For many parents, resuming intimacy and sex after having a baby can be a point of tension.
It’s generally understood there will be a physical recovery period for a woman’s body – whether her baby was born vaginally or via c-section.
But what if time keeps ticking along and you still don't feel the slightest bit interested in sex?
Perhaps you don't even want your partner to touch you.
With mismatched libidos, tension can escalate into frustration and resentment and, for some couples, it can feel like a hopeless stalemate.
No matter if your libido has been on vacation for weeks, months, or even years, this article will help you to feel more positive about connection and intimacy in your relationship.
Reclaiming Your Libido After Having A Baby
In order to thrive, and even just stay connected in your evolving relationship, it’s important to have the right people on your team. The right people are those who have plenty of proven experience in helping to deal with post-natal relationship challenges.
To give you the very best start, I spoke to three outstanding relationship professionals, who are, I believe, some of Australia’s best early parenting relationship experts. I have personal experience with two of them, and their advice made a massive difference to my family's journey. So I'm excited to share their wisdom with you too.
Let's get started by looking at the biggest barriers to intimacy after childbirth.
The Biggest Barriers To Intimacy After Childbirth
It helps if you understand why you feel the way you do as a mother; after all, often we have nothing to compare it with, and it’s not a topic our own mothers tend to teach us about (probably because they didn't know either!).
Sadly, though, some mothers feel like they’re broken; they might believe something is wrong with them, and that they will never again feel like their previous pre-baby sexual selves. When these feelings and beliefs continue for some time, it can often serve as validation that indeed, they must be true.
Rest assured, low libido, or none at all, can almost always be resolved if you have a willing partner.
As a mother, you might not be surprised to hear about the biggest barriers to intimacy.
“Fatigue, broken sleep, mamas feeling ‘touched out' at the end of the day, and on a deeper level, some new mothers finding it hard to reconcile their ‘mother' and sexual selves. Being intimate as a new mama feels a bit weird in some ways at first”, says Elly Taylor, parenthood researcher, educator, and author of the must-read book for new parents, Becoming Us.
Elly believes professionals who work with pregnant couples should ideally have a role in preparing them for what's to come.
“I think it's important for professionals who are working with expecting couples to give them realistic expectations ahead of time. For example, due to hormones, stress levels, fatigue, exhaustion etc., it’s not abnormal for a mama to be uninterested in sex for 12 months or so after the birth”, she says.
Elly adds, “This is especially the case if she's breastfeeding, which gives her the hit of the love and bonding hormone, oxytocin – it's nature's way of providing a natural contraceptive! If couples are prepared ahead of time, they’re more likely not to take it personally, or let it escalate and become a serious threat to their relationship, and more likely to find other ways to stay connected. And if they do that, it actually doesn't take that long and they can give themselves a big pat on the back!”
Find out more about the relationship between breastfeeding and libido.
“I Don't Even Want To Be Touched Or Kissed, Let Alone Have Sex!”
Sometimes mothers not only have no libido, but they might even feel repulsed by the thought of anything intimate or sexual.
So what should you do if you feel you don’t even want to be touched?
Firstly, it’s important to know you’re neither abnormal, nor broken – and you're certainly not alone!
“A mismatched libido in the first year after baby is one of the biggest issues for most couples. Talk it through with a good listener to try to find the root of the problem. Is it physical? Is it that she's just tired and has already been covered in baby body fluids all day? Or is it emotional? Is she feeling distant from or resentful towards her partner and that's playing out on a bunch of levels?” suggests Elly.
Unresolved past issues can also creep into our sex lives. If this is the case for you, it’s definitely worth exploring it with the help of an experienced relationship counsellor.
Should Mothers Have Sex With Their Partners – Even If They Don’t Feel Like It?
Sometimes, a mother who doesn’t really feel she wants sex might decide to have sex with her partner, just to ‘get it over with’. Should a mother have sex just to please her partner, or should she say no?
Elly says, “It depends on the reason. If it’s mainly that she feels like she hasn’t got the energy, or isn't motivated, or is just in a no-sex rut, it can be turned around with some well-intentioned affection”.
What about the man's perspective?
