That New Mom Life Podcast Episode 10: Getting Back to Sex and Intimacy

Sex therapist Vanessa Marin shares how new parents can connect in and out of the bedroom.

An image of a couple laying in bed.
Photo: Getty Images.

Let's talk about six. The magical six weeks postpartum when doctors often say new moms can have sex. Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist who you may know as @vanessamarintherapy on Instagram, says this is a damaging thing for women to hear. In fact, she says her biggest piece of advice to new moms is to not pay any attention to that mark.

"It's really such a random timeline and honestly it focuses on medically sex being OK physically for your body," says Marin. "But even that timeline doesn't work for all women and it says nothing about like the emotional, psychological, or relational elements of having sex."

This week on That New Mom Life, Marin dives into those emotional, psychological, and relational elements. She talks about postpartum libido, scheduling sex, embracing love languages, not accepting pain, and of course, the sexiest and most important part of a healthy sex life: "Communication. Communication. Communication."

Plus, five members of the That New Mom Life community get honest about their postpartum sex experiences, "ElastiGirl nipples" and all!

Listen and subscribe to That New Mom Life on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PlayerFM, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. That New Mom Life will be back again next week with more postpartum insights.

Upcoming topics this season:

  • Preparing for what's next

If you have a story to tell or want to learn more about That New Mom Life, email us at thatnewmomlife@meredith.com.

Listen to episode 10 right now:

Plus follow along here:

Grace: When it comes to sex after baby, it's just not the same. At least initially. You're bone tired. Your body parts have moved. Your boobs are leaking, and you don't want to wake the baby. Never wake the baby!

Desiree: Gosh, Grace. I am right there with you on every level. I feel like I was terrified. No, thanks. I'm good. I'm good! It took me a while to get to that place where I was ready to get back into the swing of things, let alone my sex drive, OK? Yeah.

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Grace: Hi, I'm Grace Bastidas, and we all know that having a newborn does wonders for your libido!

Desiree: No kidding! I wondered if I would ever want to have sex again!

Grace: Yes, it can really feel like the passion in our relationships has checked out for good, but I have great news. Vanessa Marin, a psychotherapist who specializes in helping couples have a fulfilling sex life is here to tell us how—in time—we can all get our mojo back.

Desiree: I'm taking notes already. Before that, let's listen in to these moms and hear how they felt about getting intimate after having a baby.

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Mom 1: For, oh, at least six months after birth, sex was a total no go. My husband would gently mumble about how his penis probably didn't work anymore. Eh, whatever.

Anyway. I think it was when I was nearing the end of breastfeeding, that things started to feel good again. And I remember saying something like, "Oh, whoa, now this doesn't hurt anymore."

And my husband saying, "We're back, baby!"

Mom 2: The first-time having sex after giving birth came with a lot of different emotions.

I felt extremely self-conscious about my postpartum body. I had new stretch marks, looser belly skin, new rolls, and engorged boobs. So, I just wasn't comfortable in my new body yet. I knew I had to have an open and honest conversation with my partner before we actually got intimate again.

So, I told him, "Look, I'm feeling really insecure. I don't feel beautiful at this moment. Also, what if it hurts and what if it feels different?"

And I think talking through my emotions really helped because my partner knew where I was at mentally, and him reassuring me helped me with my fears and insecurities. Being able to reconnect with my partner and being intimate again, felt really, really good.

Mom 3: With breastfeeding around the clock, getting up constantly in the middle of the night, and just devoting all of my time to the baby, there is no time for romance or intimacy.

And I just feel really bad for my husband because I know he misses that. And so do I, but any chance that I get a moment to myself, that I get 20 minutes to sleep, or I just get a chance to just be me and not be mom, I'm so tired that sex is really the last thing on my mind.

Mom 4: It took me practically forever to even consider trying to have sex again.

And when we did, I had like zero sex drive, no matter how much lube we used, it felt like it was never enough. And then I had to wear a nursing bra practically 24/7, since my breasts were really sensitive. And nursing bras don't exactly invoke that feeling of sexiness when you're trying to be romantic and get in the mood and be intimate with your partner.

