Time to read: 12 minutes
Talking about sex is taboo. Talking about sex postpartum seems to be even more controversial. With that being said, before I get into the nitty gritty of my own experience – because I love talking about sex – I want to make one thing very clear: sex/intimacy post partum is going to be 100% unique to you, your partnership, your comfort levels and your body. As you continue to read I want you to keep in mind that you will be ready for sex as soon as you are, and you should only do things you are comfortable with.
My intention in sharing my personal experience is to provide a perspective that I don’t see discussed often – someone who is wanting to maintain intimacy and connection post-baby.
I was just like many new mothers out there:
- Going through major pelvic floor and physical recovery from a vaginal delivery
- Lower (nearly non existent) libido from hormone changes and lack of sleep. I swear my body was screaming “no matter what you do, just don’t get pregnant again!!!”
- Sensitive breasts from breastfeeding/pumping
- Body changes that were so new and did not feel sexy at all
Sex was definitely not at the top of my mind but it was also not something I was going to ignore completely. For me, this exploration revealed more than I had imagined and the results really surprised me – at the end of this article I share exactly what I discovered.
If you are interested in postpartum friendly sex/intimacy, this article is for you. As you read on keep in mind that I use the words sex, intimacy, physical connection all to describe time spent intentionally connecting with one another – not just through sexual intercourse.
I am not sure there was any amount of reading or conversations that could have truly prepared me for postpartum recovery. From the change in hormones, breastfeeding, pumping and feeling like my organs might fall out of my butthole it was a wild ride. This may be TMI but my first time going to the bathroom for a #2 was not something anyone prepared me for – it was absolutely terrifying to even think about pushing anything out – thank goodness for stool softeners. On top of it all we were in the NICU for the first week post delivery adding another wrench into the mix.
Recovery and bonding with the baby was my absolute number one priority however, I was curious about when/if sex would ever get back to normal. Sex and intimacy is something Michael and I treat like a practice – the same way we approach exercise or nutrition. Meaning we make time for it even when we don’t feel like it because ultimately we know it leads to a healthier and happier life.
Some of the benefits we experience from regular sex/intimacy:
- Less conflict
- Improved teamwork
- Taking more initiative to support one another
- Increased confidence and feelings of well being
- Lower stress
This is why we make it a top priority. If we need to schedule it in, we do (for us that is every Tuesday and Saturday at a minimum), we talk about it often and don’t wait until we are “in the mood”, instead we take responsibility for our own turn on and spend the time to get in the mood – foreplay helps a lot!
I knew that sex would look different for a while after our baby arrived – at first even the thought of sex (specifically penetration) was terrifying not to mention that my libido was virtually non-existent. Waking up multiple times a night and feeding from your breasts every 2-3 hours is definitely not a recipe for feeling sexy. I was committed to the benefits that come from prioritizing sex even though there were many moments it was the absolute last thing on Earth I wanted to do.
I had so many questions; how long would this change last? How would that affect our relationship dynamic? Would we still feel connected to one another? Would Michael or I feel like our needs weren’t being met? When I searched for answers the only information I would get consistently was “you’ll be cleared in 6 weeks.” This left me unsatisfied to say the least – especially since at 6 weeks I was definitely not ready for sexual intercourse.
Our relationship was going through one of the biggest and most drastic changes yet. I have heard that once you have a baby around 80% of your alone time is taken away, for us this was true. Sleep and energy was scarce, my body was recovering from the hardest workout of my life and I was figuring out how to handle all the physical changes. Even though my interest and capacity for sex was different, I wanted to know how we could maintain our intimacy and connection without hindering my recovery. Teamwork was more important than ever and I knew that finding a way to connect as a couple would help make that much easier.
I feel very fortunate that one of my closest friends, Alexa Martinez, is a sex and intimacy coach – she calls herself That Sex Chick (@thatsexchick) – and she runs a very successful Facebook group called That Sex Group where people from all walks of life can safely ask questions and discuss all aspects of sex, love and relationships. Alexa knew I was looking for more resources or ideas and posted in the group asking about how people got creative with their sex postpartum. I was really surprised by the response.
Over 90% of the people who commented on the post were saying something along the lines of:
- She should focus on the baby/recovery
- Don’t feel pressure to please your partner
- It might take months or a year until you can be sexual again
The post was specifically asking for how to make it happen, not for reasons not to. While the responses may be true to some extent and for some more than others they didn’t answer the question: what creative ways can we have sex, without actually having sex.
I was focusing on the baby and my recovery, I didn’t have a partner that was pressuring me to have sex and I also didn’t want to wait months or a year to be sexual again. Prioritizing this kind of experience with Michael was not about the physical act itself. For us, we leave these moments full of love, desire for one another and a reminder that we are a team.