Jared Osborne is a men’s relationship coach, and a Qigong teacher at Embodying Man. He’s a father of two daughters, and works with lots of new dads.
On this question, he says, “There’s no short answer. It depends on what ‘feel like it’ means, and what she wants. If feel like it is hot and horny, then that’s probably not going to happen for a long time. If feel like it is actually really wanting connection, then being willing and open to him having sex with her to generate this makes sense, even if she doesn't ‘feel like sex'. Feeling like connection can be enough”.
Tim O’Leary is a Melbourne-based couples therapist, and is the author of The Relationship First-Aid Kit (due out in December this year).
He says, “I think a helpful question couples can discuss is: “What is sex about for you?” And be really honest with yourself about the things that come up. Sometimes the answers are confronting, and really what you want to do is declutter your sex life from things like stress management, or fear of losing him or her. Then you can have a sex ‘life' not a sex chore!”
What Should Mothers Do When They Feel Pressured To Have Sex?
Pressure to have sex is an issue our readers mention regularly. What these mothers often share is that pressure to have sex creates frustration, anger, and resentment, which turns them off even more.
Elly says it's very important to let your partner know you're feeling pressured to have sex, and how it makes you feel.
“If the reason you're not wanting to be intimate is because you're resentful about something else, and then he pressures you, he's just created a whole other problem. New mothers can feel extremely vulnerable in terms of their body image, and in other ways. When you’re vulnerable and someone is pressuring you, it goes much deeper”, says Elly. “Resentment is probably the most effective contraceptive I know of”.
You can read about 10 different reasons why she might not want sex.
What A Woman Can Do For Her Partner So He Feels Loved and Appreciated
A new dad can feel vulnerable and need reassurance too. And if you really don’t feel like sex, it’s especially important to connect, so you can share what’s going on, and reassure him that he’s loved and appreciated.
Elly recommends letting your partner know:
- It’s not personal; you've just got a lot going on and nothing left to give
- You still love him and find him attractive
- He hasn't completely lost you to the baby
Just like many other parenting challenges, this one can feel like it’s never going to end. You might be feeling stuck in your specific situation. But this too will pass.
How To Rekindle Your Intimacy
Elly suggests couples could think of intimacy like the layers of an onion. Try to work on it from the outside in.
“Start simple. Make time for each other, re-connect at a conversational level only, share how you’re going, let the fond words and affection come spontaneously and just be enough. Then, if it leads to sex later that night, or later that week, or next month… great. If it doesn’t, at least you're feeling close to one another and, unless there's something else getting in the way, that's going to lead to sex eventually”.
Take Note: Exhaustion Is Not An Aphrodisiac!
Tim says that sexual problems can be difficult to solve, because it often seems they require practical strategies. In fact, the underlying issues are often non-sexual in nature.
“First of all, it’s helpful for a couple to think about what constitutes great sex for them. For many mothers, the thought of having sex can be like another item on her daily to-do list, which is already full to overflowing”, he says.
“Post-baby, many couples can get into problematic dynamics, where he’s wanting their sex life to resume but she just can’t seem to get too excited about that prospect, usually for a range of very important and valid reasons”.
“For a start, exhaustion is not an aphrodisiac. If a mother tunes into how she’s feeling in her body, tiredness is just a very unsexy feeling. On the other hand, a man can be very tired but his arousal system is much more straightforward. Whilst excitement and emotion are key drivers for men’s sex lives, arousal is very quickly and easily achieved for most men”.
Important To Know: Arousal Pathways For Women And Men Are Very Different
When you understand the differences in arousal pathways for women and men, it can go a long way towards understanding and appreciating your partner. It's not something people can simply change – it's just how they are wired.
“For most men, the arousal to orgasm pathway is a very uncluttered path, which is why men tend to orgasm more often than women, and their level of sexual satisfaction tends to be higher because of this”, says Tim. “But for many women, post-natally, it can feel like there has been a major disconnect from their pre-baby sexual selves. Some men find this very confusing, as they still see her in her pre-baby sexual way”.
Tim explains that for many women, the pathway to arousal – let alone orgasm – is a very cluttered and crowded space, where thoughts and feelings can derail her sense of feeling sexy, aroused, desirable, or orgasmic.
