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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.
This article contains descriptions of intimate partner violence; discretion is advised as it might be difficult for some to read.
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.
Sex Too Soon – New Mothers Forced Or Pressured Into Sex After Childbirth
A combination of societal norms and expectations, unhealthy relationship dynamics, pressure, and the mindset that a woman should please her man, means some women are pressured into sex too soon after giving birth.
Intimate Partner Rape – Being Forced To Have Sex Too Soon After Childbirth
You might be wondering whether it is really necessary to share stories about such personal experiences.
In a perfect world, women 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 recognised anywhere. It’s true to say we’ve come a long way since then.
In many countries, it is now recognised as a crime. Sadly, though it isn’t recognised everywhere and therefore a greater level of awareness is still needed.
Awareness is more than just legal recognition. It’s a cultural shift. It’s about women having understanding partners, and realising they aren’t alone.
Perhaps a woman will come across this and realise this type of treatment isn’t okay, and she doesn’t have to feel alone.
The names in the following stories have been changed to provide anonymity to those who bravely shared their experiences.
‘Lisa’ and her former partner had three children together. As a young bride and mother, she felt her relationship dynamic fell into the realm of normal. Looking back, she now knows it wasn’t okay.
“I told him many, many times that I had to wait 6 weeks at least. I had had an episiotomy. It hurt to pee, poop, sit, stand, be alive, lol. All he cared about was his lack of sex.
“Not my lack of sleep, as I got up with the baby to feed, change, mother. Not my lack of comfort with this tear in my vagina. But his lack of sex.
“I really can’t even say how many days went by before his hostile and nasty attitude made him nearly unbearable to live with. I ended up giving him head [oral sex]. Probably daily. To shut him up”.
As well as being a first time mother, Lisa was made to meet her husbands ‘needs’ regardless of how she felt. Although she might not have been physically forced into it, his emotional manipulation forced her. She either had to live with his angry behaviour or give in to his demands. This was a form of abuse, but at the time Lisa didn’t realise it wasn’t okay.
“I think I did manage to keep him off me until my 6 week check but I was not ready to have sex yet. My cut was still sore, though healed; it scared me that it would hurt so bad.
“But that exact day of my exam he begged, and I knew if I said no his treatment of me would get pretty bad pretty quick. And frankly, I was sick of giving him oral sex.
“I did give in and, even worse, he wanted me on top. I couldn’t even try to relax and ‘just take it’. And again, if I didn’t give him what he wanted he’d act like a toddler and throw a fit.
“I was in so much pain. I bled. I cried after. He didn’t care at all”.
Wait, she made it to six weeks. So what’s the problem?
Despite being fed the line recovery from childbirth is a six week process, the reality is it simply isn’t true. Every body is unique, every birth is unique, and recovery varies greatly.
Besides, Lisa simply wasn’t ready and that’s the important takeaway.
Lisa’s former partner displayed abhorrent behaviour. Added to that is society’s overall misunderstanding of how women heal after childbirth, which plays into the reason partners might count down to the six week mark and see no reason why a woman wouldn’t be ready.
“Again, after baby number two, and then number three, it was the same thing. Oral sex daily until six weeks. Then begging for sex the day of my exam.
“It didn’t matter that I was exhausted. I was literally falling asleep while giving him head. He would get so mad. But if I didn’t give him head he would also get mad. There was no winning”.
In this case, the relationship dynamic was unhealthy, and due to a partner’s abusive behaviour. There’s no excuse for it. However, we can also see the cultural influences.
In our culture, we don’t always recognise the enormity of growing and birthing a baby (whether vaginally or via c-section) and we don’t recognise how much energy goes into caring for a completely dependent new human being.
Awareness and education might not stop 100% of abuse, and culture is never an excuse for abuse, but being more aware can help more people have healthy expectations during early parenthood.
What if everyone were educated on the toll pregnancy takes on the human body? What if everyone were taught the importance of recovery? And what if everyone were taught how physically and emotionally demanding parenthood – especially early parenthood – really is?
As well as that, there’s the obvious teaching that men are responsible for and capable of controlling their sexual desires.
And what if all women were taught they are worthy of respect and not responsible for satisfying someone’s desires?
Would we see better outcomes? I think so.
“I felt like I didn’t matter. My wants and needs were irrelevant and certainly my discomfort was no one’s problem but my own.
“I was scared and hurting and it didn’t matter.
“And now I face the dilemma of trying to teach my daughters it is not their duty to service a man’s sexual needs. And teach my son women are not here for his sexual gratification”.
Why is sharing Lisa’s story important?
It’s because she is focused on ending a cycle of abuse. Perhaps another woman’s partner will read this and realise he should give a new mother the respect and time to heal she deserves. Perhaps a new mother will read this and realise no one should treat her with disrespect or pressure her into sexual activity before she’s ready.
Emotional Pressure – When Words And Actions Pressure Mothers Into Sex Too Soon
As a culture, we tend to joke about the 6 week wait. And in some respects, in a healthy relationship, the humour 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 that 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?.
The jokes that start as soon as a mother gives birth, sometimes made by her physician, the pressure from an impatient partner, and the belief a woman needs to meet her partner’s needs can be very wearing on an already weary new mother.
Some women are in healthier relationships and can put off the hints and advances, but it adds strain to an already stressful time.
‘Melissa’ also 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 6 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 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 so 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”.
Why Do Women Need To Heal After Birth?
If a woman has an uncomplicated birth does she really need to wait?
Absolutely. Why? Because not only does she need to heal after the birth, she needs to recover from pregnancy.
Having a c-section also requires healing. Even if a baby doesn’t pass through the birth canal, the mother is recovering from pregnancy and major surgery.
The placenta, which can be about 8-9 inches in diameter, is released from the uterine wall, leaving a wound which needs to heal. If intercourse happens too soon, it can cause serious complications.
Physical healing aside, giving birth is a huge life experience. A lack of rest, stress, and pressure can have an overall negative impact on a woman’s wellbeing.
Welcoming a new baby is also a big change. Some women experience a traumatic birth and having sex too soon can trigger a whole host of emotions.
It’s important women be given adequate time to heal and process after birth.
Partners, you might be interested to read this: 10 Reasons Why She Doesn’t Want Sex After Having A Baby.
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).