The Cabin Diaries: Sex After Baby
Dear Cabin Diaries,
I am a young mama of a 2 year old. I have been in a relationship with my partner for almost 5 years now. The past two years have been extremely tumultuous.
I have struggled a lot with becoming a mama at a young age. My son is a very easy baby, and for that I feel blessed, because if it was any harder I may have had a complete nervous breakdown by now! The sort of themes I have been struggling with revolve around: fear of commitment, longing for my youth, resentment towards men in general, questioning my sexuality, complete loss of sex drive, and bouts of various shades of depression (boredom, loneliness, apathy, identity crisis). My partner has been very loving, supportive, stable, loyal, and adaptable to the psychological craziness I have exhibited throughout our coming into parenthood. I feel very lucky to have him.
Though it has been super rocky and we have nearly broken up a few times, we have worked through a lot of our communication issues and are now able to be much more empathetic and flexible for each other. I have been going to a therapist and that has been immensely helpful. I feel closer with him than ever before and am now at a point where I do feel committed to and in love with him again, BUT there is one thing that is still missing- My desire for him sexually.
I have spent about the past year treating it as a problem to be solved, something pathological. I stopped breastfeeding about 6 months ago, I take herbal supplements for libido, I have worked on our relationship to feel closer to him, I take a relatively sufficient amount of "me time" for myself (could probably use more, but it’s difficult with a toddler, of course). I know the lack of sex has been bothering my partner for a while, but last night he confronted me about it and expressed that he doesn't know how much longer he can physically stand being in a almost sexless relationship. So now I'm definitely feeling some pressure to figure this out.
I feel hesitant about partaking in obligatory, maintenance sex because it feels degrading. But I also want him to feel loved and satisfied, and not to leave me in pursuit of a new sex goddess. Any idea of how I can make my relationship better, without compromising my physical boundaries? Is there something wrong with me for not wanting sex to have sex with the man I love?
Thank you for your time.
Lost My Inner Sex Goddess
Alas, you write to me with words shared by women far and wide. You are not alone my dear, and though these are tricky (very tricky) waters to navigate, remember that nothing is permanent. Quite simply, there is nothing wrong with you for not wanting to have sex. However, there is also nothing wrong with your partner for wanting to have it.
The conundrum of not-wanting-to-have-sex-after-baby is not unique. It is, to the devastating frustration of many men and women, incredibly common and should—I think—be discussed at length by partners before they have a baby. I know that not all pregnancies are planned, and so this isn’t always possible. From what I can gather through conversation and reading, this happens to everyone, regardless of age. Babies are distinctly non-sexy, as Esther Perel notes in her Ted Talk, “The Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship.” Have you watched this, or heard of Esther Perel? If not, dive in. Her research and theories will be helpful to you at this time. In fact, as I was researching your letter, I found that she was also interviewed by Lewis Howes on The School of Greatness podcast. The topic? Sexual desire and successful relationships.
I think the general assumption is that after about a year, the libido usually returns, and things will “go back to normal.” In my experience, this can often be untrue. It sometimes takes 3-5 years for women to get their libido back, and we never return to “normal” because we are now mothers. I had a baby so young that I can hardly remember what it was like having sex without worrying about making noise, or that my child would wake up, or if the door was locked; and sex since motherhood for me has often been laced with guilt for taking that time to myself.
What I’m saying here is that you have to create a new ground zero: that sex goddess you used to be? She’s transformed now, and you have to become familiar with the new one. The one who is a mother, who has given birth, who has unlocked the infinite wisdom of motherhood, and the one who know has to care for an extra human with all of her time, energy and being. Letting go of your former sex goddess will be sad, there’s no doubt about it.
Now, let’s look at these questions:
"I feel hesitant about partaking in obligatory, maintenance sex because it feels degrading. But I also want him to feel loved and satisfied, and of course to not feel driven to leave me in pursuit of a new sex goddess. Any idea of how I can make my relationship better, without compromising my physical boundaries? Is there really something wrong with me for not wanting sex to have sex with the man I love?"
I did a lot of research to try to answer this the best I can. From what I’ve read and learned over the years, some kind of compromise will probably be what resolves this for you. Sex columnist Dan Savage adamantly believes that “sex” is not limited to just intercourse, and there are several other ways of pleasing a partner. Have you considered getting creative to satisfy your partner’s needs and also uphold your boundaries? How firm is your boundary, and why do you think it’s there? Here’s a podcast with Dan Savage and Jane Marie where they talk about sex after baby. If you have an hour at home or in the car, listen to it. At the very least, it will give you some additional context for where you are at.
Because children are, by nature, libido-depressants, it’s important for you and your man to spend some time away from your child! Do you have a babysitter fund? Start one. Schedule overnights where a grandparent or friend takes the kid so you can spend the night alone together, waking up on your own accord. Better yet, on those alone nights, get a hotel room or go on a short trip to spice up your surroundings and free yourself from the trappings of parenthood and a house full of baby accoutrements. Letting go and chilling out is important and something we work on constantly after our babies are born. It’s very difficult. Stress is a primary prohibitor of libido.
Laughter is good, anything that loosens the two of you up in a connective way. Also making sure you connect physically in other ways as a maintenance practice is important. Maybe once a week you give each other a massage or a foot rub. Using our bodies as a way to connect is an important and powerful practice that often gets neglected as we get sucked into the stresses of everyday life.
Remember that your libido will continue to change. All female libidos ebb and flow. As your child approaches 3, then 4, you will feel yourself coming more into your body and being able to tap that river of sensuality that’s in there.
Above all, talk to more women about it. Ask anyone who will talk to you about their experiences. Storytelling around this topic is incredibly connective and informative and healing. It will make you feel less alone. If you have other mama friends, bring this up over tea. A lot of moms are afraid to talk about it because there can be shame around it, but I think the more it’s talked about, the better.
Practice compassion for your man and for yourself. Remember that one of our basic human needs is to feel desired, especially by those we love. Are your needs being met? Are his? In youth, we often make hasty decisions where we might be able to actually be more patient with a little extra effort and awareness. At the same time, you need to connect with your inner voice and make sure you make decisions from your heart of hearts. It's a spiritual matter just as much as it is physical.
In any relationship, baby or not, we must maintain our sense of self so that we do not lose ourself to the relationship, waking up one day in a pile of mush. At the same time, we must maintain our sense of self within the construct of that relationship in order to keep our relationship strong and loving.
Last but not least, I want to end with the old adage that a good man actually *is* hard to find, and so I’ll leave you with your own sweet words as food for thought:
"My partner has been very loving, supportive, stable, loyal, and adaptable to the psychological craziness I have exhibited throughout our coming into parenthood. I feel very lucky to have him."
P.s. Here’s a list of books for further reading. And I highly recommend reading The Bitch in the House which is a stellar collection of essays by women who are all trudging along through life, marriage, work, motherhood, partnership, and female sexuality. It’s a wonderful, impactful read.