When you’re exhausted and you barely have time to poo in peace (because, well, kids), sex with your other half can be one of the last things on your mind.
Of course, not everyone’s the same. Some parents will be back at it in a matter of months after having a little one – although the frequency of sexual sessions might admittedly take a hit.
But for others, the struggle is real. Tiredness plus piecing your body back together, plus all the hormonal changes you’re going through, can make things a little tricky as far as bedroom antics are concerned.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a survey of 1,000 parents by bed company Leesa found 61% of women experienced decreased sexual desire after having children, compared to 30% of men.
The same survey found acts of intimacy that increased after having kids included cuddling, manual stimulation and oral sex, while making out, vaginal intercourse and anal sex were way lower down on the agenda.
Why is it so hard to keep your sex life going after having kids?
There’s no right or wrong rule as to when parents can start having sex again after the birth of a child, although charity Tommy’s suggests people might feel comfortable and physically ready after about six weeks.
But for lots of new parents, even this is probably a stretch. Some are even going years without it. Jessica Walsh (not her real name) previously told HuffPost Canada she’d not had sex with her husband for two years, since before their only child was born.
“I’ve felt exhausted, stressed, and probably a little bit depressed,” she said. “I felt like whenever I did have free time, I wanted to spend it sleeping or showering or zoning out on my phone. I still don’t find I have much of a libido.
“I still really prefer sleep.”
It’s totally normal for desire to change after having children, says sex and relationships therapist Miranda Christophers, who suggests one of the barriers to sex for new mums in particular can be centred around body image, especially after pregnancy and childbirth when your body is literally in bits.
“This can affect confidence as well as interest in sex and sexual activities, including positions, they may have enjoyed previously,” says the therapist.
“I felt like whenever I did have free time, I wanted to spend it sleeping or showering or zoning out on my phone.”
On top of that, some parents might experience physical discomfort after childbirth. So putting anything near your vagina – except maybe a nice cooling ice pack – is probably the last thing on your mind.
More things getting in the way of sex include: struggling to find the time amid all the nappy changes and feeds, tiredness (because sleep no longer exists), and changes in desire or mismatched desire.
We know breastfeeding, for example, can take a sledgehammer to any sex drive you might’ve once had, with falling oestrogen levels increasing vaginal dryness and lowered progesterone waving goodbye to your libido.
If one parent is less interested in sex, it can then leave their partner feeling undesired or neglected which “can be very upsetting and may be a source of conflict or feeling of disconnection,” adds the therapist.
She also suggests some people feel “touched out” or like their body is no longer their own, which can be a real turn off: “Often people say they just don’t want anyone else touching them after a long day of looking after little children. They may be feeding and feeling their body is not their own or their breasts are serving a different function.”
So what on earth can you do about it?
We’ve established there are many factors working against you and your sex life. So what happens now? “My approach to this is to try and set some time aside to connect so you are able to generally feel closer,” says Christophers.
Connection is super important and is often present when people are happy with their sex lives. Ask yourself: can some time be carved out during the day to enhance connection? Spend some quality time together and do something fun.
You might also want to sit down and talk about your sex life, and the differences in desire you’re experiencing.
The sex therapist recommends asking some probing questions: have interests changed? What might each of you like to do? Are there worries? Do you feel desire – if so, when and what helps you both to feel it? What might you like intimacy and sex to look like? Can you get creative? This might mean getting intimate in a different way or at a different time.
Should time-starved parents be ‘scheduling’ in time for sex? No, suggests Christophers. “This can create pressure,” she continues. “Instead it may be about trying to fit in time to do something that feels intimate – something you enjoy – and this gives the opportunity for you to relax, be close and for sex to happen if you want it to.”
It might also be helpful to think about creating boundaries with time or privacy and carving out a clear line between kids and adult time. The survey from Leesa found most parents (67%) squeezed in sex after their kids were asleep, others opted for when their kids were at school (or childcare) or they were staying overnight in a hotel without them.
“Knowing you will have that time gives you something to look forward to as well as to enjoy at the time,” says Christophers. “Date nights and nights away can be great, where possible – people often find these refreshing and great for re-connection as well as a chance to feel more adventurous and awaken desire.”
As well as being happy in your relationship, it’s also important to be happy in yourself. If you’re struggling with dryness, for example, lubricants can be really helpful. “If there is pain then take it easy, explore what you can do that is not painful but feels good,” adds the therapist, noting anyone with pain or physical concerns should chat to their GP about it too.
“Physical and mental wellness is important for overall wellbeing – including sexual – so it might be good to explore how you can get more sleep (where possible!), exercise and look at your own needs,” adds the sex therapist.
With body issues, sharing these with your other half can be helpful as they can then work with you to help you regain confidence. “I always encourage people to find the things they do like rather than focusing on the things they don’t,” she adds.
“Your body will change as you go through life regardless of gender – or childbirth – so embrace what feels good, enjoy what you have, and make the most of what you like.”