What You'll Learn
- Navigating Changes In Our Relationship
- Understanding Sexual Desire Or Lack Thereof
- Exploring Reasons Why You May Not Want To Have Sex
- Understanding Attachment In Relationships
- Understanding Female Vs. Male Arousal
- Practical Tips And Realistic Expectations Around Sex During Postpartum
Have you and your partner struggled to find your groove postpartum? Do you find it hard to prioritize each other and sex while juggling all. of. the. roles and responsibilities of being parents? Join the club! So many women I speak with wonder why they have no sex drive or why they struggle with arousal. Sex is a hot topic! Tune in today as Dr. Tracy Dalgleish and I explore the reasons why and help you to better understand your own arousal system!
It’s easy for us to think that everyone else is doing better than us, adjusting to being a parent better than us, having more sex than us, and the list goes on. Are people really having as much sex as we think they are? Are other couples struggling to find their sex groove as new parents? I polled thousands of couples to find out what’s going on behind closed doors. To find out what I learned, check out our Navitating Intimacy After Children Workshop.
Navigating Changes In Our Relationship
We don’t really prepare for motherhood or to be parents. Hospitals offer classes on birthing and lamaz. We spend all of our time talking about how to get the baby here and what that process might look like or require, but we don’t talk about what to do once the baby is here.
Couples often go through pre-marriage counseling before getting married. When it’s time for the baby to come, we never talk about who’s getting up in the middle of the night, who’s cleaning bottles, or who’s doing all the baby laundry. A new baby is a huge transition in our relationship with our partner. One that we don’t prepare for in the same way we prepare for other transitions.
Becoming a parent changes you, and we can’t expect our relationship to stay the same.
“I think it’s important that we recognize both parents do struggle,” Dr. Tracy said. “When a baby comes into our relationship, it can often make worse the patterns that were already there.” But becoming a parent changes you, and we can’t expect our relationship to stay the same when we’ve changed and so has our partner. But you can’t grow without change.
“There are 2 ways we can talk about desire,” Dr.Tracy said, “spontaneous and responsive.” When you’re in your dating days and can’t stay away from each other, that’s spontaneous desire. “In this stage, we need to be nurturing more of that responsive desire,” she explained.
Responsive desire is more intentional. It’s the slow build that happens when we prioritize our partner and they do the same for us. It happens when we’re cuddling on the couch or sharing feelings at the end of the day.
“If you’re breastfeeding, that’s going to decrease a woman’s desire as well,” Dr. Tracy explained. You may also experience vaginal dryness or soreness which doesn’t affect the desire for your partner, but you may not be interested in sex. Our changing bodies may also have an impact.
“Something else that we really see that is common in this stage is that women are having sex even though it’s painful, and they don’t want to have sex. Or they are not having sex out of pain or fear of pain, and this is really challenging on our intimacy,” she said.
But not one really wants to do something that physically hurts. Bad experiences will only lead to more bad experiences, so this isn’t helpful for yourself, your body, or your relationship.
“If you're clenching or holding your muscles tight during sex, that’s going to lead to more pain,” Dr. Tracy said. If you’ve had painful sex before, you might clench in anticipation of the pain. A pelvic floor physiotherapist may be able to help you with this.
“If you’re stressed out, it’s going to be incredibly hard to want to engage in sex and intimacy,” she stated. So, if you still have a lot of feelings about your birthing experience or any birth trauma you may have experienced, that can affect your intimacy. Postpartum mood disorders can lead to decreased desire as well.
If you have negative emotions with your partners, that affects your desire. And if you don’t deal with it, it’s going to continue over time. If you find yourself resenting your partner or you’re overly frustrated with them, that means you have an unmet need. But they won’t know that if you don’t communicate it. If this is happening, it might be time to set a boundary or at least advocate for what it is that you really need.
Understanding Attachment In Relationships
“Attachment really talks about accessibility, responsiveness, and comfort,” Dr. Tracy said. “The challenge becomes that if we’re not in our relationships and we’re struggling with our baby, and we don’t feel like we matter or that we’re important, it can be really hard to feel connected or to feel intimate.”
For someone with an anxious attachment, the change in intimacy may make them worry about the relationship or feel unloved. They may start pressuring their partner for sex or frequently ask questions like, “Do you still love me?”
A person with an avoidant attachment style may shut down. They may be inclined to avoid their partner or intimacy, but that’s only going to make things worse. The best thing to do would be to lean into your partner.
Being able to communicate with each other is crucial in a transition as big as expanding your family.
Whatever your attachment style, your needs are valid. But knowing your needs and your partner’s needs, and then being able to communicate with each other is crucial in a transition as big as expanding your family. But how we communicate matters too. Leaving “you” out of statements can be helpful. “You never listen to me,” might not go over as well as “I don’t feel heard or understood.”
“Just because you have a need doesn’t mean your partner can always meet it,” Dr. Tracy said. Your needs are valid, and you’re worthy of having them met. But that doesn’t mean your partner can always take care of what you need. You may need to do some self-soothing.
Understanding Female Vs. Male Arousal
“Newer research shows that female arousal and desire is actually more in a circle,” Dr. Tracy said. “For women, they’re not necessarily aware of their arousal.” She explained a pill similar to Viagra was tested for women, and participants in the study were asked if they felt more aroused after the drug. They didn’t report a difference, but there was a measurable difference in the amount of blood being pumped around the vulva. They had an increase in desire but weren’t aware of it.
Men become intimate to have sex and women have sex to become intimate.
“Arousal for women comes from emotional intimacy,” she explained. “Men become intimate to have sex and women have sex to become intimate. It really is about nurturing all of the contextual factors in your life to help contribute to your sense of arousal and desire.”
Practical Tips And Realistic Expectations Around Sex During Postpartum
Showing up for each other emotionally goes a long way toward building intimacy. If you’re having a hard time figuring out when or how to have sex for the first time postpartum, you might have to actually schedule it or just do it. This may sound like corny advice. But once you get started, you may actually enjoy it which may lead to more desire.
Have a conversation about other ways you feel connected. It doesn’t have to be sex.
But you and your partner can also have a conversation about other ways you feel connected. It doesn’t have to be sex. “It can just be combing my hair, or tickling my arm, or massaging my feet,” Dr. Tracy said. “There are so many parts of our body that can actually help build desire and arousal that we just forget they exist.”
When there is a pairing with a high desire person and a low desire person, there can become a cycle. The high desire person feels rejected and the low desire person may feel guilt or shame for not showing up. You just have to find something you can both be happy with, but it’s not going to be the same as it was before baby arrived.
If you’re struggling to find intimacy with your partner again in the postpartum period, the intimacy workshop is loaded with tools and strategies to help you work through this.