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At times, some subjects are difficult to discuss, but they remain an important part of preparing for and going through the parenting experience.
A woman gives birth. She rests, she has her six-week checkup, and then she’s ready for sex. This is how the narrative goes, right?
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the reality. Some women will need further time to heal, even if all the physical wounds have healed.
Her mental recovery might need more time or she might have experienced some trauma during childbirth that needs attending before she’s ready to be sexually active again.
Sadly, some women will feel pressured, or even be forced, into having sex much earlier than they are ready, or even before the six-week period is over.
Sex too soon after birth
Sex is a very important part of our lives. Wanting to know about what will happen with your sex life once you’ve had a baby is at the top of most couple’s list of questions about becoming parents.
Although pregnancy, birth, and the postnatal period are all part of a woman’s sexual life, we’ll refer to sex or sexual activity as the act of regaining sexual intimacy in the couple.
Let’s make one thing clear: having a baby changes the way you’ve lived until now. It’s not realistic to think everything between you will be back to how things were before within a few weeks or months after the birth of the baby.
It’s not just the two of you anymore. There’s now a new family member who will need a lot of care, support, and help. There’s also a woman whose life has been greatly transformed and has become a mother. Very likely there’s also a man who, although he hasn’t experienced any physical changes, has just become a father and is also going through one of the greatest changes he’ll ever experience.
Let’s explain what happens in the sexual lives of women and men when they become parents.
No interest in sex after baby
The number one biological mission of every being on Earth (whether it’s a plant, a microscopic organism, or a human being) is to reproduce.
In the most developed species, the pleasure you receive when you reproduce will make it worth your while, so you will keep doing it efficiently.
Reproduction in human beings is a long process, probably one of the longest in the animal kingdom. Therefore, once a woman has given birth, her body is geared towards nurturing, protecting, and caring for her new baby not reproduction. As a baby’s survival depends completely on their mother looking after them, the libido of most new mothers will be very low, as it isn’t the time to get pregnant again but to focus on the new baby and recover.
Is it normal for sex drive to drop?
A woman who has no interest in postpartum sex is a completely normal woman who is behaving exactly as she should. Her sex drive will come back in time, as the baby grows and becomes more independent. It’s completely normal for her to have no interest or no energy to engage in any sexual activity in the first few weeks or even months after giving birth.
A man’s hormonal changes work very differently and the fluctuations they experience when they become fathers are much milder than those of new mothers. A male’s role in reproduction is to spread his seed as many times as possible.
Of course, there are many differences in behavior among men. However, their sex drive and libido are usually quite similar to the way they were before the birth.
The physical effects of sex too soon after childbirth
The truth is, your body goes through a lot during childbirth and needs time to heal before sex. If you are forced into sex too soon, it can be uncomfortable and painful.
Your vagina may be sore or swollen for weeks after the delivery. You may require stitches from tearing, or an episiotomy which add to the discomfort and healing time.
Hormone levels will fluctuate, which will decrease natural lubrication and make sex uncomfortable. Breastfeeding also impacts on the hormones and may delay the return of your period. The lack of sleep and fatigue are par for the course with a new baby. This can sap your libido and make you less interested in intimacy with your husband or partner.
The key is to be patient, communicate with your partner how you are feeling, and do not fall prey to guilt or pressure. While six weeks is typically the recommended wait time, every woman’s body is different. Even when the physical scars have healed, you still may not be ready and need more time.
Don’t feel pressured into anything before you’re physically and emotionally ready. Your physical, mental health and comfort should be the priority right now. When you do start having sex again, use lubricant and try different positions to find what feels good for you.
How to satisfy your partner or husband after childbirth
It’s biologically normal that a woman’s sex drive is low after giving birth and a man’s sex drive is stable throughout his fertile years. It’s also very common for a woman to want to be involved in her partner’s sex life even if she’s not feeling any sexual urges.
There are several ways you can do this without involving penetrative sex.
- Talk about it! It’s as easy as that. Now you both know why there is a difference in your libido, talk about how you’re feeling and what adaptations you are able or willing to make
- Try to make it fair on both sides. You both need to adapt to this new situation. If there is unevenness, it should favor the one who’s going through the biggest change
- Get more involved in his ‘solo’ sex. Would he like you to take part sometimes while he masturbates? What would he like you to say or do while you carry on doing what you’re doing?
- Pleasure him when you have the energy. You can pleasure him with your hands, your mouth, or any body part you feel you want to use or he likes over the rest. What about your beautiful, full, big breasts?
If you feel you can’t talk to your partner about this or you’re the one making most of the adjustments for his sexual satisfaction, look for guidance and support. You might just need to improve how you communicate with each other, but you could also be in an abusive relationship. Talk to your health care provider who will be able to help you.
Husband not interested in sex after baby
Sometimes when the woman is regaining her libido and she’s ready to resume sexual activity, it’s the man or partner who isn’t interested in having sex.
This could happen for several reasons:
- Seeing you as a mother has taken over more mental space than it should and it’s taking him time to see you as the sexual partner you were before. This is a way nature has found to protect the woman in the early postpartum period. The woman needs to heal for at least four to six weeks after birth. If he continues to be uninterested after this time, he might be experiencing some difficulty in moving you from the ‘mother’ status to his ‘sexual partner’
- He’s very involved in the care of his baby and partner. Maybe you have a very demanding baby, who makes both parents completely exhausted and any available time is used mainly to sleep and rest
- He suffered a traumatizing experience during the baby’s birth. Most men have only seen their partner’s genitals during sex and it can be very disturbing to see their partner’s vulva during birth. The changes it goes through to allow a baby to be born can have a big impact on him. Some men can be severely traumatized if the birth is highly medicalized. Instead of seeing his partner giving birth he’s witnessed a baby’s extraction – maybe an instrumental delivery, or he’s seen a tear, a cut, or too much blood. Talk to your healthcare provider if this is the case
- He has his sexual needs covered somewhere else. Let’s be honest. This can be the reason he seems uninterested in having sex with the mother of his child. This behavior is more common in sexist men who behave very selfishly in their relationship with women in general and the mother of their child in particular.
