It’s cliche, but true — almost everything changes when you become a parent. I knew having a baby would affect my sex life, but I wasn’t prepared for how profound, and sometimes absurd, those changes would be.
When I look back on my early days as a mom, it definitely took me a while to figure out how to be a parent and maintain a sex life. If you’re a new parent, your experiences may not be exactly like mine. But as I consider the things I know now that I wish I knew then, perhaps something will resonate with you.
I’m also bringing you bonus advice from my awesome friend and colleague, Dr. Jess O’Reilly! Dr. Jess is highly respected sexologist, educator, author and public speaker. I’ve attended her workshops and lectures and when it comes to sexuality, this woman knows her stuff.
Here are the top 5 things I know now that I wish I knew then:
I expected that one of the trade-offs of becoming a parent would be less sex, at least in the early days. “A decrease in sexual activity after having a baby is a near-universal experience — especially in the early months, so fret not! You may lose interest in sex, desire intimacy in different ways or prefer masturbating and other non-penetrative activities,” says Dr. Jess.
It definitely took a few months, but once the initial chaos of new-motherhood began to calm down, my libido made a comeback. It was so nice to be feeling sexy feelings but new motherhood had yet another change in store for me. Sex felt...different. Some of my tried-and-true sex favourites now felt odd. My orgasmic patterns were unpredictable. And I was turned-on by things that I’d previously had no interest in doing. It was all very disconcerting.
I’ve since learned about the ways that aging and life events can affect our bodies sexually. If I could speak to my new mom self, I’d tell her not to stress. After a baby it may take a little time to re-orient yourself sexually, but it’s also an opportunity to explore new techniques or try some new products. Masturbation can be a nice, low-pressure way to experiment and an enjoyable alternative to doing laundry while your baby naps.
According to Dr. Jess, “One study found that women are more likely to start masturbating before they resume intercourse, so toys designed for vulval (non-penetrative) stimulation might inspire you to change up your sex life (for the better) post-childbirth. I like the We-Vibe Touch and The Magic Banana which doubles as a Kegel exerciser.”
Masturbation and Kegels. What new mom doesn’t love products that do two jobs at once?
I read a LOT of women’s magazines when I while was chillin' on the couch feeding my baby. The perennial piece of advice to moms wanting boosting sexual self-confidence was to wear sexy lingerie. Well you know what? Having a baby is hard, yo! You should wear whatever you want and like a lot of moms, what I wanted to wear most of time was yoga pants. And you know what? Yoga pants make butts look great AND they're easy to get off during a quickie. Life with a baby doesn't always leave time for push up bras and foreplay!
Before my son was born, my partner and I had had a very intimate physical relationship. It was very important to both of us that that continue once we became parents. “Partner support and pre-baby relationship satisfaction levels have a significant impact on the sexual relationship,” Dr. Jess explains.
As I mentioned earlier, I had to make a lot of sexual re-adjustments in my early parenting days. Fortunately, sex is not the only way for new parents to stay physically connected as partners. One of the reasons sex with our partners can increase feelings of intimacy is that it releases oxytocin — a feel-good hormone that makes us feel trust and connection. Hugging, cuddling and other forms of affectionate contact release those same chemicals in our bodies.
It’s awesome to see that the folks at the show understand that non-sex sex has as much to do with intimacy as the hot, sweaty naked stuff. Showing love in a physical way kept my partner and I close, so that the disruption in our sex lives didn’t pull us apart emotionally.
When I found out I was going to have a baby, I spent serious money on a very swanky diaper bag that I wound up using maybe a dozen times. What I wish I bought instead was a bed wedge.
If you aren’t familiar with the wedge, it’s soft, but supportive triangle of foam that you can place on your mattress if you want to support part of your body during sex. It’s a great accessory for anyone, but they’re especially good for new parents. Dr. Jess agrees, “Whether you’re recovering from a Caesarian, looking to protect your tender boobies or looking for a position to change the angle of penetration, the Liberator Wedge and Ramp offer an easy solution.”
In fact the first time I saw the wedge was years ago at the sex show. If I could send a message to my younger, pre-parent self, I’d say, “Diaper bag, schmiaper bag. Get the wedge! You’ll thank me someday when your baby has you so exhausted you can’t support your own hips during sex!”
Finally, don’t feel that you have to alter your sexual preferences or identities in order to be motherly. As much as I try not to buy into these sorts of tropes, some part of me did wonder if being a mother meant I needed to be more wholesome.
I wish I’d been less concerned about whether my sexual desires fell in line with what I thought a mother should be. In retrospect, all my baby cared about was being loved and having his needs met. What kind of sex you have has nothing to do with what kind of mom you are. Babies could care less if we’re kinky or watch porn or have a fetish. Babies don’t care about our sex lives. They’re adorable, but they don’t know what’s going on.
