Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE
Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE

February 20, 2024

December 6, 2023

Navigating Different Sex Drives in Parenthood: What Impacts Libido and How to Reconnect

E:
202
with
Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy & Dr. Jennifer Vencill
Licensed Psychologists and Authors

What You'll Learn

  • The Two Types of Sex Drive (and How They Show Up Differently)
  • Why Responsive Sex Drive is Often Lacking in New Motherhood
  • The 4 Tenants of Cultivating Responsive Desire
  • How the Invisible Load Can Contribute to Different Sex Drives
  • How Different Sex Drives Can Fuel Anxiety and Disconnection
  • Common Physical and Emotional Barriers to Sex Drive
  • How to Overcome Different Sex Drives and Spark Connection

Let’s talk about sex after baby. My mom clients are often concerned about sex, or the lack of it, in their relationships, especially in the first few years postpartum. Polls show that at least 58% of couples have less frequent sex after having a baby. There are many factors at play, including different sex drives. 

Some of us had different sex drives from our partner before having a baby, but it was easier to navigate. We had time to focus on each other, less pressure, and more freedom. 

Some of us didn’t experience a difference in libido before becoming parents but find ourselves struggling with it after. 

Some of us are the lower-desire partner in the relationship, and some of us are the higher-desire partner (61% of moms report lower sex drive after baby, while 30% of dads do). 

Whether you’re in a different-sex relationship, same-sex relationship, the higher-desire partner, or the lower-desire partner, a difference in sex drive can feel like a difficult barrier to overcome in a relationship. 

How can we find a new normal that feels good to everyone? How can we rediscover our sex drive if we find ourselves with less desire? How can we feel connected even when our sex lives don’t look the same? What if we want to want sex but we just…don’t? 

It’s a lot to navigate. This week on The Momwell Podcast, I’m joined by psychologists Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy and Dr. Jennifer Vencill, author of Desire: An Inclusive Guide to Navigating Libido Differences in Relationships. We’re unpacking what causes different sex drives, especially in parenthood, and how we can overcome these differences and stay connected. 

The Two Types of Sex Drive (and How They Show Up Differently)

There are physical, hormonal, emotional, and psychological factors that play into our libido. We’re often conditioned from a young age to view sex in a certain way, whether we were raised in religious backgrounds or purity culture, or subconsciously taught messages about gender norms and sex. 

Many of those messages can be detrimental to women. When we become moms, we’re suddenly expected to juggle a new role with stronger gender norms and expectations, adding more layers of complexity. 

And in all of that messaging surrounding sex, gender, and morality, a basic understanding of libido and what causes different sex drives is often missing. 

Dr. Jennifer says that there are two different types of sex drive—spontaneous and responsive. 

Spontaneous desire is often the only one we talk about. It’s an interest in sex that comes out of the blue—and it’s often tied into physical arousal (which is connected but different). 

However, responsive desire happens in response to arousal, pleasurable stimuli, or something sexually relevant. 

Responsive desire happens in response to arousal, pleasurable stimuli, or something sexually relevant.

What might seem like a mismatch in “high” versus “low” sex drive might actually be a mismatch in style of desire. One partner might be more spontaneous, with that instant drive that can come on at any point, while the other might be more responsive, needing something to come into play to feel desire. 

Why Responsive Sex Drive is Often Lacking in New Motherhood

In new parenthood, responsive desire is often more difficult to kindle. As moms, we’re often needed and demanded constantly. It can feel hard to find the time to even shower, much less to take a break for ourselves. 

We might feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and very un-sexy. So that responsive desire might not come into play. But because we don’t think about sex drive with this nuance, we might be waiting for the spontaneous desire to kick in without realizing that we need responsive stimuli we’re not getting.

When we’re drowning in new parenthood, we often have other more pressing needs than sex. New moms often struggle to take care of themselves or get adequate sleep or nutrition. 

So it makes sense that sex isn’t always top of mind. In our hierarchy of needs, sex isn’t the very top. 

