“Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby”
Periodically, my mind drifts back to those early days of dating my husband. I’m amazed at just how easily and naturally physical intimacy came to us. I swear, it was like Krispy Kreme — the “Hot Now” sign was literally ALWAYS ON. Fast-forward a handful of years and throw parenting in the mix. Intimacy became a bit more like the doughnuts you get in a gas station — rarely hot, occasionally stale. Truthfully, sexual intimacy has been one of the areas my husband and I have struggled off and on since we married. We thought sex would come naturally after saying “I do,” since we could barely keep our hands to ourselves while dating! But our reality was a bit different. Being on the same page for the long-term about what we want and need, and communicating that clearly, can be hard work. Getting older and becoming parents has increased that difficulty, without a doubt.
For years, I wondered if we were alone in this struggle. Somehow, I had an assumption that other people’s sex lives were easily full of passion and excitement. Where on earth would I get that assumption, you ask? I don’t know, maybe EVERYWHERE? Mainstream portrayals of women being “hot and ready” are commonplace. But the more I’ve read and talked with others, I’m convinced the struggle is real for many couples, particularly those in the parenthood category. When I proposed this topic to the Birmingham Mom Collective writers, they confirmed what I knew to be true.
“Let’s Talk About You and Me”
In her groundbreaking book, Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski offers an explanation for why this struggle can occur. In the part of our brain which drives sex, each of us has both an accelerator and a brake. Some people have sensitive accelerators and they can zoom from zero to sixty in no time flat. Others have what you might call a slow startup. Similarly, some people have ultra-sensitive brakes and are easily turned off, while others come to a stop like an 18-wheeler on a downhill slope. Any variation of sensitivity is normal and none is bad — I repeat, NO variation is bad! However, trying to get two cars with vastly different brakes and accelerators to drive together consistently can be challenging. (If the car analogy doesn’t cut it for you, one of our BMC contributors puts it this way: “I’ve joked with my husband that he’s more like a pop-tart, ready to go. Whereas I’m more of a cinnamon roll . . . need specific measurements, ideal conditions, patience, time. But always worth it.” I don’t know about you, but that analogy spoke LIFE over me!)
A number of considerations contribute to the way our accelerators and breaks operate on any given day. Here’s what a few of our very own BMC writers had to say about what has led to sexual struggles, particularly after becoming moms.
Stress and fatigue
- “One of my children has special needs, and parenting often depletes my energy — there is so much involved in special needs parenting, and it’s my job 24/7. By the end of each night, I’m usually just ready to put on comfy pjs and watch t.v. Intimacy is the last thing I’m interested in.”
- “I am a stay-at-home mom who rarely gets a second to myself . . . I try to get my exercise in at night after I put the kids down, and I’ve found that I’m just too tired and touched out by the time my hubby and I get time together.”
Differences in when, how, and how often partners want sex
- “My husband and I are in the 30% of heterosexual couples where the wife has a stronger sex drive than her husband. Before I knew this was common, I wondered if something was wrong with us. Everything we hear about women avoiding sex? I was the one on the receiving end of that.”
- “My c-section took longer to heal than I expected, and sex hasn’t felt the same since. Certain positions are much more uncomfortable now, it’s like I’m relearning my body.”
- “We have struggled so much, especially after my most recent pregnancy. Lots to process from two traumatic births.”
- “As a mom entering menopause I’ve found no one really prepared me or really talks about it — especially how it affects this part of things!”
Discomfort due to hormones and other unending possibilities
- “Birth control seemed to take away my sex drive and arousal; which really defeats the purpose of the birth control, right?”
- “Sex has always been painful . . . I felt like we just “didn’t work,” “didn’t fit,” or like I was bad at sex, until finally my doctor diagnosed me with vaginismus.”
Body image changes and dissatisfaction
- “Logically, I know my partner still loves my body post-baby, but when I’m feeling uncomfortable in my skin, sex can feel much more vulnerable.”
Being “all touched out”
- “Especially when breastfeeding, I was being touched literally all day. After my child’s bedtime, I just want my body to myself some nights!”
The reality for many (though not all) women is that while sex may come naturally, good sex often does not. Having a healthy, thriving sexual relationship can take work, especially when kiddos become a part of the family. If you are in the same boat as some of our writers, please know you are simply human. You are not broken! And there is a lot of hope for things to get better. As Salt-N-Pepa would say, “Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be, how it was, and of course, how it should be.”