But with a lot of patience from my husband and a ton of joking around and kind of laughing as we worked our way through this awkwardness of having sex again, we eventually moved from something that was scary and painful to something that resembled normal.

Mom 5: So as a mom, the first words that come to mind when I think about sex are "raincheck."

This mom of three is tired and not feeling very sexy. As you know, pregnancy also comes with physical changes and honestly, I am just not feeling them. And please don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for my body. And I'm completely aware that I'm a powerhouse. I mean, I created three beautiful little people.

But honestly, saggy, boobs and ElastiGirl nipples, just to mention a few, are kind of getting in the way. But I am confident that with time and patience, I am going to find that balance in my own body and mind.

I'm tired. I have three people on top of me all day, every day. The last thing that I want after they go to bed is someone else on top of me. This mom would much rather enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea and watch a Netflix show.

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Grace: Let's get to this week's guest! Sex therapist Vanessa Marin creates comprehensive online courses designed to spice up your sex life—even if you're in the middle of a postpartum dry spell.

Desiree: She'll tell us how to reclaim our sex drives and feel more connected to our partners in and out of the bedroom.

Grace: Hi, Vanessa. Thank you so much for coming on That New Mom Life. We are talking about sex today. I enjoy saying that word!

Doctors usually say women can start having sex again six weeks postpartum. Who came up with that rule?

Vanessa: Oh, clearly someone who's never given birth. This is one of the most damaging things that new moms hear. You know, a lot of women just have this timeline in mind and they think like, "Yeah, exactly at the six-week mark, everything's all good at sunshine and rainbows and you know, everything's going to go back to just the way it was before having a child."

But it's really such a random timeline and honestly it focuses on you know, medically sex being OK physically for your body. But even that timeline doesn't work for all women and it says nothing about like the emotional, the psychological, the relational elements of having sex.

So honestly, one of my biggest pieces of advice to women postpartum is do not pay any attention to that six-week timeline.

Grace: Yeah, it sort of adds a little extra pressure, right? If the doctors say it is OK and you are not physically or mentally ready.

Vanessa: Yeah. And it's really frustrating that doctors, that's the only information that they give.

So women don't hear anything about, you know, what to expect from their bodies, how sex might feel different, ways to prepare for it, how to talk about it with their partner.

You know, there's so many other aspects of sex other than, yeah probably your body will be OK physically at this point in time. So yeah, I wish that there was much more information that was given to women and much more preparation for this stage in life.

Grace: Let's give them some information. What are some of these physical changes that happen? How does your vagina change after giving birth?

Vanessa: Yeah, so birth is a huge experience for a woman's body and quite frankly, it's a traumatic experience for a woman's body. So, you know, I think we talk about birth as being this really magical, beautiful, special thing, and it absolutely is.

And at the same time, it's a really intense trauma to your body. So, you know, you may have undergone like actual physical trauma to your body. There may be tearing, you may have had an episiotomy. There may have been complications. You may have had a C-section, and now you have, you know, additional scars and healing that has to happen.

So there can be a lot of, you know, just huge changes from the process of birth itself, and also huge changes with your relationship with your body. You know, your body has just gone through this very long, months long journey of being pregnant, growing a new life inside of it, and your relationship with it has changed as well. You know, watching yourself, gain weight, feeling those hormone fluctuations. Seeing yourself as a mom instead of just a woman that you might've seen yourself before.

So there are so many changes that can happen during that whole process.

Grace: So it's not just physical. Some of it is psychological as well, as you said.

Vanessa: Psychological, emotional, and a lot of changes between your relationship with your partner too. You know, where before you might have just seen yourselves as partners and now you're, "mom and dad," "mom and mom," trying to adjust to this new identity of what does it mean to be parents? How does that affect what your relationship was like beforehand? Especially with your very first birth.

Grace: There is a huge change to our sex drive postpartum. Can you explain what happens?

Vanessa: Yeah. So people always ask me this question, "Why does my sex drive change so much postpartum?" And I like to say, "Well it's because everything has changed postpartum!"

