Having a child is a miraculous, joyful event. It can also put a real damper on your sex life. The reasons why are numerous, some physical, some psychological. But before you can hope to deal with the reasons, you have to first understand them.
According to Dr. Renee Horowitz who has been a practicing OB-GYN for twenty-six years and who is the Director of Center for Sexual Wellness in Farmington Hills, MI, studies have shown there is almost a universal decrease in desire in women after delivery, whether it is vaginal or by c-section, and the frequency of sex decreases into the first year. This lack of desire generally lasts six to eight weeks.
The primary reason is hormonal. Prolactin levels rise allowing for breastfeeding, but dopamine levels decrease. The result? A decrease in desire. An equally important issue is the physical changes a woman’s body goes through as a result of having a baby.
“Your body is changing thus your body image changes and you may not feel sexual,” Horowitz said.
How the new mother’s body looks is just one part of the equation. The other part is how it feels.
“Physically, more than half of all women experience pain during their first intercourse after birth. This occurs most often in vaginal deliveries and the highest incidence in vaginal assisted deliveries [such as the use of forceps or vacuum extraction],” Horowitz said.
Perineal trauma is generally the culprit in terms of pain.
“If there is no tear, then only 11 percent experience pain, if unstitched 15 percent, if stitched 21 percent, and if there is an episiotomy 40 percent,” Horowitz said.
Horowitz suggested talking to your obstetrician beforehand to find out how often they perform episiotomies as it can make a difference in your recovery.
“Generally there are no long-term effects,” she said. “But, if there are, you should talk with your obstetrician.”
Breastfeeding can also cause a reduction in a woman’s ability to become sexually aroused as “the vaginal walls are thinner because of the hormonal changes.”
To make matters worse, orgasm is also less intense. It can even make intercourse downright painful. These issues typically begin to subside three to four months after the mother is no longer breastfeeding.
The good news is there is help to be found when it comes to the pain issue. Moving slowly and gently is imperative as is using lubricants (preferably silicone based).
“If you are still having pain, using a small amount of vaginal estrogen will replenish the vaginal lubrication,” Horowitz recommended.
Add to all of this the exhaustion one experiences from having a newborn around who sleeps in fits and spurts and then cries and eats when he or she is awake, and you’ve got some serious fatigue issues on your hands. The bottom line, most people’s sex lives hit a wall when a baby arrives.
“Only 12 to 14 percent of both partners do not experience sexual problems postpartum. The take home message is that you are not alone,” Horowitz said.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that there’s a new little person in your house who is monopolizing the attention that previously each partner paid to one another. Because of that, Horowitz said, it is imperative that couples “carve out time for their partners. It is not always about sex but about intimacy and if you want your relationship to stay strong, it's important to maintain that intimacy.”
That means making sure that touching, kissing, holding and romantic gestures are still offered in generous helpings. It can also mean doing things like, take a night shift, make dinner, or go grocery shopping. Although they might not seem like particularly romantic things to do, “your partner will be eternally (at least for the next 24 hours) grateful,” Horowitz said.
Just knowing that it is physical changes causing the issue and not a lack of love, should help.
“It's not that she doesn't want you,” Horowitz said. “It’s that she doesn't want it at all.” Being aware of your partner’s pain and of both partners’ needs is really the most important thing. “None of us are mind readers. Tell your partner what you want and/or need.”
The bottom line, don’t shut each other out and even if sex isn’t on the menu, romance and intimacy still should be. Either or both partners might feel like they’ve been replaced or, at the very least, kicked out of the number one slot. That’s no good.
The remedy? “Plan a night out,” Horowitz recommended, “A date night with just the two of you. Continue to make each feel special, loved, and important in your life and the sex will follow.”
Jenny Block is a freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas. She is the author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage." Her work also appears in "One Big Happy Family" edited by Rebecca Walker and "It’s a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters" edited by Andrea Buchanan. Visit her Web site at www.jennyonthepage.com.