Sex and the New (or Tired) Mom
Gina Ogden–sex therapist, family therapist, researcher, teacher, and author of eight books, including Women Who Love Sex and The Return of Desire, from which this excerpt is adapted. Gina allowed us to condense Bringing Up Baby, a chapter about sexuality and motherhood. A key theme of Gina’s books is that intimacy encompasses far more than any particular sexual practice. Therefore, to deepen the connection with your partner once you start a family, you need to tune into your body, but also to your mind and your emotions. Here are some of her tips for getting there:
Deepen Your Physical Intimacy
Breathe together. You’re going to breathe anyway, so why not enjoy the process, and use it to connect with your partner? A delightful way of doing this is to “spoon breathe,” maybe to relaxing music. Spoon, or snuggle up behind your partner, with your breasts and belly pressed against his back and your arms around him so your hands are over his heart. (You can adjust this to fit your differences in size and shape, and you can roll over and reverse positions at any time.) Then match the rhythm of each others’ breathing. Do it for a few minutes or for an hour or more. You may fall asleep this way and wake up in each other’s arms.
Bathe or shower together. This means more than getting clean, though cleansing is an important part of physical intimacy. It’s also a way to connect through water, which is a powerful conductor of energy. For some couples it’s a way to play like children—a fabulous outlet for people who’ve taken on the awesome responsibilities of parenthood.
Cuddle. Be sensual without a goal of intercourse. Hug, kiss, hold hands, give backrubs and foot rubs, cuddle on the sofa, sniff each other’s hair, nibble each other’s earlobes, ogle each other the way you did on your first date. These are all ways of reestablishing sensuous contact and letting each other know that your bodies still respond to one another.
Take time to reclaim your body for yourself. Have a massage, get a haircut, take an uninterrupted shower, do Kegel exercises—named for Los Angeles gynecologist Arnold Kegel, who developed them in the mid-twentieth century. Basically what you do is tighten and relax your pubococcygeus muscle, or “P-C” muscle, which is located at the base of your pelvic floor—as if you’re stopping the flow of urine, then letting it go. But don’t think about urine. Think pleasure. Think elasticity. Think beautiful body. Think taking charge of your own health and well-being. The more Kegels you do the sexier you may feel. And you can do them any time, anywhere. Try some now.
Deepen Your Emotional Intimacy
Make regular time together. Set intimacy dates–once or twice a week if you can. You may have to get creative. Your time doesn’t have to be sexual, say some mothers, but these dates can set the stage for sexual expression when you’re ready. I know moms who fiercely protect these dates as times to let go of the tensions of the day and share feelings—joys and hopes, resentments and fears. One mother says, “We listen to each other, even when we think we’re too tired to hear one more word.” If talking doesn’t do it for you, and sex play seems more effort than you can muster, try this simple exercise: Sit opposite each other, place your right hands on each other’s hearts and breathe together—until you’re breathing in unison. You may find this connects you energetically without having to speak. This is the basis of a Tantric technique designed to bring together body and spirit, man and woman, lover and lover.
Accept help. If you feel guilty about letting others do some of your cooking, cleaning, and childcare, remember that in other times and cultures we had the village. Babies and children belonged to everyone. New mothers got to be pampered in a special hut. Then we had the extended family, with at least three live-in generations to share the work. Now we have conveniences like microwaves and take-out—as well as a far greater chance that you and your baby will survive the birth process. But too many of us lack a sense of caring community. So let others pitch in.
Involve your baby’s father. Seeing your partner connect lovingly with your baby can be a huge turn-on. And yet, a story I hear too often is: “Yes, I have a husband, but when it comes to childcare I might as well be a single parent.” Your baby’s father may have been frightened by witnessing the baby emerging from your vagina. He may be scared he’ll break the baby if he picks it up. And–even in this day and age– he may simply think of childcare as “women’s work.” The problem is, many mothers need this kind of empathy and support with childcare before they can even begin to think about being sexual again.
Understandably, a husband’s lack of involvement can make you angry. But try to set aside your outrage and resentment and focus on the bigger picture: your marriage. Also, ask yourself if you really want him to participate. Can you let go of control? Sharing childcare may mean learning to relax your standards about doing things the “right” way. Allow him to learn on the job. And in your mind’s eye, imagine what might happen once he begins to take initiative.
Examine your own beliefs. What you think about sex affects how you feel about sex. Does motherhood mean you’re not supposed to be sexual anymore—or is it possible for you to be both a loving mom and a vibrant sexual partner? Do you believe childbirth has ruined your looks and your sex appeal? A mom who came to one of my workshops says she’s developed a magic mirror—so she can look beyond her surface and straight into her big warm heart. Many women tell me that their minds and hearts expand with motherhood—wide enough to find more compassion for themselves. When you can connect with your compassion, you’ll be more desirable to yourself—and probably to your partner as well.