You've just gone through this, this amazing and huge transformation, but literally every aspect of your life has changed. You have increased stress and anxiety about keeping your child alive now. And are you doing everything right? And are you being the best parent that you can possibly be? You may still be experiencing pain or be in the physical healing process.

Your body may be responding in different ways, like what brought you pleasure before may not be exactly the same as what brings you pleasure after. Your hormone levels are all over the place.

So much has changed! You're going on no sleep, you know, being exhausted all the time.

So a lot of people think of our sex drives as this kind of fixed thing, like, "Oh, I just have this sex drive. This is my sex drive."

But the reality is that our sex drives are incredibly sensitive, and they get affected by so many different dynamics in our lives. So all of the things that I just rattled off, which isn't even the full picture, all of those things affect our sex drive. So of course we're going to feel big changes to our sex drive.

Grace: Well, what if the other person feels like, "Oh, she just has all these excuses. And, you know, we're ready. The doctor said, we're ready. Let's get it on."

Vanessa: Yeah. I definitely think partners should be having conversations even during pregnancy, even before pregnancy about, you know, what are our expectations afterwards and talking about, "Hey, we listened to this podcast and that whole six-week thing, maybe we shouldn't be paying so much attention to that."

So I think, you know, partners, it's on them too, to kind of step up and see, how can I support my partner? How can I be there for her? How can I be a good partner to her?

Rather than just getting into this complaining, like, "Oh, she never has time for me. She's always too exhausted for me."

So, you know, like I like to validate everyone's feelings, like we all get to feel whatever it is that we're feeling. So it's really understandable that a lot of partners feel like, "Woah, it used to just be us." And now there's a new person in the mix, and now I'm not quite sure, like, what is my role here? And how important am I? And how much time do we spend together as partners rather than as parents?

So that's completely understandable. But again, like, rather than just getting into this really fixed and resigned state of, "Oh God, my partner's just never going to pay any attention to me ever again." Can we redirect that energy and focus on, "OK, what does my partner need from me?"

Grace: Sometimes it's the partner who's lost interest.

Vanessa: Oh yeah.

Grace: That can mess with your head, especially if you're feeling self-conscious about your body. How do we deal with that? Is it the same, you know, just having a conversation, because we have to deal with it internally as well.

Vanessa: I'm so glad you brought this dynamic up. So I typically see this dynamic come up in heterosexual relationships, and not even just when it's around having a kid. But you know, we have all these stereotypes that men are just super horny and they want sex, like wherever, whenever, whatever, like they will take what they can get.

And so, you know, even if like rationally, we understand, "Hey, we're all human, we're all different," I think a lot of us go into our relationships with that expectation. But the reality is, in my sex therapy practice, like I see just as many relationships where it's the woman who has a higher sex drive than the man.

And unfortunately, this is just not something that we ever talk about. So all of these couples feel deeply alone and broken. Like what is wrong in our relationship that he's supposed to want me all the time. He's supposed to want whatever he can get. Yet, I feel like I'm the one who wants him more often.

So women wind up feeling like they're not attractive enough. They're not sexy enough. Something's wrong with them. The men wind up feeling emasculated, like, am I even a man that my, my wife or my girlfriend is wanting it so much more than I do?

So I think it's so important just for us to like talk about this and acknowledge it's even. There are just as many men who want sex more than their female partners, just as many women who want sex more than their male partners.

So, a lot of times just hearing like, "Oh, we're not alone. We're not the only couple that struggles with this" can be a really big relief for couples in that situation.

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Grace: All right, Vanessa, let's talk about that first time. A lot of moms report it as being awkward. What are some reasons that actually happens?

Vanessa: Yeah, I think it can just be really hard getting back into the saddle after it's been so long, you know? A lot of couples don't end up having sex for a very long time around pregnancy and birth.

Like I was saying earlier, that six-week timeline is just so arbitrary. So I've worked with couples that didn't have sex for six, eight, 10 months afterwards. So it's really just like about the length of time that has passed. And I think even couples who don't have kids have been through this.

When we go through a long dry spell there's just this inherent awkwardness to that first time when we're trying to get back at it again.

Grace: What about pain and discomfort? What's normal? And what should we talk to the doctor about it?

Vanessa: Pain and discomfort are something that you should never experience during sex.

And the unfortunate reality is that so many women do feel pain, and a lot of women just have this idea that like sex just is painful or is uncomfortable for women. So there are so many women who are willing to just kind of like grit their teeth and try to get through it. But it's a really challenging situation to be in because if you're having sex that feels painful or uncomfortable to you, it's really going to start to chip away at your desire. Because why would we desire something that causes us pain or discomfort?

So, there are even studies that have shown that one in three women experienced pain the last time that they had intercourse, which is just wild to think about. So I think it's really important for us to stop putting up with pain, to stop thinking that discomfort and pain are normal or things that we just have to get through.

And instead to really make sure that we pay attention to those signals that our body is trying to send us. And if we're in any sort of pain or discomfort, yeah. Just stop what we're doing, check in with ourselves, check in with our partner, and definitely have a conversation with your doctor.

Grace: Wow, one in three women that is—

Vanessa: I know

Grace: —a lot of women.

Vanessa: I know, but again, this is another one of those things that we just don't talk about. So, so many women are just left with this impression of, "Yeah, you know, that's just what sex is like."

And again, it's, you know, the desire aspect is just so important to pay attention to. It makes no sense for you to desire something that is causing you pain.

Grace: So, speaking of desire, should we worry if we, "Yeah, we got it on, but we just don't feel that connection?"

Vanessa: So, if it's been a really long time that the two of you have gone without having sex, it might be that the first few times, even the first few weeks, kind of feel strange. It doesn't feel as connected as you used to. It doesn't feel as pleasurable as it used to, but it's important to just kind of keep going and to allow yourself to, you know, ask for what you want, to give feedback to your partner, to talk about it.

But just to give ourselves that grace of recognizing, like, "it's not just going to go back to having wild smoking hot sex, like, you know, right away. We need to give ourselves a little bit of time to adjust again."

Grace: What are some ways to strengthen intimacy that don't involve sex?

Vanessa: That is also a really good question because I think a lot of people want to experience that really deep connection during sex, but it's really hard to go from feeling totally disconnected from your partner all day long into then, you just flip a switch, the clothes come off, and now you're wildly connected.

Like it just doesn't work for a lot of people in that way. So what I like to encourage couples to think about is what are ways that the two of you can feel connected to each other all day long? So that sex isn't the only way that you feel connected or the only way that you experience intimacy?

It's kind of like the comparison with trying to heat up a pot of water, and if you go from ice cold water, it's going to take you a really long time to heat that up to boiling. Right? But if you maintain a steady simmer, then going to boiling is just a pretty quick, easy transition.

So I like to think about maintaining a simmer with our partner all throughout the day. So, this is a really great opportunity to talk to your partner about "What are the things that make you feel connected to them?"

And a great tool that you can use is Gary Chapman's five love languages. I think a lot of people are familiar with these at this point, there are things like acts of service, quality time, touch, but you can do a little quiz online and figure out what your love language is, but you can also just like ask each other, "OK, what are three to five things that we do together? That I do for you? That help you feel really connected to me?"

So if you start identifying specifics, that's going to help the two of you like you have tangible things that you can do all throughout the day to experience that connection.

Grace: Now, speaking of maintaining a steady simmer, when you're a busy parent, is there value in scheduling sex or does that take all the fun out of it?

Vanessa: Oh, I love scheduling sex. I think that we have this idea that, "Oh God, if you have to schedule sex, it means your relationship is really dead." Like you have to schedule sex the way that you schedule going to the dentist.

But the reality is that most of us, these days, we live lives that are pretty heavily scheduled, and we don't make a judgment of that. Like we think of, "OK, if there's something that's important to me that I want to show up for, I'm going to put it in my calendar. I'm going to make sure I block that time off, and I show up, and I'm there."

