I can’t help but have Salt ‘N’ Pepper run through my head right now- ‘Let’s talk about Sex baby….’
But yes Let’s!
This is part 1 of a 3 part blog on this topic…because girls, I had a lot to say. This is one of those topics that I have always found tricky. It’s something I really wanted to talk about but wasn’t sure who to talk to or even what to say. Sex for most of us was a big part of our relationship before children and was the very thing that brought you to motherhood in the first place—in most cases. Yet, once we cross over into motherhood, it’s a whole new thing to navigate. Does it change? Should it change? What is “normal”? What’s it like for others? These are all questions that are so hard to ask; and even if you are bold enough to voice them, who do you ask?
Well, I’m just going to go there. I have three beautiful children and have been navigating this path for a few years now. Let me say up front, I don’t have all the answers, and even the ones I have may not be very good. I certainly don’t want to try and oversimplify what can be a very difficult and complex issue. There are so many variables, so many different values, diverse circumstances, there’s no way to take all of this into account in a blog.
But I do want you to know you’re not alone in this.
There isn’t something wrong with you.
There is support for you.
I want to spend the next few blogs on this topic and look at it from a few different angles. My hope is that, by opening up about this in my own life, it might spark conversations that lead to substantive change. Maybe the best way to start this sort of conversation is to just list some of the obstacles that get in the way of a regular or even functioning sex life after children. I don’t propose this as a definitive list by any stretch, I am sure you could add many more of your own, but these are some that I am familiar with through experience and what I hear from others.
Not surprisingly, tearing is top of the list. If you have sustained tearing at birth, then it is likely going to be sore for a few weeks. The very thought of anything going in there after a baby just came out of there is not appealing. Perhaps your partner is anxious about this, too. If he saw your baby being born, then he may have mixed feelings about penetration.
For me, after all of my babies, I had vaginal repair. After my first, I was particularly cautious about intercourse. I won’t lie, it was sore. We took things slow and made a bit more progress each time. It was quite some time before things were back to normal. For my second birth, the repair was more extensive; I had ongoing discomfort for about a year before I finally saw someone. I really don’t know why we put these things off—I guess it wasn’t bad enough for me to make it a priority. What I learned, however, is that being comfortable in my body really should be a priority. After my third birth, I was repaired again. These repairs ended up fixing the previous repair, and it meant that intercourse was actually comfortable for the first time in years.
In line with tearing is the issue of bleeding. This can continue for many weeks after giving birth. Most would probably wait until the bleeding stops (I presume), and for some this can take a while. But even after the bleeding stops, vaginal discharge can still be present for a while. It’s hard to feel comfortable down there when you just feel icky. Which brings us to another issue: incontinence and weak pelvic floor.
Weak pelvic floor
While this may not seem to directly relate to sexual desire, for those that are affected, it can be a real obstacle. Feeling anxious about bladder leakage, or perhaps the inability to not be flatulent, can be embarrassing. It certainly doesn’t help set a relaxed mood to enjoy oneself.
On-going perineal and/or vaginal discomfort
This was a real issue for me after the first two. At times, only certain positions were comfortable, but other times they weren’t. In the end, I had a physio look at my perineum to see exactly what was wrong. We worked on alleviating some of the discomfort (which we will talk about in another blog), which really helped. I also went to a gynecologist to look at getting a re-repair. We were into this discussion when I fell pregnant again, which meant I ended up getting the re-repair anyway.
Speaking of surgery, Caesareans. This is a big surgery and the after-effects need no explanation. Having a baby pulled out of a hole in your stomach is definitely going to reduce your desire for physical movement. To say it’s uncomfortable is probably an understatement.
Then there are general issues that cause discomfort, like a UTI, Constipation, Bloating, blocked ducts in your breasts, and other things. Just being a woman can be hard; common discomforts like these are all it takes to camp an already low libido.
Let’s not forget back pain. It seems like a simple thing, especially compared to vaginal tearing, but back pain after carrying a baby can be an ongoing discomfort post-birth—I mean, you’re still carrying the baby, only on the outside. Just maneuvering can be uncomfortable, let alone getting flexible in the bedroom. Chances are, all you want to do is lie on your back and not move, which may not feel too sexy. To be honest, I sometimes feel like an old woman just getting out of bed in the morning; so, when my husband suggests a position change, I feel disheartened by my lack of desire to do so. In fact, back pain has been a big issue for me. It took about a year after my last baby to actually do something about the pain. It resulted in seeing a physio and developing a treatment plan using pilates. This has been great (a blog for another day).
We all know how much fun hormones can be. They can take a few weeks to really settle down, particularly if you are breastfeeding; in fact, you may feel a suppressed libido for quite a while, and less vaginal secretions, which will also potentially add to discomfort in intercourse. There may be times when you struggle to find any pleasure and actually get frustrated. All the things that normally work just aren’t. The combination of Hormones as well as a cluttered headspace don’t allow for you to relax as much as you probably need.
Fact: did you know that only 29% of women have an orgasm every time they have sex? That’s according to Dr Rosie King (Sex Therapist and Medical Practitioner, I have linked her below). Oh, those hormones, but they don’t stop there…
Leaking breasts/sore breasts
There’s no nice point on which to leave this kind of blog, so let’s talk about leaking breasts. That glorious hormone, oxytocin (the happy hormone) is the one that is released during physical touch and is also the one that helps produce milk. I mean, really, those two things? Together? I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty hard to not feel awkward about leaking breasts during intimacy. In fact, I often kept a bra on with breast pads—sexy, right? Even when I was finally comfortable enough to take my bra off, the breast pads were right next to me. For a long time, I felt uncomfortable having my breast touched in case they leaked … so sexy. Add in there: cracked nipples, blocked ducts, and maybe a bout of mastitis if you are really lucky … breast discomfort can be real libido killer.
So, there it is. The can is open. The worms are crawling over the ground. These are some of the physical issues we face with intimacy after having kids. Maybe you can relate to a few of these? Please don’t forget: all of them can be discussed with your GP and appropriate referrals made. You don’t need to suffer needlessly. Moreover, let your partner know about it. If you have a good girlfriend, be brave, chat it out, it’s nice to know you aren’t alone.
In the next couple of posts, I want to look at social issues and then psychological issues, there really is so much to discuss. So, I hope if you do relate to any of this that you are starting to feel less isolated, more normal. Stay tuned, more vulnerability coming your way followed by some professional support.
Support and Resources: