The common wisdom is that sex makes little babies and babies make for little sex. However, there's an astonishing flip side to this story, and it's one you rarely hear. Before parenthood, couples often think sex gives meaning to the rest of their relationship, says Elisa Morgan, president of Mothers of Preschoolers International and coauthor of Children Change a Marriage (Zondervan). But the truth is that many women report that their sex lives are better after they become mothers.
Better sex after motherhood? Who knew? Lots of women, it turns out. Simply sharing the experiences of parenting makes it possible for couples to discover new reasons to desire each other. Many women say that they feel an incredible new respect and love for the father of their children.
And surprisingly, there are many physical changes postpregnancy that may make your sex life better than ever, too. Sensory experiences after childbirth can be more intense, says sex therapist Sallie Foley, coauthor of Sex Matters for Women (Guilford Press). Certain women enjoy the additional sensitivity of their engorged breasts while they're nursing, she notes, while others claim that although orgasms may take longer to achieve due to fatigue, the sensations can be more physically profound.
Cheri Van Hoover, an assistant clinical professor of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, speculates that increased blood flow during pregnancy increases pelvic congestion of the vaginal area and engorges the genitals -- perhaps permanently enlarging blood vessels and making the genital area more sensitive to stimulation.
Rediscovering your sexuality after motherhood provides fresh opportunities to deepen your understanding of yourself as a sensual being and to explore new levels of intimacy with your partner. Read on for some tried-and-true tips to get you feeling sensual and sexy again.
Stretched out, flabby, and fatigued is how many women would describe their bodies after childbirth. The added pounds and downright messiness of new motherhood leave many women feeling so unattractive that they're uncomfortable with the idea of merely taking off their clothes, never mind letting someone else touch their body. So how do you go from feeling like a baby factory to feeling like a sex goddess? Here are a few tips.
1. Don't compare yourself to Cindy Crawford. Or any other celebrity mom with a nanny and a full-time personal trainer for that matter. If you can accept your body just as it is, you may discover that sexuality is less about slinky dresses and more about having a powerful body that can do wonderful things, says Cathy Winks, coauthor of The Mother's Guide to Sex (Three Rivers Press).
Making this mental transformation takes time, because it flies in the face of the current societal ideal of women whose lips are bigger than their hips. But you can do it, especially if you look at other women in the mall, in the gym, and at the beach. The reality is that the average woman is a size 14, says Morgan, and that reality can be clear to you if you just open your eyes.
2. Put together an exercise program. Find one that's compatible with your new postpregnancy regime. Don't do this because you want to lose weight (though you might), but because regular exercise will boost your energy, confidence, and sexual health. As Foley points out, exercising is the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth. It helps our bodies maintain nutritional and hormonal balance. And it boosts our mood because it releases feel-good chemicals in the brain.
In fact, the sexual benefits of exercise may be as potent as the fat-burning ones. For instance, the physical flexibility that results from exercising also contributes greatly to the comfort and pleasure of sex with a partner, especially if you want to try more adventurous positions.
3. Believe your partner when he says you're sexy. Women are more likely than men to buy into the idea that skinny and young is the only way to be sexy, observes Foley. But the truth is that most men respond visually to a wide range of women. The majority of new dads will tell you that they found their wife as beautiful on the day they got home from the hospital as on the day they were married.
4. Take yourself for a test drive. To really understand and reinhabit your postpartum body, you should find some time for yourself in the bedroom, says Foley. Try undressing and touching your body all over. Use a hand mirror and your fingers to find out what feels overly sensitive to the touch and what feels good. Taking this little bit of time alone -- even just for two minutes a day -- will help you return to your body after this momentous event. This sort of private time is crucial to rediscovering your sexuality after motherhood, says Winks, because then you can show your partner how and where you enjoy being touched now. In fact, she goes one step further, suggesting that every new mom needs to figure out what makes her feel good before resuming sex.
No matter how smooth your childbirth experience or how cheerily your health-care provider gives you the green light for sex at your six-week checkup, you may find sex uncomfortable.
Pain: Some women experience pain as a result of scar tissue, which can make them approach lovemaking with a lot of trepidation. Even if your episiotomy has healed, your genitals may still feel bruised and sore, and your perineum can continue to feel tender for anywhere from three months to a year, says Van Hoover. Or, if you've had a cesarean section, your abdominal wound may still be tender for several months.
Before resuming intercourse, talk to your partner about your concerns. He certainly won't want sex to be painful for you, and he'll be more willing to explore different methods of pleasure if he's aware of how you feel. Start your new sex life by experimenting with fingers and sex toys. When you do make love, use positions that put you more in control of the angle, speed, and depth of penetration, Van Hoover suggests. Yes, it's scary that first time, but it probably won't hurt as much as you think it will. Plus, by slowly, gently stretching the vaginal area through sex play and intercourse, you're actually helping your tissues resume their previously supple state.
Vaginal dryness: New moms may experience an increase in vaginal dryness -- especially if they're breastfeeding. Nursing suppresses your ovarian estrogen production, and such decreases can make you drier. Always keep a lubricant by your bedside and, when you begin having sex again, make sure to use lots of it!
Breast leakage: There's a good chance that when a breastfeeding mom gets excited during a sexual encounter, her breasts will leak. This can make some moms feel more like a walking cow than an object of lust. Try wearing a nursing bra during sex for the first few months. Eventually, your letdown reflex won't be triggered quite so easily and sex will become less messy. On the other hand, your sex life will make a stellar comeback sooner if you accept the idea that sex is messy and that leaking milk is actually a good sign. Experts note that a woman's milk letdown reflex is a result of increases in oxytocin, the hormone associated with warm, loving thoughts. In other words, leaking milk during sexual activities is a good sign that you're enjoying yourself.
Probably the toughest sex act is the verbal one, especially for new parents who have little private time. But talking about sex after you've had a baby is almost as important as doing it. You and your partner will both benefit from honest discussions about how having a child has changed your sexual needs and expectations. Don't forget that your partner probably has as many issues surrounding your brand-new sex life as you do, Winks points out.
For instance, your partner might have trouble adjusting to the idea that his lover is now a mother, or feel jealous of that little person who dominates not just your time, but also your heart. Both of you will need to summon all of your self-awareness and communication skills in order to avoid falling into ruts or developing resentment, Winks explains.
A good way to approach even the most intimate conversations about sex, says Foley, is to make open-ended statements and ask your partner to share his feelings about the same topics. Some examples include:
If you find these kinds of topics too tricky to discuss, write the answers on a piece of paper and then swap them.
If you do get into a thorny discussion about your sexuality -- let's say you're feeling too flabby to take off your nightgown -- be clear and direct. Use "I" statements, says Winks, such as "I feel so unattractive with this extra weight,"rather than defensive or accusatory words. Then be prepared to compromise, by offering to light a candle or wear a more revealing nightgown, for instance.
Most important, go into these talks with a generous spirit, advises Winks. Just as you have every right to your sexual feelings, so does your partner. Seeing the situation from the other person's point of view will help you approach any discussion with more understanding.
There are obvious steps you can take to fan your desire, like banishing the baby from your bedroom, but it's the little kindnesses that really count, says Morgan, like when you remember to stop at your husband's favorite bakery on the way home from work. But all the flowers and compliments in the world won't enhance your sex life if you don't make time for it.
Schedule sex on your calendar, just as you would any other important date. That spontaneous, lusty, do-me-on-the-living-room-floor sex you enjoyed before parenthood is probably something that will be relegated to vacations. Plus, anyone with a small child knows that by the time the kids are in bed, the dishes are done, and the two of you are finally alone, sleep often wins out over sex. So get creative. Jump in the shower together for a morning quickie if the baby's happy in his playpen, schedule weekend sex during baby's nap time, or talk to a neighbor who might be willing to feed your toddler dinner on Wednesday nights if you take hers on Thursdays.
And after you do all this footwork and scheduling to make your sex life a priority, don't disappoint yourself by comparing it to what it was pre-baby. Don't think of this as a loss of adventure and spontaneity, but as an opportunity to reinvent your sexual partnership.
Once you let go of the idea that sex should follow your old routine, you'll find that it's about a lot more than just intercourse. To emphasize this, Winks suggests exploring other ways to express yourself physically. Try massage, taking bubble baths together, and even re-creating those high school make-out sessions in which you kept your clothes on. The more new sexual roads you travel together, the more your feelings about your body will evolve and your attitudes will shift, says Winks. Your experience of sexual pleasure will be in a continual state of flux. But your right to pleasure is constant, and no one can assert that right as well as you can.
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