You know, we don't leave it to chance. Like, let's say your kid, has a soccer game or a school play. Are you just gonna say, "Well, if it happens, it happens. If we get to that time, hey, maybe I'll show up. Maybe I won't."

No! We're going to schedule it, put it in our calendars, and make sure we show up for our child at that time.

So I think that we can treat sex in the exact same way, where we allow ourselves to say, "Hey, this is something that's important to me. Let's carve out that time to spend together and make sure that we actually follow through on it."

Grace: And hopefully you don't dread it as much as the dentist or at all.

Vanessa: Yeah. It really comes down to how you schedule sex. I mean, if you treat it in that way, like, "Oh God, I guess we have to put it on the calendar for Wednesday at 8:30."

Yeah, that's not going to feel very fun, but there are a lot of ways that you can make it feel really playful and exciting and something that you'll actually look forward to.

Grace: What does a healthy sex life look like after kids?

Vanessa: It's really dependent on each couple. One of the most common questions that I get asked for people is, you know, "How much sex should we be having? Like what's the minimum in order to have a healthy sex life."

And I know that it would be really nice to have this magic number that I could just tell you, "Oh, if you have it exactly this many times per week or per month, you're good." But the reality is that we are all just so unique.

So, I have worked with couples that had sex multiple times a day, and they still felt really disconnected. They felt like they weren't having enough sex. They were miserable.

And I've worked with couples who have sex a few times a year, and they feel deeply intimate and connected and satisfied.

So instead of looking at sexual frequency or looking for this magical number, that'll work for everyone. I think instead, what we should focus on is "What is the effort that I'm putting into my sex life?"

So I think a lot of us expect great sex to just happen naturally, if we're the right fit. If there's good chemistry, like everything should just happen naturally. But that's just not how it works. Instead, it's something that takes active and ongoing effort.

So if we can look at it that way instead, like, "Am I willing to put effort into my sex life? Do I try to stretch my comfort zone a little bit? Do I make the space for it in my life? Do I understand what my partner needs from me? And do I make that effort to try to give them what they need? And do I expect the same in return?" These are questions that are so much more important for us to be asking.

Grace: So finally, Vanessa, what are your top tips for rekindling our sex lives after having a baby?

Vanessa: Communication. Communication. Communication.

Grace: Nothing is sexier than communication!

Vanessa: It's really true though. It's really interesting actually, over on our Instagram channel, my husband Xander and I have been showing up and doing stories with each other every day for the last couple of months. And we've been talking about sex with each other and with our community.

And we've been noticing ourselves, even though we talk so much, you know, with our, our clients and our audience about, "Hey, communication is so important, it's the key to a healthy sex life." But we've even been noticing ourselves like, "Wow, the more that we keep talking about this together, the better our own sex life feels."

And I think a lot of us avoid talking about sex because we're embarrassed about it, our sex life isn't where we want it to be, so we'd rather kind of just, you know, avoid it altogether. But the reality is that regardless of how much sex you're having or not having, just being able to talk about it, acknowledge it, have it be something that's on the table for conversation, that makes the two of you feel so much more connected.

And especially if you're in a position where maybe your partner wants sex a lot more than you do. And they're feeling not seen, or the two of you feel really tense about it, again, it's like just that basic level of acknowledgement. Being able to talk about it goes such a long way.

Grace: Excellent. So communication creates connection. I love it. Thank you so much, Vanessa, for all the great advice. I think the listeners are in the mood.

Vanessa: Thank you so much for having me. It's been great being able to chat with you.

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Desiree: Well, that was a wonderful chat with Vanessa. With the triplets and with Cambria, I dreaded sex, it was just not something I was thinking about, I wanted, was looking forward to. I felt bad for my husband, but I just was, I felt bad for myself!

I was like, "I have too many things going on, my boobs are leaking, my vagina doesn't feel the same." And I think that I had these huge expectations of what I thought it should be or what I wanted it to be.

