lives. The idea of re-igniting your sex life after having a baby can feel incredibly intimidating, and although the official ‘sign-off’ for most women happens at the 6 week check up with your GP (which also rarely involves a physical examination), for many this just feels way too soon.
The important thing to recognise here is that even if you have had your 6 week check, it doesn’t mean that you should rush home and have sex that evening. In fact it’s more normal for people to feel really stuck with sex and this point in their life; plus, the fact that there is normally an on-demand baby sleeping in your room, which also completely destroys the notion of you and your partner having privacy.
In my practice as a Psychosexual & Relationship Therapist, these are some of the most common conversations that I’m having in the therapy room. Sex feels like a mountain to climb without knowing where to start. Some women can feel really worried or anxious that having a baby has changed everything, and many experience what we describe as touch fatigue, where the idea of someone touching you just feels like too much and that you want some space. This is really common. When we have a baby, not only do we go through the process of pregnancy and then childbirth which can completely change our relationship with our body, how we feel about ourselves, and the physical way that our body appears; but we are then faced with the fourth trimester which involves touch, breastfeeding and near-constant soothing. Sometimes the sensation of touch, or too much touch, can feel quite overwhelming and we can experience a sense of being taken over, or that our body is not our own, which can make us feel incredibly sex-avoidant.
For many, sex really is the last thing on our minds, but the idea of not re- engaging in our sex lives is something that feels equally uncomfortable or anxiety provoking as we feel that at some point it will need addressing. So when we talk about post-natal sex lives there are important things to consider:
The first is that sex does not have to be defined by intercourse and penetration. Many women struggle post-natally with their pelvic floor, which has been under immense pressure, but also if there is birth trauma, tearing or an episiotomy this can obviously lead to pain, and the fear of sex being painful. The pelvic floor muscles play an important role in comfortable penetration, and when we are not relaxed we tense and this can cause pain or discomfort if we try and force anything. The important thing to consider here; is that if you are very nervous or anxious about attempting sex again and you are feeling very tense, then it’s probably not the right time yet. Having sex when it’s hurting you is only going to negatively reinforce it as something that you won’t want to do again.
You don’t have to rush back into intercourse. I often recommend that couples try taking intercourse off the table initially after your six week check up. Spend some time getting comfortable with each other again. Allow yourselves to be in an intimate space together, naked together, kissing and touching. This helps in re- establishing contact in a way that feels safe and comfortable for you. If you are feeling nervous about sex this will give your anxiety a chance to slow down. The more comfortable you become with your partner without the pressure of jumping straight back into intercourse, then the more you will allow yourself to focus on the enjoyment of what you are experiencing, and feeling close to each other. Communicate about where you are at, and what you would be happy to try now, and what you wouldn’t. With an agreement and these boundaries in place you will be able to relax more and be more present and less distracted which is a key ingredient in experiencing sexual pleasure.
The second necessary is lubricant. I highly recommend Yes Organics, as they are completely natural and organic https://www.yesyesyes.org/ For at least the start of returning to sex with your partner lubricant is essential. Lubricant will help with smoother penetration, and sex feeling more comfortable to start with. After you have given birth you have lower Oestrogen levels than when you were pregnant, and this is even lower if you are breastfeeding, and this has links to vaginal dryness (vaginal atrophy) which can cause sex to be painful. Lubricant is also a great addition to mutual masturbation, and clitoral stimulation. It’s a really simple way of helping you and your partner to help yourselves. The last thing that you want to be doing is finding sex uncomfortable, and it stopping you wanting to try again.
Contraception is another necessary, contrary to popular belief it is possible to get pregnant when you are breastfeeding. If you are looking to stay away from hormonal contraceptive for a while, then I can highly recommend Hanx condoms https://www.boots.com/hanx-ultra-thin-vegan-condoms-3pack-10269399 It is best to be prepared, have some lubricant and condoms, if you are using them, in your bedside table so that if you find yourselves open to the situation going in that direction that you don’t have to stop because of practicalities.