When you’re sleep-deprived, rest will always win out over sex—sleep is a necessity but sex isn’t. 

Dr. Jennifer said that from an evolutionary standpoint, when you’re sleep-deprived, rest will always win out over sex—sleep is a necessity but sex isn’t. Some people with stronger spontaneous desire might be able to overcome that, but fatigue will often take precedence, especially if you have more of a responsive desire. 

Even as time goes on, and we start to reclaim some of those pieces of ourselves we lost in the new postpartum period, we are often still exhausted and overwhelmed, making that responsive desire harder to come into play. 

If we want to overcome that, we have to be very intentional about creating and cultivating a space for responsive desire. 

The 4 Tenets of Cultivating Responsive Desire

Dr. Lauren said that there are four major components that need to be present to kindle responsive desire—timing, consent, pleasure, and focus. 

Consent

Consent is the number one most important. Responsive desire doesn’t come from a place of coercion or manipulation. It has to be something that everyone is open to. 

Dr. Lauren said that sometimes her sex therapy clients will feel that if one of them is higher in spontaneous desire, they should initiate sexual contact and the responsive desire of their partner will just kick in. But the approach creates so much pressure that it doesn’t create a space for that responsive desire. 

Even though responsive desire needs some sort of sexual stimuli, it has to be based on real consent. 

Dr. Jennifer pointed out that willingness is often on a spectrum—the responsive partner might be willing to explore and see what happens even if they don’t feel that desire or sex drive in the moment—or they might be in a place where they feel too overwhelmed and exhausted to even engage. 

Even though responsive desire needs some sort of sexual stimuli, it has to be based on real consent. 

Timing 

Timing can be tricky for parents of young children. When someone is in the middle of caring for children, it’s likely not the best time to try to initiate something sexual. It might take some planning or thought to create space and time to allow responsive desire to come into play. 

Focus

Focus is another factor that is hard in new parenthood. We often have the mental load playing around in the back of our mind, along with a sink full of dirty dishes, a baby who might wake up at any moment, and a pile of laundry sitting in the corner with spit-up on it. This can make it hard to focus on the moment. 

Pleasure

Without the other three tenets, we might not get the fourth vital component, which is pleasure. We need to be able to be present in the moment to spark responsive desire. 

How the Invisible Load Can Contribute to Different Sex Drives

It’s often hard to shut down the mental load and be present, especially if we feel like we’re carrying an unfair burden of the weight in the home. 

Studies have shown that when moms are responsible for a disproportionate amount of household labor, they experience lower sexual desire. They are more likely to view their partner as a dependent to take care of than as a sexual partner. 

This makes sense, especially in relation to those four tenets of responsive desire. If we’re constantly consumed by the invisible load, the caregiving, and household work, we can’t cultivate the timing and the focus needed for responsive desire. 

If we’re constantly consumed by labor, we can’t cultivate the focus needed for responsive desire. 

We also are more likely to carry resentment toward our partner, feeling unseen and unacknowledged. 

What sometimes happens for moms in this situation is that they start viewing sex with their partner as a duty rather than a pleasurable experience. 

Dr. Lauren said that there are times and moments when it’s fine to engage in a sexual moment for the pleasure of your partner rather than yourself, but when that becomes the only driving factor for sex, it leads to long-term resentment and disappointment. 

It’s important to have conversations about conflict in the relationship, unmet needs, and the distribution of labor—these are all interwoven into the difference in sex drive, and are all parts of breaking away from resentment and feeling connected again, both emotionally and physically. 

How Different Sex Drives Can Fuel Anxiety and Disconnection

When we experience a difference in sex drive from our partner, that sense of pressure and duty can grow, often to the point where we no longer want to engage in any type of physical touch or intimacy with our partner. 

Moms have mentioned to me that they find themselves not wanting to hug or kiss their partner out of fear that this might come with an expectation of sex. 

Dr. Lauren said that we often fall into this all-or-nothing view of touch, which leads us to lack the connection and closeness that we need in our relationship. Dr. Jennifer pointed out that it’s important to start to unwind and separate out different forms of physical touch. 

