Rekindling desire after the birth of a child
- Article by: CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS
- New York Times
- December 31, 2013 - 1:22 PM
Sex after childbirth? In the weeks after a newborn’s arrival, it may seem as far-fetched as nightclubbing.
But new research from the University of Michigan offers a clearer view of relationship dynamics in the so-called fourth trimester — and delivers a few surprises. For one thing, although new parents don’t crow about it on Facebook, plenty of them do steal time for intimacy between diaper changes early on.
Another? New fathers, may be the ones saying, “Not tonight, I’m exhausted.”
Couples often get a green light for intercourse at an OB-GYN appointment at four to six weeks after delivery. But that checkup assesses physical healing, not psychological readiness. Many couples leave the office without realizing there is a new normal.
“The expectation is we should be returning to the quality of our sex and frequency before,” said Lori Brotto, the director of the University of British Columbia Sexual Health Laboratory in Vancouver. Altering those expectations is key to finding satisfaction again, she and other experts said.
Postnatal sexual problems are common, including vaginal dryness, loss of libido and painful intercourse called dyspareunia. “To say it’s a struggle in a lot of cases is an understatement,” Brotto said. “In some cases, it’s an outright disaster.”
After the birth of their son, Delondra Williams, 31, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, and her husband, Nick, 33, who works for a nonprofit theater organization, had to be patient. She was in pain for months after labor and she felt “touched out” with the baby constantly nursing.
For the first three months, “my ‘sexual’ fantasy was for nobody to touch me,” she said. Though his interest had not flagged, Nick said he was in no rush and a little apprehensive: “It didn’t seem like an option for a while.”
Sascha Anderson, 30, who works at a Manhattan cheese shop, worried that sex would be painful or that her perpetual dehydration from breast-feeding would strip the act of pleasure. Those first months, she also felt a need to “overassert” her new title as a mom.
“You don’t want to let go of that role as a parent,” she said, adding that she seesawed between two kinds of self-reproach. “You can feel guilty abandoning your child for base desires” or “not engaging with your partner.”
Sex wasn’t a top priority for Sascha Anderson’s husband, Michael, 29. But stealing a moment to relax was. “I don’t know how we’d be able to do our jobs and take care of the baby without a bit of recuperative time,” he said.
That also was the case for Andrew Chin, 28, who works in information technology. After their daughter’s birth, when sex was off the table, cuddling became the ritual with his wife, Dr. Kelly Palchik, a dentist. “Caressing her ears and her neck became really special,” he said. “You want to keep that intimacy.”
For many couples, a full and satisfying sex life does return.
Setting rules helped Delondra Williams fuel her desire. One was no touching of her breasts, which were sensitive. She and her husband took it slowly and a year after delivery, Williams said “now sex is great,” she said. “Women need to know it’s OK to be gentle with themselves and be patient,” she said. “If you have open, honest intimacy, it will come back.”
© 2014 Star Tribune