“I believe the first place to begin is for the couple to talk about what great sex means to them both, and to work back from there. If she thinks about ‘great-sex’, it shifts her into a place of thinking about what drives her desire. This not only helps her to feel a stronger sense of ownership of her ‘sexiness' but it also often highlights the non-sexual causes of sexual problems”.
The Biggest Drivers Of Great Sex
“The biggest drivers of great sex relate to friendship factors that are usually entirely built and maintained outside of the bedroom. The more playful and loving you are outside the bedroom, the easier it is in the bedroom”, says Tim.
“When a couple does return to love-making after an absence, think about the next three times you’ll make love, not the first time in a long while. That puts way too much pressure on your sex-life. Let your goal be for ‘great sex’, knowing that it might be a process to get there. Each of you just needs to feel safe, relaxed and respected, and then it’s a matter of reclaiming this vital part of your couple-relationship”.
Advice For Dads Who Are Finding The Lack Of Sex Challenging
Jared has this advice for dads:
“Getting back to intimacy can be a long and challenging road. One of the most powerful things I did was take sex off the table for a while. That might seem contradictory, except for one thing: my requirement was that we both put work into connecting sensually.
This allowed us to connect with each other, and me to get some physical touch, without any pressure or expectation on her that it was going to go anywhere. It was hard to be disciplined with it, but it was all part of playing the long game: rediscovering deep trusting connection, not just sex.
One thing I only realised after the birth of our second child was that so often when I was wanting connection and intimacy, even just complimenting my partner, it wasn’t making sense because her ‘mother brain' was turned on.
And ‘mother' isn't so interested in connecting intimately with a Man. She wants a secure nest, kids to be looked after, financial security, etc. I learned over time to recognise it and help her to switch it. Which really only works when there aren’t any kids hanging off her (big hint here when not to try asking!). Sometimes it’s a touch, or a hug, or a compliment that does it; sometimes it’s a long loving gaze till she softens”.
Jared also suggests men might bear this in mind: it’s possible that your partner has an unmet need in the relationship – and she might not even be aware of it.
“If she's not feeling the connection, care and love she craves (this is different from you thinking you're giving it) she's unlikely to be motivated to seek help. Women are giving so much to their children (both physically and emotionally), and it's common for both new parents to feel they're giving more, and getting less, than the other. If this could be the case in your situation, put aside your frustrations and engage in a conversation where both of you talk about what your needs are – particularly for connection, care and love”.
At What Point Should A Couple Seek Help?
Sometimes couples are able to resolve their post-baby hurdles on their own; at other times the difficulties can linger. So when should you reach out and ask for help?
“When it starts to become a problem”, Elly says. “Find a professional who is trained to work with couples (not all psychologists are, for example). Ideally, work with someone who is trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy, as most issues with a lack of intimacy are also underpinned by a lack of emotional connection”.
What If My Partner Refuses To Get Help?
It's very common to hear from one partner who wants to get help for relationship issues, but the other partner is not interested.
Why does this happen?
“When someone refuses to get help on an issue it's often because of two issues – shame or helplessness. They may feel so ashamed about the issue that it has become unspeakable”, says Tim. “When it comes to sex there are lots of unspeakable issues – ranging from sexual abuse trauma to private thoughts about not feeling attracted – that they feel can’t be spoken. On the other hand, when people feel there isn’t really anything that can be done about the issue, they feel totally powerless”.
So what can you do?
“You want to make it clear that the person is not the problem – the problem is the problem. I believe there's almost always something that can be done to make things better, so try to keep the communication channels open. Often a good place to start is to see a GP together, because it will be a brief meeting to get an idea of the physical and psychological help available, as sexual problems often need both forms of help”.
Remember, reach out for recommendations of good therapists. Don’t let geography be a barrier – many therapists offer Skype or other video calling sessions, for people who can’t make it to their location. Of course, you can always reach out to Tim, Jared or Elly, which would be my recommendation if you want advice you'll be happy with.
- What To Do When She Prefers Sleep Instead Of Sex by Jared Osborne
- Why Women Lose Interest In Sex and 6 Tips For Better Sex by Dr Andrew Orr
- Half A Dozen Hacks For A Thriving Sex Life by Jordan Gray