Have you ever been so annoyed with your partner and you have no idea why? Even the way they look at you is annoying? Then you have some sexual/intimate experience and all of a sudden you’re like “Oh yeah! That is exactly what we needed. I love you again.” You completely forget what you were even annoyed about in the first place and realize that your relationship actually just needed to fuck (pardon my french, I don’t usually cuss but it seemed appropriate here). I knew that without any physical/intimate connection in this transition, that could happen x100.
What I really wanted was to hear how people were prioritizing their connection with one another amidst the diaper changes, spit up and peri bottles. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of guidance for people like me.
So, we got creative.
Rules and Boundaries
Before we began anything at all we put four rules/boundaries in place that made exploration feel more comfortable for me and clear for Michael.
#1 I was the leader
What we did, how we did it, when we did it and for how long were all aspects that I was in control of – when I wanted to be. This made it much easier for me to communicate my needs and let go of any guilt/fear that Michael may feel rejected if I ask to stop. I was able to let go of any worries that things may go further than I wanted because I was the one setting the pace.
#2 No pressure or expectations from Michael
A big part of me had a fear that Michael would feel unsatisfied if I didn’t do “more”. He made it abundantly clear that no matter what we did there were no expectations on his part for us to move any further or at a faster pace. He didn’t just assume I understood this after saying it one time, he was explicit. He would say something like “I would love to kiss you right now and I have no expectations that this will go anywhere beyond just kissing”. This relief of pressure helped me relax into the experience and stay present.
#3 Removing outcome goals from sex
This is one we still keep with us even now that sex has gone back to “normal”. When we had sex previously there was an unspoken goal for each of us to reach climax in order for sex to be successful. Because of this I found myself in my head thinking “Okay, I’m close, don’t move, dang it I’m not close anymore, should I fake it?”
Postpartum really showed us that sex does not need to be about achieving anything at all and in fact, when we removed the goal it felt so much better. We were more playful, we enjoyed more foreplay and stayed present with one another.
#4 Communicate a lot
Before, during and right after.
How does that feel? Do you like that? Faster or slower?
I did not just wait for Michael to ask (although he did check in a lot) I spoke up whenever something didn’t feel right – something historically really difficult for me to do. What helped me speak up was thinking about sex like a back scratch, if you ask someone to get an itch for you, you get specific on where it is. Top left, a little lower, right there. Sex is the same way. When I would feel shy about speaking up I would tell Michael just that and he would help me work through those feelings.
The Nitty Gritty
From 0 – 8 weeks.
With penetration completely off the table (to be direct, my vagina was still in need of serious recovery) we took time to discuss other options:
- Lay in bed naked with skin touching
- Eye gazing
- Holding hands
- Oral sex
We lowered our expectations and continued to remind ourselves of our intention – to connect with one another as husband/wife, lover, individual. To remember how much we love each other outside of baby Shai and to have FUN!
When we took the traditional concepts of sex off the table the options were endless and no less sexy. I could freely explore with Michael because I knew we were on the same page about where I was at in my recovery and what was available. To be honest, we had some of the best makeout sessions of our entire lives in this period of time – it was HOT!
Fake it till you make it
Yes, I want to prioritize sex AND it was really hard sometimes.
My libido postpartum was so low that as soon as I could sense even the slightest clue Michael may seduce me I would find a way to be busy or give clear body language cues that I was not into it.
“Babe, I am tired” or “I just don’t think I can do this right now”
The logical side of me understood that I would not regret it and that it wouldn’t even take that long but sometimes what you want now takes over for what you want most.
Michael comes over to the couch one day and gives me the kind of hug that is slow and soft which is a sign for “let’s get it on” and I looked at him saying “I am really not into it, but I am committed so I will.” Immediately he says “You could at least pretend if you’re going to do it”. He was right. There is nothing less sexy than trying to connect with someone that clearly is uninterested whether they are “committed” to doing it or not.
I realized that it didn’t matter if in the moment I didn’t want to – within a few minutes (maybe longer sometimes) I got there and I was so grateful I pushed through. When you’re trying to lose weight – in the moment you want ice cream but you are grateful you don’t have it. When you are getting into shape – in the moment the couch is just so comfortable but you don’t regret the workout when it’s done. Sex is the same way.
I am responsible for my own turn on and if I want the benefits that come with sex I need to put in the work – yes, sometimes it is work and that is totally normal. Even if I am not in the mood I can get myself in the mood and it is absolutely worth it.
Don’t forget about self exploration
For me, after birth I was terrified about what was going on “down there”. Everything felt swollen, sensitive and weak. I couldn’t even wipe myself properly let alone think about anything sexual happening there. Something that really helped me is remembering that I can explore on my own before ever incorporating Michael.
Even though it was scary I got myself a hand held mirror and took some time to see what was going on “down there” – what does my vagina look like? Is everything okay? Whenever I was unsure if something was “normal” I asked my healthcare providers to be sure. Once I felt comfortable, I would be in the shower and touch/feel at a pace that felt comfortable to me. Eventually as time went on I could see and feel for myself that healing was happening and I began to build confidence in my ability to be more sexual.
