Earlier this week, I (Monet) shared two podcasts about Sex after Baby (episode 48 and 49). The conversation that ensued in our facebook group made me realize that we need to talk about postpartum sex more. It's rarely the subject of dinner party conversation, and sadly, it's sometimes not even talked about in safe circles of friends.
So we're talking about it. And I couldn't think of a better day to launch the discussion than February 13th.
Over the next several months, we'll hear from birth professionals, sex therapists, and pelvic floor experts. We'll talk about lubricants and positions and mental blocks to intimacy. We won't get as raunchy as Dan Savage, but we'll be honest and open. And hopefully, at the end of it, we'll all be having better sex.
But today, we'll start small. Today, I'll just share FIVE things I've learned about postpartum sex. One caveat: I'm no sex expert...I'm just a mom. And while these are a few things I've learned over the last year and a half, I know that each woman is different. So take these with a grain of salt, and please do us all a favor and share what you've learned!
1. Giving Birth Is No Small Feat. As a birth photographer, I see a lot of babies come out of vaginas. Each time I'm amazed at what our bodies are capable of doing. The ability of our vaginas to stretch and open is astounding. We should brag. We should talk about it more. But, to be honest, birth isn't without sacrifice. Be it a small nick or a fourth degree tear, almost all women walk away with some sort of birth injury (and let's not forget our c-section mamas...they are healing from a major surgery and can actually have significant vaginal pain too). We need to respect what our bodies went through, and we need to allow our bodies time to heal. And here's the real truth: that time frame is different for every single woman. Which leads me to my next point...
2. You May Not Be Ready To Have Sex at Six Weeks Postpartum. I still remember texting Kelsey after my six-week postpartum appointment.
Dr. Brinkman said she can't even tell I had a baby! She said my vagina looks amazing! She said I could have sex now, no problem!
I then feigned excitement. I mean, this was supposed to be good news right? My vagina had "healed." I was ready to get back in the sack. But the reality was actually far different. Sexual intercourse was the LAST thing I wanted, and while my doctor told me my vagina looked great, it still didn't feel that way.
I remember feeling ashamed at my reluctance. I remember thinking, "everyone has sex once they hit six weeks postpartum. It's like a rite of passage. You have to do it." And because I wasn't talking about postpartum sex with all my friends, no one refuted those thoughts. And so we had sex. And it hurt. And I felt even more ashamed and embarrassed.
But guess what? It's okay to not want to have sex six weeks postpartum. Your body may look ready after a quick cursory glance by your OB, but only YOU know if it's time. My advise to all pregnant and postpartum moms is this: listen to your inner voice, listen to your body! For some women, it takes several months before sexual intercourse can resume...for some women, it only takes a few days (yeah, it happens!). And for some women, it can take a whole year before you feel ready to have sexual intercourse again. Which brings me to my next point....
3. Penetration does not equal sex. Hand jobs, blow jobs...you get the idea. There are so many ways to be intimate with your partner that don't involve penetration.
4. Vaginal Dryness is No Joke. Like many moms, I had a few second degree tears that required stitching. The tears weren't unusually significant but they were large enough to leave me with some annoying scar tissue. But, to be honest, the stitches and scar tissue paled in comparison to the vaginal dryness I experienced. Breastfeeding around the clock had led to a drop of estrogen which left me feeling like a shriveled up 90-year-old grandma. Add a penis with friction, and suddenly sexual intercourse felt like rubbing my cheek against sand paper.
Now I wish I could say we found an awesome lubricant that took all of the dryness away. But we didn't. And I wish I could say that the dryness got better after those first few months of intense breastfeeding. But it didn't. However I can say this, the vaginal dryness will eventually go away. It took me about 15 months to feel normal down there again...but let me tell you, normal feels amazing!
I'm hoping that through our discussions, one of you will be able to point us moms to a great lubricating solution. I did learn one trick though: squirt the lubricant into your vagina. Applying it to a penis means that 98% of it will likely rub off during entry, leaving your vaginal canal just as dry as before.
5. Boobs are off-limits. If any of you spend time with me in person, you know I have a very devoted breastfeeder. My 20-month-old daughter breastfeeds ALL day long. She breastfeeds in public. She breastfeeds at home. She breastfeeds in bed. She breastfeeds when I carry her. My nipple is in her mouth constantly. And so, very early on, I made it clear to my husband that my nipples were off-limits. Now, I understand that this may not be ideal, but it's what I needed to feel like I could let go. My relationship with my breasts had changed quite significantly since giving birth, and to be honest, I felt touched out. My husband can look at them, he can fondle them, but he can't touch my nipples because it drives me crazy. We both know this won't last forever, and believe me, there are many more things he can touch than those he can't.
We're 20 months postpartum and I'm finally feeling back to my sexual self. But for the first year, I had to make it an intention...it wasn't something I wanted to do. I always felt better afterwards, but on many days, I almost dreaded it. And I'm learning that period of low libido isn't abnormal. So mama friends, give yourself grace. Talk to your partner. Talk to your friends. Trust that your body knows what it's doing. Trust that your body can heal and recover. And please stay tuned over the next few weeks, as we talk to other women and we learn about practical things we can do to take care of our sexual health.
PS. Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy can be a game-changer, especially if you're having pain during sex past six weeks postpartum. So if you're in that camp, don't despair! We'll be talking to a therapist soon!
PSS. While this is my story, I know it's only one of many. I gave birth vaginally, but we'll be talking with moms and experts who can address c-section births too.
And PLEASE, comment below with your questions! We want to talk about the issues that you're most concerned about!