Despite all the obstacles that come with being a new parent, I believe that the biggest problem that couples have with sex postpartum is making sex a problem. Let me explain: lack of desire only matters if it is impacting you and your partner in a negative way. Some months may be less sex-focused than others. Life happens and our bodies change. This is not a problem. However, through our words and thoughts we can quite literally manifest sexual problems. Our bodies have the ability to take on the thoughts that our minds ruminate over. We store our emotions in our body and sometimes they manifest in physical sensations such as pain, tightness, holding, clenching and butterflies that are not conducive to pleasure.
So, how do we prevent the problem? Let me just start by saying, try not to worry about what sex will become after having a baby. All of us and our bodies are different. Trust that your body will evolve and tell you what it likes and wants more of and what it does not like and no longer enjoys. As you ease into your new post-baby sex life, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Desire is not always spontaneous. We have to create it.
When we are younger, curious, excited, have more time, or are enjoying new relationships that are flirty and fun we often experience spontaneous desire. We crave sex because we want to feel good, desired and relieved of stress. Many people crave the stability that comes with being in a healthy relationship, but for most, stability isn’t sexy—it’s the mystery that fuels desire. However, we now know that desire can be created and used to restore passionate sex. We are responsible for creating sexy moments for ourselves and enjoying experiences with our partner. Think less performative (doing something out of obligation because you are “supposed” to) and more experiential (being present in a moment and enjoying the process).
Relax with your partner…without your cell phones.
Being a new parent comes with so much responsibility that it leaves many to feel like there is no time for anything other than their new baby. Some parents might think the fix is to schedule intimacy. In my clinical opinion, scheduling sex creates too much pressure for the person who has low desire and leads to an inability to “perform” on schedule. Instead, try scheduling relaxation time with your partner as a soft start to reengaging with your sex life. Remove technology and connect body-to-body. Allow your body to relax. When it’s feeling free from others it may just start desiring a different form of touch. That skin hunger that you might have had pre-baby might return, allowing your craving for sexual connection to return.
Take deep breaths.
Ask researcher Peggy Kleinplatz, PhD what optimal sex is and she won’t tell you it’s about orgasm, attraction, lust, desire or chemistry. In fact, those are minor components of great sex. According to Dr. Kleinplatz’ research, great sex is about being present, embodied, focused and in sync with your partner.
How do we get there? Through the breath. Through relaxation. By getting out of your head and the ruminating thoughts of what you are supposed to do and letting yourself be in a state of focused presence. In other words, setting your body up for “feeling.” It is important to assist your automatic nervous systems with a way to maintain homeostasis (stability). This involves taking time for deep breaths, walks (when the breaths don’t work), big chest-to-chest hugs, maintaining a healthy diet and communicating your desires. If you are unsure of what you desire, try practicing on yourself first. Think about what helps you relax, calm down and enjoy pleasure in your body.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
New parents need help! It’s extremely difficult to do it all when you’re a parent. A few hours with a caretaker can literally save you and your relationships. When you are too stressed or exhausted, you are less likely to be able to emotionally regulate or relax with another person. This could not only impact your parenting but your relationship with yourself and your partner. Feeling attraction to ourselves is a really important part of our sensuality, sexuality and desire. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to watch your child for an evening. Commit time to yourself so that you can connect with your own body and your partner’s.
Let go of what you think the outcome of sex should be.
The truth is sex evolves over time and that shouldn’t scare you! Fear can be the biggest blocker of desire for sex. Our genitals respond to fear with clenched and tightened vaginas and erectile unpredictability which cause our bodies to brace for touch rather than relax into an experience.
Throughout the lifecycle our sex(ability) can takes on various shapes and forms. For many women, penetrative sex is not the pleasure of choice immediately postpartum. It is common for new moms to be healing from vaginal tears, bleeding, or stitches post-cesarean. The best sex might not be the sex you are used to having or what society tells you is “normal.” It might be about touching, kissing, gentle caressing, genital rubbing and even eye-gazing. I encourage new parents to not worry about one form of erotic play and lean into the different pleasures that the body is capable of receiving through our senses.
Below are two exercises that may bring a little spark back into you and your partner’s sex lives.
Create a body map: a sexy and fun date night!
Get excited about sex postpartum by creating a sexy date night in just one hour. Take the time to relearn each other’s bodies. Through body mapping, people can discover that there are new and more exciting ways to pleasure their partner. Excitement increases desire!
Here is what you do:
- Preparation: Quickly rinse in the shower for maximum comfort and collect 2 blank pieces of paper and a pen or pencil.
- Step 1: Draw your partner’s body as you see it (you can print out an outline of a human body if it puts less pressure on your artistic abilities). You will be taking notes on this drawing so leave room for writing.
- Step 2: Begin the activity with your partner lying on their back. You will move through their whole body starting at the feet and working your way up to their head. Start by kissing, sucking, rubbing, and touching their body using different amounts of pressure. Take notes: What did your partner like? What did they hate? What type of pressure or touch did they enjoy?
- Step 3: Have your partner flip over onto their stomach and repeat step 2.
- Step 4: Have your partner repeat steps 2 and 3 on you.
- Step 5: Use the information you learned from body mapping to get excited about the capacity you and your partner have to receive pleasure. Take notes so you can keep track of how your sexuality changes overtime.
- Step 6: Don’t forget to redo your body maps once every 6-12 months. Our bodies’ capacity to receive pleasure is always evolving.
Lean into your sexuality by easing your mind. Take five, ten or even fifteen minutes to connect to your body. There are several free meditative exercise apps that can help. I personally recommend Insight Timer which offers different relaxation exercises for free. Take the time to let your body calm down. Pleasure is expansive and is best felt when we are relaxed. When we resist pleasure, our bodies clench (see The Pleasure Zone).
Remember, sexuality is not linear. Our sex drive will ebb and flow throughout the lifespan. Parent doesn’t have to be your only identity. You can be a sexual being capable of expansive and exciting sexual experiences.