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Why do women need to heal after birth?
Every woman needs to heal after giving birth. Even following a healthy pregnancy and the easiest of births, major changes, and readaptations take place in the first two months postpartum. The uterus needs to go back to a non-pregnant status and size. At the same time, the placenta has left a wound as big as the placenta that needs time to heal.
A woman’s pelvic floor has played an important role throughout pregnancy and during childbirth and also needs to be cared for.
On top of that, if she’s had stitches or even a c-section it’s understandable she needs even more time to recover from the birth.
Can having sex too soon after birth cause problems?
No one should feel forced or pressured to have sex. As we’ve explained, a new mother’s priority is to care for herself and the newborn, and having sex too soon after giving birth isn’t a priority for her.
Can a woman enjoy physical intimacy with her partner soon after birth? Yes, she can, but this should be completely up to her and led by her.
Penetrative sex isn’t recommended in the first four to six weeks following birth as there’s an increased risk of infection. It takes time for the cervix to close completely and for the placental wound to heal.
Even if ejaculation doesn’t happen inside the vagina there’s an increased risk of infection in the postpartum period. Depending on when ovulation begins after birth, there’s also a chance of becoming pregnant again.
The pelvic floor muscles and the vaginal tissue also need time to heal during this period. Vaginal dryness is very common in the first four weeks postpartum as a protective measure against inserting anything in the vagina.
Almost all women who choose tampons or a menstrual cup for their periods tend to discard these methods in their postpartum weeks and just use sanitary pads instead.
Nothing should really enter the vagina before the six week mark after a vaginal birth.
Emotional pressure to have sex too soon
As a culture, we tend to joke about the six-week wait after birth. And in some respects, in a healthy relationship, the humor can help pass the time until two willing partners are ready.
However, in other circumstances, the jokes feed into the idea that waiting for sex is impossible, that healing fits into a neat timeline, or a new mother owes her partner sex asap.
We’ve come a long way in terms of respecting women in our culture. However, we’re not completely where we need to be.
In fact, not too long ago, the ‘husband stitch’ was joked about and even performed. It was an extra stitch, done following childbirth, to make sure a partner was happily satisfied. Never mind that it can cause significant discomfort and complications for a woman.
You can read more about this by checking out The Husband Stitch – Myth or Fact?
It can be very wearing on a new mother to be on the receiving end of the jokes that start as soon as she gives birth. Sometimes they’re made by her physician, or part of the pressure from an impatient partner, and the belief a woman needs to meet her partner’s needs.
Some women are in healthy relationships and can put off the hints and advances, but they still add strain to an already stressful time.
‘Melissa’ shared her story.
‘I didn’t feel pressured necessarily, but he did make it known (via being clingy and touchy) that he wasn’t happy he had to wait. I still had stitches at my six week checkup so I’m glad I didn’t cave!’
Having a new baby is a time of many transitions for a couple. This isn’t to suggest things are easy for a partner, or sex isn’t a part of a relationship, or to suggest it’s the only thing men think about. However, many women do feel pressured into sex too soon and well before they’re ready.
Dr. Anastasia Powell, author of Sex, Power, and Consent, said:
‘The idea that a male partner would be either aggressively or persistently insisting on sex too soon after childbirth … speaks to that sense of male entitlement to women’s bodies and to sex. It’s really problematic that the sexual relationship is really only on his terms and about his needs and what he wants’.
Intimate partner rape – being forced to have sex too soon after childbirth
In a perfect world, a woman would always be respected, particularly by their partners, and especially after giving birth. However, that isn’t always the case.
Decades ago, marital rape wasn’t recognized anywhere as there was no awareness of consent. It’s true to say we’ve come a long way since then. In many countries, it’s now regarded as a crime. Sadly, it isn’t seen that way everywhere and therefore a greater level of awareness is still needed.
Intimate partner rape, also known as spousal rape or marital rape, is illegal and morally wrong. Forcing yourself onto your partner without their consent is a violation of their basic human rights and damages the foundation of trust in the relationship.
Some warning signs that you may be in an abusive relationship, if your partner:
- Pressures or forces you into any unwanted sexual acts.
- Ignores your refusal or lack of consent.
- Makes you feel obligated to have sex to prove your love or commitment.
Awareness is more than just legal recognition. It’s a cultural shift. It’s about women having understanding partners, and realizing they aren’t alone if this sort of treatment happens to them.
If you experience intimate partner rape, know that it is not your fault. You deserve to feel safe and loved. Consider reaching out to local resources for support such as a domestic abuse help line, women’s shelter, or your doctor or midwife right away. You have the power and strength within you to build a healthy, respectful relationship – or leave a harmful one, do not settle for less.
What can we do to help mothers feel less pressured or forced into sex too soon?
It’s a complex issue, of course, but there are some things that might help women feel less pressured.
Some helpful changes are:
- Proper prenatal education for couples. This would include realistic information about sex post-birth and the need for healing
- Maternity care providers educating new parents about what to expect while healing, and the importance of waiting
- Professionals abstaining from jokes related to waiting for sex
- More awareness in our culture about the realistic transition after childbirth, and the demands of early motherhood.
If you feel threatened by your partner, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
In an emergency, call 000 (in Australia) or 911 (in the US).