It’s important to start to unwind and separate out different forms of physical touch.

We’ve been taught that one physical touch leads to another, to another, often culminating in penetrative intercourse. But that isn’t always the case. If we can separate that and understand that not all touch leads to sex, we can start to break out of that anxiety cycle and rebuild intimacy in our relationship. 

Transitioning from viewing sex as a destination to letting each touch and connection stand on its own can help. This is especially powerful if we have physical barriers in place that prevent penetrative intercourse.

Common Physical and Emotional Barriers to Sex Drive

We also need to consider what barriers might be in place that are preventing one partner from experiencing desire. 

There can be physical obstacles, such as healing from a traumatic birth or pelvic floor issues that cause pain during sex. Even healing from a more typical birth experience can take on a different timeline for each of us. 

That elusive six-week mark doesn’t necessarily mean we are wholly ready for sex again. Dr. Lauren said that if we experience pain in sex, we need to stop immediately. Trying to push through causes harm in the long run. 

It might take time, exploration into sexual options that don’t involve penetration, and communication about sex and our bodies to find sexual contact that feels good to both partners again. 

Medications and hormones can also play a big role in our sex drive. If we take SSRIs or antidepressants, we might experience sexual side effects such as lack of libido or an inability to achieve orgasm. Hormones can have an impact that might vary throughout the month, although it is not well understood yet. 

These barriers can be hard to overcome. Dr. Lauren and Dr. Jennifer recommend reaching out to your doctor if you’re having concerns—and seeking a different doctor if possible if your concerns are dismissed. There are sometimes options such as adjusting doses or adding other medications to counter side effects. 

There are also often mental and emotional barriers to sex drive in place, including body image struggles or mental health concerns. It can be hard to feel sexual when you’re struggling with depression or anxiety or feeling like a stranger in your own body. 

It can be hard to feel sexual when you feel like a stranger in your own body. 

Just like with the physical barriers, these often take time, exploration, and communication to navigate and overcome. But the safer we feel in our partnership, the more emotional intimacy we are able to cultivate, the easier that journey can be. 

How to Overcome Different Sex Drives and Spark Connection

So how do we bring that sexual connection back? How do we overcome the differences in sex drive and reconnect emotionally and physically? 

Dr. Lauren said that the first step is acknowledging that there is no perfect answer. We might need to understand that we are in a season where sex is going to look different, be less frequent, or take more intention and planning. We can have compassion for ourselves and our partner as we transition into the new phase of our relationship. 

She also said that it’s important to reduce the pressure on sex by creating more flexibility with touch and removing that all-or-nothing thinking or the expectation that sex is a duty. 

Finally, we need to give the lower desire or more responsive desire partner room to find what is pleasurable and what sparks that libido. This might not be explicitly sexual—it might be a cuddle or a caress or emotional intimacy. Maybe it’s experiencing arousal without the goal of penetration. 

It’s also helpful to carve out time to do things together where and when we can, recreating that connection that gives us the safety and security to explore together. 

Expanding our definition of sexuality and intimacy can help us find connection, cultivate responsive desire, and discover a new normal that feels right to everyone. 

If you’re struggling to reconnect with your partner, working with a mom therapist can help! We offer relationship support to individuals and couples—book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today.

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

Sex, Intimacy

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy & Dr. Jennifer Vencill
Licensed Psychologists and Authors

Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy is a licensed psychologist and an AASECT certified sex therapist. She specializes in sexual health and relationships and owns her own private practice in Minnesota. She is the co-author of the book, Desire: An Inclusive Guide to Navigating Libido Differences in Relationships with Dr. Jennifer Vencill. Dr. Jennifer Vencill is an assistant professor, board certified clinical health psychologist, and AASECT certified sex therapist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. Her research focuses on sexual health and health disparities in marginalized sexual and gender communities.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
RELATED ARTICLES
July 15, 2024
July 10, 2024
How Intensive Mothering Creates Overwhelmed Moms: The Pressures of Modern Motherhood
E:
233
with
Jess Grose
Opinion Writer for The New York Times and Author
July 3, 2024
June 19, 2024
Navigating Culture and Mental Health in Motherhood: Traditions, Boundaries, and Carving Out Your Own Path
E:
230
with
Sahaj Kaur Kohli
Founder of Brown Girl Therapy and Author
July 3, 2024
April 17, 2024
How to Maintain Friendships (and Make Friends) as a Mom
E:
221
with
Danielle Bayard Jackson
Author
March 25, 2024
March 20, 2024
How Partners Can Share in the Invisible Load and Reduce Mental Labour for Moms
E:
217
with
Zach Watson
Content Creator and Invisible Labor Educator for Men
July 3, 2024
February 28, 2024
How to Embrace Career Change as a Mom: Finding Your Passion and Overcoming Guilt
E:
214
with
Jess Galica
Career and Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author
July 3, 2024
February 21, 2024
Understanding Postpartum Depression in Dads and Non-Birthing Partners
E:
213
with
Mark Williams
International Advocate for Perinatal Mental Health and Author
July 3, 2024
February 14, 2024
Rekindling Your Sex Life After Baby: Communication Is Key
E:
212
with
Vanessa & Xander Marin
bestselling authors & hosts of the podcast Pillow Talks
July 3, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
July 3, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
December 6, 2023
Navigating Different Sex Drives in Parenthood: What Impacts Libido and How to Reconnect
E:
202
with
Dr. Lauren Fogel Mersy & Dr. Jennifer Vencill
Licensed Psychologists and Authors
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 22, 2023
Erica’s Husband Reflects on Sharing the Invisible Load
E:
200
with
Frenel Djossa
Erica’s Husband & Co-Founder of Momwell
February 20, 2024
November 15, 2023
Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood
E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
November 1, 2023
Breaking Out of the Default Parent Role: How to Communicate with Your Partner and Change Patterns
E:
197
with
Erin & Stephen Mitchell
Founders of Couples Counseling for Parents
February 20, 2024
October 18, 2023
Rebuilding Connection and Intimacy After Baby: How Family Systems Can Help Us Navigate Relationship Challenges
E:
195
with
Aaron Steinberg
Co-Founder of Babyproofing Your Relationship
February 20, 2024
September 27, 2023
Understanding Overfunctioning in Relationships: How to Change Dynamics After Baby
E:
192
with
Dr. Tracy Dalgleish
Clinical Psychologist and Relationship Expert
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
August 2, 2023
Establishing Family Values: How to Identify What Matters and Avoid Comparison
E:
184
with
Mell & Joe Hashey
Founders of Strong Family Co.
February 20, 2024
July 26, 2023
The Journey of a Bereaved Parent: Stefania Thomson’s Story of Navigating Grief and Loss
E:
183
with
Stefania Thomson
Bereavement and Grief Advocate
February 20, 2024
June 14, 2023
The Invisible Load of Fatherhood: How Dads Can Challenge Gender Norms and Become More Involved
E:
177
with
Dr. Singley
Psychologist and Director of The Center for Men’s Excellence
February 20, 2024
April 26, 2023
Working Through Conflict About Growing Your Family: What to Do When Only One Partner Wants Another Baby
E:
170
with
Elizabeth Earnshaw
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
Real Self-Care for Moms: Why Mindset Matters More Than Massages
E:
164
with
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
February 22, 2023
Navigating Working Mom Struggles: How to Let Go of Norms, Expectations, and Guilt
E:
161
with
Mary Beth Somich
Mental Health Counselor
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
January 18, 2023
Resolving Conflict in Your Relationship After Baby
E:
156
with
Sheina Schochet