Speaking of which, if you bring home a new sex toy put it away immediately. Do NOT leave it within reach of your munchkin’s grabby hands. I’ve learned from experience that babies can’t differentiate between a vibrating teething ring and...other things...that vibrate.
I've been reading a lot of articles about how parents can keep the spark alive in their marriage. Something that stands out to me is that a lot of the advice is about keeping sexuality and parenting separate. Intimacy, romance, and connecting with partners is acknowledged as important, but acting on it is supposed to happen after the kids to bed early or during date night.
30 Days, 30 Ways: How To Show Gratitude To Your Partner
I think taking time away from kids can be a great idea. I love taking parenting breaks — especially with my husband. But the reality is that even with date nights and adult-only getaways, the majority of our time together is spent with our son. I don’t stop being in love or feeling attracted to my partner when my child is in the room. Of course sex itself can’t happen when kids are present, but I do think there are everyday ways for people to sustain their intimacy and express sexual desire, even while they’re parenting.
Doing regular dates nights can be especially challenging when you have an infant. Having a baby upended my entire life as I had known it. The Man of Mans and I did manage a few evenings out, in those first few months as new parents but our main focus was on re-establishing regular routines for basic things like sleeping, eating and working...not date nights.
For families with limited incomes, a baby can have a major impact on finances — hiring a regular babysitter may not fit the new budget. Breastfeeding parents may not have the luxury of taking extended periods away from their young child. And parents struggling with postpartum depression or related mood disorders the prospect of dressing up and going out may be too overwhelming.
If date night feels like too much, there are other ways of staying connected. I think this is a great time for couples to focus on the non-sex sex in their relationship. Compliment each others' parenting efforts. Offer kisses, a hand to hold or a supportive hug. There's a lot of pressure on new parents and the last thing anyone needs in the new baby stage is more expectation. If it feels good for both of you, you can hold each other while snuggling, bathing or nursing the your baby If you want to up the intimacy factor, consider doing this naked or partially clothed. Not only does skin-to-skin contact help maintain the intimate bond between you and your partner, there’s strong evidence that it provides big health and social benefits for baby as well. (This article in Today’s Parent has some good info on the advantages of skin-to-skin-to-skin contact).
If you’re up for romantic dates and mad, hot lovin’ post-baby* by all means go for it! But if not, don’t pressure yourself.
(*Assuming you got the all-clear from your doctor).
The Bean is seven. His emotional/spiritual/psychological needs are more complex, but in some ways parenting has become easier for. Physically it’s less taxing. We don’t have to feed him or dress him or carry him around all the time. He doesn’t need hawk-like supervision every waking second of his life to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. One of the many benefits of having an older, more independent child, is that even when we’re with him, my partner and I can actually lavish some attention and energy on each other.
Again this doesn't mean we don't date or go away for weekends. I relish those child-free breaks. But what's nice is that now it doesn't feel like that romantic couple-y connection has to end when we go back into parenting mode. We can share a lingering kiss at the family dinner table. We can take a couple of minutes for a cuddly sway when the iPod shuffles to our favourite romantic song. We can take five-minutes for a foot massages on the couch. It's still tough at this stage of parenting to sneak off for some Saturday afternoon delight, but we can take few moments to flirt and enjoy each other, even if that mood strikes when our son is around.
The Bean has told us in no uncertain terms that kissing is “disgusting.” Our displays of affection are often met with a chorus of “EWWWWW!” and “You guys ARE so gross!” I try to strike a balance. On the one hand, I don’t want to throw my flirtations in anyone’s face. But on the other hand, I think my partner and I have the right to express our desire for one another in our own home. My partner and I never explicitly planned it, but we’ve both taken to exaggerating the pre-kiss lean in when my son is around. Gives him time to make all the appropriate gagging noises and still flee the room before things get PG-13.
"We're going to our room. Don't bother us." This is my dream of the future. At a certain point, if kids are old to be self-reliant for extended periods, I don't see any reason that parents can't put a lock on the bedroom door and retreat to their rooms when the mood strikes.
I understand that most teens don’t particularly enjoy the notion that their parents are sexual people. But I think that for the most part, teens are mature enough to accept the reality that their parents do have sex. I also think that part of the reason the thought of mom and/or dad doing it is so uncomfortable is the culture notion that in order to be good parents, people — mothers in particular — should desexualize themselves. But the truth is that a significant percentage of teens have partnered sex. And if having parents excuse themselves to go have sexy times was a normal occurrence, not only might it make the whole thing seem less weird, it might also provide a model of a positive sexual relationship.
If you want to learn other ways to honour your sexuality as a parent, I’ll be hosting a workshop this coming Thursday in Toronto.