This may not be the most comfortable topic to talk about but it really helped me to masturbate. It’s so hard to explain the physical changes that happen after birth and before allowing Michael to touch me or us to have sex, touching myself was exactly what I needed. There was no pressure to perform, look a certain way, go at any pace. Then, when I was ready things were way smoother.
A few things that made this experience positive for me:
Set up your space
It was as if I was trying to seduce myself. I put on the perfect music, took a shower so I was nice and clean, lit some incense and made sure that I had absolutely no responsibilities and would not get interrupted. This really helped me relax and feel safe.
Eventually we were working towards being able to have intercourse again. For me there was some – okay a lot of – fear around moving from nothing entering me to a penis. Masturbation allowed me to take baby steps – starting with fingers and slowly incorporating other toys was great preparation and helped me truly know when I was ready for the real thing.
I didn’t just get to it. Instead, I focused on my breath and moved my hands all over my body rather than just between my legs. No rush, nowhere else to be. Just completely present.
Lots of lube
Not enough lubrication for me is a quick way to kill the mood. I made sure that I had ample so that any touching could be gentle and smooth.
But where is the baby?!
You might be wondering where is the baby when all this is happening? I’ll run you through the ways that we make it happen when the baby is around and not.
When we are with the baby:
We capitalize on nap time or once the baby has gone to sleep. We have chosen to make this fun and exciting, because it is! One of us will put the baby down and we then go seduce the other (with the baby monitor of course). If the baby is down for a nap we know we have a small window and it feels a little scandalous trying to fit it in (no pun intended). There has been more than one or two times where we are interrupted with a crying baby and that is okay, we tend to his needs and then come back or we stop wherever we were at until next time.
We have found that sex during the day is much better than sex in the evening. By the time night rolls around we have been too tired and our desire to have sex plummets. A little midday fun works much better for us.
Have the baby in the room
Before we had Shai when I thought about having sex with a baby in the room I imagined it being very uncomfortable and strange. In reality, it just hasn’t been that weird. We don’t think about it too deeply and as long as Shai is safe, content and in a space we can hear him if he needs us, we give ourselves permission to focus on ourselves.
I would highly recommend putting the baby on a surface that is not the same as the one you are having sex on – this is a mistake we learned the hard way. Michael brought Shai from his nap onto the bed and when I turned over he was right there smiling at me, definitely a mood killer.
What has worked for us:
- Side sleeper bassinet
- On a little floor play gym
- In his crib
- In a bouncy chair (we use the baby bjorn)
Sometimes we have family in town visiting (neither of us have family nearby in Austin) and a few times a week someone comes to our home to watch Shai for a few hours. Generally we use these opportunities to get work done or take care of other errands that are easier without the baby.
These are also perfect opportunities to have sex. Having someone we trust watching Shai allows us to relax, let go of those responsibilities and really enjoy one another. I often feel a little bashful so I use a few white lies such as; I am going to take a nap or going to shower.
When we are not with the baby:
Baby free date night
Our date night is every Tuesday evening and sex/intimacy time is always on the itinerary. We can make it work with Shai around but every once in a while we want to be baby free so we can focus on each other without the risk of getting interrupted. We are hesitant to allow complete strangers watch Shai so we have relied on our friends or capitalize on the moments when family is visiting.
We ask our friends or family to watch Shai for a few hours so we can get some time with just the two of us. Now you might be thinking – if they’re watching Shai at your house where do you have sex? Great question. One of our favourite date night tricks has been to get a hotel room for one night and only use it for a few hours. Check in is usually around 11 so we can go and use the amenities, bringing Shai with us, then in the evening we go into the room just the two of us and head back home before bed.
For more details on exactly how we set up date nights with a baby/without I wrote a whole article about it HERE.
A Surprising Lesson
I truly thought this experimentation was about connecting with Michael and strengthening our relationship, and it was. However, there was something I felt along the way that I did not expect.
Sex reminded me of my own individuality
The transition into motherhood was overwhelming for me in a lot of ways – physically and emotionally. There were many moments where I was scared that I would never have my independence again, that I would forever now be a mother and the rest is “what was”. Sex gave me a different perspective.
When Michael and I would explore, or I would explore myself. I realized that my shifting identity into motherhood didn’t mean I was leaving myself behind – I was growing, evolving and integrating all of my past experiences into this new version of myself. When I was in a sexual space I was connecting with a piece of myself that is 100% my own and not connected to Shai or motherhood. In that space I remember that I am still my own individual. This was a very healing experience for me.
I truly believe the better your sex the better your life. Remaining committed to that part of myself and our relationship is one of the best decisions we have made in this transition into parenthood.