Mental Health Counselor
February 20, 2024
January 4, 2023
Reestablishing Sex After Baby: Why Communication Matters and How to Create a New Normal
E:
154
with
Travis Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
December 28, 2022
Coping During Postpartum with No Family Support: When Reality Clashes with Expectations
E:
153
with
Emmalee Bierly and Jennifer Chaiken
Founders of ShrinkChicks
February 20, 2024
December 14, 2022
Navigating Career and Motherhood: Approaching Maternity Leave with Confidence
E:
151
with
Allison Venditti
Founder of Moms at Work
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
November 2, 2022
How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings
E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
September 14, 2022
Dividing Labour Fairly in the Home: Redistributing the Mental Load of Motherhood
E:
138
with
Dr. Darcy Lockman
Author and Psychologist
April 25, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
February 9, 2022
How to Prepare Your Dog for a New Baby: Planning, Introducing, and Keeping Everyone Safe
E:
107
with
Dominika Knossalla
Certified Dog Trainer
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 19, 2022
Carrying the Mental Load: How to Redistribute the Burden and Give Moms More Freedom
E:
104
with
Eve Rodsky
New York Times Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
December 29, 2021
Decluttering: The Secret of an Easy to Tidy Home
E:
101
with
Katy Wells
Declutter Expert
February 20, 2024
December 8, 2021
Learning to Fight Fair
E:
98
with
Elizabeth Earnshaw
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
December 1, 2021
The One and Done Family
E:
97
with
Renee Reina, Ph.D.
Founder of The Mom Room
February 20, 2024
November 3, 2021
Setting Boundaries With Moms & Mothers-In-Law
E:
93
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
October 27, 2021
Co-Parenting and Blending Families
E:
92
with
Abbey Williams
Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 20, 2021
Social Justice Parenting
E:
91
with
Dr. Traci Baxley
Author
February 20, 2024
September 22, 2021
Working As A Mother
E:
87
with
Dr. Courtney Tracy
Founder of The Truth Doctor
February 20, 2024
September 15, 2021
Babyproofing Our Relationships
E:
86
with
Kameela Osman
Social Worker and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
July 14, 2021
Modeling Consent in Parenthood
E:
77
with
Jess VanderWier
Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
June 30, 2021
Sex As a Mother
E:
75
with
Dr. Sara Reardon
Physical Therapist
February 20, 2024
June 16, 2021
The Overstimulated Mommy
E:
73
with
Larissa Geleris
Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
April 28, 2021
A Deeper Look into the Mother Wound
E:
66
with
Bethany Webster
Author
February 20, 2024
April 21, 2021
Making—And Keeping—Mommy Friends
E:
65
with
Dr. Miriam Kirmayer
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
April 14, 2021
Breaking Cycles And Interdependence
E:
64
with
Sian Crossley
Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
March 17, 2021
Replay of Navigating Intimacy After Children
E:
60
with
Dr. Tracy Dalgleish
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
March 10, 2021
Respectful Parenting as a Team
E:
59
with
Janet Lansbury
Author
February 20, 2024
March 3, 2021
Overcoming Resentment in Our Relationships
E:
58
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
February 24, 2021
Understanding the Mother Wound
E:
57
with
Bethany Webster
Author
February 20, 2024
November 25, 2020
Conscious Boundary Setting
E:
47
with
Ashleigh Warner
Family Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 16, 2020
Celebrating 1 Year - A Look Back at the Top 5 Episodes
E:
42
with
Erica Djossa
Founder of Momwell
February 20, 2024
August 19, 2020
Organizing All the Mess
E:
40
with
Holly Blakey
Professional Organizer
February 20, 2024
April 22, 2020
Prioritizing the Mental Load
E:
30
with
Erica Djossa
Founder of Momwell
February 20, 2024
April 8, 2020
Coping with the Mental Load
E:
28
with
Dr. Morgan Cutlip, Ph.D.
Relationship Expert
February 20, 2024
November 20, 2019
Navigating Intimacy After Children
E:
14
with
Dr. Tracy Dalgleish
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
January 29, 2020
Racism and Privilege in Birth Work
E:
19
with
Sabia Wade
Doula
February 20, 2024
November 27, 2019
Loneliness and Isolation In Motherhood
E:
15
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
October 30, 2019
Navigating Boundaries in Motherhood
E:
11
with
Nedra Tawwab
Therapist