As many of my friends know, I like talking about sex. At baby showers and wedding shindigs, I’m typically the one in the back of the room, muttering a few off-color comments not quietly enough to my neighbors. I'm the one asking the awkward questions to close friends - the one giving a wink or an eyebrow raise at just the right [wrong] time a newly engaged friend.
Some likely assume it’s because I’m uncensored and brash - that I like attention or to make people uncomfortable. Any of that may be true, but that’s not why I talk about sex. That’s not why I ask my [close] friends how their sex life is; not why words like masturbation and orgasm and clitoris don’t make me squirm. I actually don’t enjoy making people feel uncomfortable.
I enjoy making people feel heard, understood, and supported.
That’s why I talk about sex. Because, for one reason or another, we are all-too-hesitant to discuss something so integral to our personal and social identities. We suffer alone, in the dark and in silence, believing that we are the only ones on the planet experiencing a certain physical or emotional hangup.
By bringing our struggles to light, we have the opportunity to provide each other with the “me too’s” that have the power to heal and to transform.
Birth and sex are undeniably linked. The sounds we make, the positions we take, the parts of our body affected - sex and birth resonate and touch each other. When we experience trauma in one area, it almost undeniably influences the other.
So, without further ado, let’s talk about sex.
Postpartum sexuality is complicated. Heck, all sexuality is complicated. But after our bodies build and birth babies, the whole world of sexuality often gets arduous and convoluted. These are just some of the dramatic changes that we experience after birth that can seriously mess with our sexuality:
- Altered body image: extra weight, soft stomach, less-than-perky breasts, stretch marks - all these and more contribute to changing the way we see ourselves.
- Physical discomfort: scar tissue, vaginal dryness, soreness, exhaustion, etc. can certainly bump sex down on the list of priorities.
- Low sex drive: hormonal changes can adversely affect one’s sex drive, especially if you are breastfeeding.
- Birth trauma: if you experienced a traumatic birth, your sex life may be affected.
- Sleep disruption: need I say more, really?
I am currently 17 months postpartum, and really enjoy sex.
But it was a process. One of my biggest surprises was that sex actually felt tighter after giving birth, not “loose” like I was expecting. I later learned that scar tissue was causing this tightness, and that it was not a discomfort I had to live with.
Here are a eight other things I have learned over the past 17 months:
1. Let your partner speak for themselves.
Try not to project what your partner “may” be thinking on to them. “They don’t think I’m sexy anymore.” “How could they be attracted to me with my flabby stomach?” “There’s no way they think my breasts are erotic with their current profession of feeding our child.” On and on we go in our heads, creating unnecessary stress, anxiety and sadness for ourselves. Instead, I suggest providing your partner with the opportunity to express their thoughts themselves. Give them the chance to affirm you. Open communication will not only provide your partner the opportunity to put many of your fears to rest, it also lays a necessary foundation of trust and intimacy, both of which are essential for fulfillment on all levels of relationship (including, if not especially, sexual).
2. Seek health over thinness.
I used to run to be skinny. Now I run because I sleep better, feel better, eat better - because my daughter loves being outside and our runs take us to the park. Sure, fitting into my jeans is a bonus, but the illusive “body” the media tells us we need to have to be happy - that’s no longer my motivation. If we’re chasing that body, we will never feel sexy because “that” [prepubescent] body could not have brought us this baby.
3. Make time for connecting on other levels before expecting physical intimacy.
It’s not rocket science, but if you and your partner haven’t made time for each other to connect emotionally, intellectually and as friends, you may not be jumping to make love.
4. Have an orgasm [or two].
This may take patience on both your parts, but it is worth it. Sex is great, but orgasming is awesome. Be patient with yourself - what worked for you before birth may not work as effectively (or at all) after. You may need to get creative. Here is yet another reason honest, candid communication is so important between you and your partner. It’s easy to become resentful when the “O’s” are all one-sided.
5. Seek professional help.
Whether it was physical or emotional trauma during the birthing process that may be contributing to the aversions, pain, discomfort, anxiety, etc. you are experiencing with sex, there are trained professionals astute at providing care, direction, and healing. DO NOT BE EMBARRASSED. Make the call - today.
6. Not all pain is normal.
After a baby’s head has traveled down your birth canal and out of your vagina (or your uterus/abdominal muscles have been cut open), it’s to be expected that sex may feel different, maybe even painful. Scar tissue and damage to the pelvic floor can cause an unexpected amount of tightness/looseness, pain, discomfort, etc. If this occurs constantly for you, I encourage you to seek professional help, as it may not be something you have to live with.
7. Be willing to laugh.
There are some crazy changes that happen in happen in our bodies after we give birth (two words: vaginal farts). If we can’t laugh, we’ll be embarrassed. And embarrassment wrecks a sex drive (and relational trust).
8. The longer you wait, the scarier it may become.
Just in most areas of our life, the longer we put something off due to fear or anxiety, the bigger, scarier and more looming sex becomes. Just as fear and tension during labor can increase our experience of pain, the same is true for sex. Though women joke about it, it may help to have a glass of wine (or two) to relax your body and mind.
The moral of the story, ladies, is if you are not happy with your current sexual experience with your partner, the time to make the change is now. It is time to seek the counseling you need - as a couple or as an individual - to seek the physical healing that may be hindering you from enjoying sex. To set realistic goals for your physical fitness, and create a sustainable plan to reach them. To give yourself (and your partner) grace and the benefit of the doubt.
Sex is important. It’s not everything, but it is important. And whatever “satisfying sex life” looks like for you, do what you need to do to make that happen.