Newborn babies, even in their infinite sweetness, can be enough to throw our lives off axis. Especially for first-time moms, welcoming home a new addition can feel like baptism by fire. You’re sleep deprived, your body feels foreign, and you are thrown into the deep end as you learn to navigate life with a tiny human. Before long, you’ll find something’s gotta give — and that something may be your sex life.
But whether you’re mere months into this parenting game or have years under your belt, there is hope to finding your way back to your sexual self — and your partner’s.
Where to start? By understanding that you are totally normal. “Your body’s just gone through significant trauma. Even if your birth went relatively smoothly, it’s still a very challenging thing for a body to do,” said Dr. Liz Powell, a sex-positive psychologist. “You have a ton of changes happening at the same time, and for most of us, if we’re in that space, we’re not going to feel particularly sexual.”
This strain isn’t solely reserved for mothers either. Dr. Powell said that cis-gendered men, in particular, may struggle to view their partners as sexual post-birth — especially if they watched the baby being born.
“Seeing our partner’s genitals that we’ve had so much pleasure from suddenly stretch to push a baby out can be very disturbing for people — even if it’s a beautiful, wonderful experience. It’s not something we’re accustomed to seeing and that can make it hard for most of us to be OK with it,” Powell said.
When it comes to sex and new parenthood, it seems like the deck is stacked against us. So, what can we do to strengthen our partnerships and tend to our sexual selves? We appealed to the pros for eight crucial and creative ways to boost intimacy in the midst of parenting.
1. Share the load
While not particularly sexy, ensuring your partner does his or her fair share of chores and childcare is critical for a healthy sex life. “If you’re the one doing all the work, you’re going to feel like your partner’s mother,” said Dr. Powell. “If you’re bearing an undue burden when it comes to those tasks, you’ll have trouble feeling desire for your partner because so much resentment builds up around that.” Nip this issue in the bud by calling out inequality right away so that you and your partner can work to rebalance the scales.
2. Rethink sex
“It helps to broaden the definition of sex,” said Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy, a psychologist and certified sex therapist. “Sex is so much more than intercourse. In fact, it doesn’t have to involve intercourse at all.” According to Dr. Powell, penetrative sex can be off the table entirely for a lot of women in the months after birth because the vagina can feel like a site of trauma. She encourages women to take the pressure off themselves by trying hand or oral sex instead.
3. Show yourself some love
In another word? Masturbate, says Dr. Powell. She urges mothers to get to know their own bodies again after giving birth. “Take time really exploring what it is in this new body to experience yourself and your sexuality — but don’t do it as a perfunctory exercise,” she says, “Give yourself that space to see who you are as a sexual creature as this post-birth time evolves for you.”
4. Keep it small
Small gestures of intimacy can go along way, assures Dr. Amie Harwick, MFT. Keep your connection going strong by focusing on things like hand-holding, touching, hugging, and massage. “Loving touch is so important for the everyday connection between partners,” Dr. Harwick said.
5. Mark your calendar
Lest you get lost in the minutiae of diaper changes and nursing sessions, schedule time with your partner for what Dr. Fogel Mersy calls an “intimacy date.” But don’t plan it ahead of time. “Keep it open and flexible so that you can decide what you want and need in the moment,” Dr. Mersy said. “If you’re exhausted and not feeling your best, you can still find something that feels intimate and honors your needs, like a massage or taking a shower together.”
6. Be assertive
Ask for what you want and need in bed — even if it feels unnatural. “Most folks who are socialized as women are fed a lot of stories about what it means to be demanding in bed. But for nine months, you 3D-printed a human and then pushed it out of your body or had it surgically removed — none of which is easy or simple. Your partner owes you some recompense for that,” Dr. Powell said. In many ways, motherhood means a loss of bodily autonomy. But asking for what feels good from your partner can help you regain your footing and rediscover your sexual identity.
7. Use your words
Let your partner know he or she is on your mind by upping your dirty talk or sexting game. This can be an easy and fun way for couples to get back into a sexual space together after a new baby. If you’re at a loss for words, Dr. Powell has you covered with a downloadable guide to talking dirty.
8. Take time for yourself
Our kids do best in life when they live with happy parents. And as noble as it is to devote all your time and energy to your children, leaving no time for yourself is a recipe for burnout. To combat this, Dr. Powell hopes women will find a nightly ritual to indulge in once baby is in bed — one that helps them transition back into adult mode. She suggests a warm bath, a delicious treat, or putting on something that feels nice against your skin — anything that brings you back to yourself when your day is done.