We can all appreciate that there is also not much that feels erotic about changing nappies, being sicked on, and the near constant loads of laundry that come with having a new baby, especially if this is on top of chasing around the children that we already have. But, making the headspace for sex is hugely important in what Esther Perel labels as nurturing the erotic. This for many women with a young baby can almost feel the most impossible part of re-engaging with sex. Our negative beliefs and expectations can hold us back from trying. Now these beliefs may be that sex will hurt, fear about the unknown, that our partner will just think everything is back to normal and regular sex will start being another thing we have to think about, that our bodies have changed and that things may feel different to both ourselves and our partner.
How you relate to your body may have changed, and that can also be influenced by the images we see online and on platforms like social media which can show us images of women who have ‘got their post baby body back’ making us feel like we should also be a certain way. This narrative is one that needs changing. Your body needs to heal, it has just done the most miraculous thing. Any scars, stretch marks, and visible changes should be embraced as part of your story and tapestry, not hidden. Talk to your partner about what you feel uncomfortable about but also let them tell you what they love about your body. Many partner’s are so amazed by what their partner’s have done that they accept any physical changes as part of the package; whereas women are often impacted by what they feel they ‘should’ look like which can cause negative beliefs and expectations. These can impact how we see ourselves sexually, but, the reality is that all bodies, deserve to experience pleasure, but reconnecting with that part of yourself which feels turned off, feels really hard when you aren’t kind to yourself about the skin you are in.
Body neutrality is about accepting your body, as it is, without any pressure. Our modern culture is obsessed with our bodies, and this is the one time in our lives they should be focused on and celebrated for what they have done rather than how they appear.
This is all a part of reconnecting to your sexual body, and sexual self after becoming a mum.
The important thing to hold in mind, is that this is just a stage, not the permanent state of things. Consider ways for how to make yourself more sexually comfortable.
- Visit a women’s health physiotherapist for a Mummy MOT, just so that they can ensure everything is as it should be.
- Make connecting and enjoying each other’s touch your first priority. Consider it the stepping stone to then trying sex, if it is safely established first it will make that jump back into sex feel much smaller and more manageable. It can be hard to hear from our partners that they want to push sex up the priority list, which can make us feel resentful or under pressure from them. But often what they are saying is they miss the connection and intimacy between you. So, exploring other ways that this can be achieved between you aside from intercourse, can end up being be a real positive for relationships.
- Lubricant and contraception are essential
- Accept your body for what it has done, and relating to your body as it is right now. There is plenty of time ahead of you to do any work that you want, but for now just allow yourself to be in the recovery space, and for that to be ok.
- Communication is essential. If you are in a relationship telling your partner how you are feeling is vital. Discuss the boundaries you are going to set, the do’s and don’ts. You also need to be able to tell them if things feel uncomfortable or painful. It’s likely they will be feeling nervous too. Many men experience the anxiety about hurting their partners when it comes to having sex after a baby, so clear communication between you is going to be critical.
- Connect with your sexuality and desire in a different way. Our imagination is the best pornography we have got; but as I wrote earlier, even having the headspace to think about sex at this point in time feels challenging. So, kick start your imagination and bring sex intentionally back into focus when you are ready. There are some great apps such as Dipsea Stories which offer audio-erotica, and Ferly which as part of its offering has Sensual Stories. Sometimes you may need a little encouragement to get started, as your sexuality can feel quite dormant. The important thing above all, is to not beat yourself up about feeling this way. If you notice a complete avoidance of sex, and strong negative reactions to the subject, try and understand what’s going on for you. Take your time and give yourself a chance to try and invite sex back into your life, accepting that this may be in a different way to how it looked before, but that isn’t always a bad thing.
* Help is always available from a Psychosexual Therapist. You can find a qualified therapist at https://www.cosrt.org.uk/information-for-members-of-the- public/therapist-listing/
Kate Moyle is a Psychosexual & Relationship Therapist. She is also UK Sex Expert for luxury sex toy brand Lelo and was a therapist on BBC’s six part series Sex On The Couch. Most recently she has been working with Boots to launch their new Sexual Wellbeing campaign instore and online, helping the nation to gain the confidence to invest in sexual wellness.