And I also didn't want to let Ryan down, but it was not, it was nowhere near the same. And I think that the best thing to do is probably keep your expectations really low. So that way it's not that bad when you're done.

Grace: That is wonderful advice, Desiree. You know, when I had my daughter, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment and sharing a room with a baby is not conducive to smoking hot sex.

Exactly, right? I was preoccupied that she would hear us. Oh my God, would we traumatize her?

I wouldn't just think this to myself quietly. No, I would actually say this out loud. Talk about a buzz kill. My husband was all ready to go, and I'm shushing him because he's breathing too loudly, like stop.

Desiree: I'm cracking up because it totally reminds me of me and Ryan, especially after Cambria was born. And I, you know, you hit that six-week mark and, just like Vanessa talked about, like, we need to normalize that we're not all ready to have sex at six weeks. And I fall into that category.

But I felt like I'm at the six-week mark and we had booked a hotel and we were going to have Cambria with us, but I ended up getting mastitis. So, I was down for the count the whole weekend, got a cold sore and was kind of like, "Nope. Nothing is happening. Stay away, stay far away from me."

And then when we finally did have sex, it was just, we just laughed. We just literally laughed. I was like, it was so awkward, so uncomfortable, but it kind of makes you feel normal, like when you can talk about and have these conversations. Because you feel like, "I'm not the only one out there who is having these experiences when it comes to postpartum sex."

Grace: It's so important to have a sense of humor. And you talk about getting mastitis. Oh my goodness. That's going to kill any mood. No matter where you are.

Speaking of boobs, I was so self-conscious about my breasts. I saw them as this very functional part of my body. I was this milk machine, nursing around the clock. The last thing I needed was my husband coming anywhere near them.

I remember wearing a baggy T-shirt and just sending out this vibe. That was not exactly "come hither," it was like "stay away."

So, you know, you have to talk about these things. And as Vanessa said, it comes down to communication. And just being open about what you're feeling in the moment and hopefully creating that connection again by being honest.

Desiree: I completely agree. I feel like Ryan and I really learned after the triplets, the importance of just communicating about postpartum sex and having that conversation. And I think that it really made our experience, minus the whole mastitis situation, a lot better with Cambria, because we were able to say like, "This is just a season that we're in, and we have to focus on other ways to experience intimacy until I'm ready."

Grace: Yeah. So I will say that having a tiny baby also got us really accustomed to quickies.

We knew it couldn't be this long lingering thing with all the bells and whistles. We needed to get in and out without raising suspicions.

Desiree: Absolutely. Yep. "And thank you. And we're done."

Grace: It's like being bank robbers, right? Try to get in there, get the money, run.

Desiree: Yes. Yeah. I think that sounds pretty accurate!

So just like Vanessa talked about, it's helpful when you know what each other's love languages are, because then you know how you can support each other in the way they receive love. And that is a great way for intimate connection.

And so for Ryan and I, one of the things that I especially love is when he is helpful around the house. And I feel like any time he is loading the dishwasher or folding the laundry, even though he doesn't fold it how I want it to be folded, the fact that he's folding it is like, "Woah, baby, look at you, go," you know?

Grace: He's America's sexiest man at that moment.

Desiree: Yes he is. He sure is. I'm like, all right, I can go to the bedroom right now, baby.

Seeing him do those things, really it creates a moment of connection for us. And I would say the same for him.

I know that he needs affirmation. So when I can just love on him with my words throughout the day, it creates a connection that you need, especially during this season. And I think like Vanessa had said, all of those things get you to a place where you are ready to have sex.

Grace: I love that folding laundry is your foreplay Desiree.

Desiree: It sure is. Every single time.

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Grace: That's it for another episode of That new Mom Life, a podcast from Parents magazine, thanks for coming along for the ride.

Desiree: Please share with all your mom friends and head to Parents.com/newmompodcast to find out more.

Grace: Thanks to all the moms who told us their stories and to Vanessa Marin who had all that great advice. And to our production team, Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, and Sam Walker. I'm Grace Bastidas.

Desiree: And I'm Desiree Fortin, hang in there mom, you're doing great!

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