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Writer-s-Bloc

Let's talk about sex

By Fiona Patterson

Do you remember the first time you had sex? 

  • Perhaps it was a romantic experience with your high-school sweetheart. 
  • Perhaps it was spontaneous and you were nervous. 
  • Perhaps it was something you’d rather forget. 

Now, fast forward through the years. Do you remember the first time you had sex after you had a baby? 

Odds are, you had a lot of reservations, hoped for a pain-free and possibly intimate experience, and the outcome was unforgettable. 

But aside from the discomfort and simply trying to find time to have sex between feedings, diaper changes, and the never-ending quest to get baby to sleep, there’s a bigger concern haunting a woman’s sex drive post baby: desire. 

Your relationship with sex changes across the lifespan. 

During some seasons of life you may be more interested in sex, or more inclined to be experimental and playful. 

In other times, you may have little to no interest and struggle to engage fully during sex. For many women, the latter occurs after pregnancy and can be a source of turmoil for a marriage. 

Women assert that it’s not as though they aren’t attracted to their partner any more, or that they don’t want to have sex, it’s that the spark, the fire, the desire, just isn’t there. 

So what happened?

There are so many hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, the shift in estrogen and progesterone being a major one. 

Estrogen, a hormone responsible for the growth and development of female sex characteristics, reproduction, sexual function, and has an impact on mood, increases in pregnancy.

Progesterone, a hormone predominantly responsible for the nourishment of the fetus through the placenta and plays a role in mood, also increases during pregnancy. 

As these hormones increase dramatically, blood flow strengthens to the genitals and libido can spike. But as estrogen and progesterone increase during pregnancy, many women also experience mood changes, emotional instability, headaches, and a host of other unpleasant symptoms.

While a pregnant woman may feel sexually charged, she can, simultaneously, also feel like she doesn’t want to be touched.

After pregnancy, there is a sharp decline in estrogen, progesterone, and also testosterone (yes, women have testosterone, too), the hormone often cited as the hormone of desire. 

Normally, these hormones work in harmony with one another to impact sexual desire, but their levels become so dysregulated in the days, weeks, and months after pregnancy that sex and desire may completely fall off a woman’s radar. 

These changes are physiological and largely out of a woman’s control. 

Combine these radical changes with breastfeeding, fatigue, navigating the needs of a newborn, mood changes like post-partum baby blues or even depression, physical changes to the body, maybe caring for additional children, and the mere idea of being intimate is the very last thing on a woman’s mind. 

Undoubtedly, at some point, the lack of sexual intimacy catches up to a partnership. 

As empathic and patient as partners can be, their sexual needs are going unmet and this can have a negative impact on a relationship. Spouses and partners may feel rejected, unloved, undesirable.  

Sexual withdrawal from a new mom and the rejection felt by a spouse can result in a cycle of arguments and possibly disengagement from the relationship to a certain degree. So what can be done? How does a woman reclaim her sex drive, thus re-establishing a healthy sexual relationship with her partner? 

  • Communicate: Partners should communicate their thoughts, feelings and fears about intimacy and sex so that the challenges are clear and solutions can be explored. 
  • Explore Solutions: Couples can discuss the ways they can increase and improve sex, perhaps establishing a time and place, and boundaries with touch, foreplay etc. 
  • Try self-pleasure: Masturbation can be a healthy way to regain interest and desire in sex and intimacy. 
  • Fake It ‘til you make it:  Sometimes, it can be appropriate to try having sex even when you’re not totally up for it. This may sound controversial, and consent is always paramount, but every now and then, doing the sexual things you once enjoyed but are now avoiding may help reduce fears and discomfort and help move the relationship forward. Ask your partner to be gentle and patient. You may be surprised with this tactic. 
  • Be patient: It can take a year or longer for the body to heal fully from pregnancy and for hormones to level out. 
  • Talk to you doctor about alternative solutions

Sex after a baby will be different, but it doesn’t have to be scary, painful, or bad. Approaching sex and intimacy from a place of patience, openness, and curiosity can help re-establish a healthy sex life. 

Fiona Patterson has a master’s degree in counselling psychology and is a registered clinical counsellor in private practice in Kelowna. Visit www.counsellingkelowna.com for more information. 

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About the Author

Welcome to Writer’s Bloc, an opinion column for guest writers to share their experiences and viewpoints with our readers.

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