So, the kid is here. Your relationship has shifted, you’re exhausted, you’re figuring out how to put all these pieces together, but during some downtime (ha!) you may also be wondering if sex after pregnancy is a thing.
Having a newborn means it’s not just the two of you anymore. It’s an interesting decision to make when you think about it.
Most people opt for monogamy. They search and search for one person to share the rest of their life with, they go through the overwhelmingness of dating online. Yet many soon opt to add to that relationship a person who didn’t even exist when they first met. (That’s your child, by the way.)
You and your partner (I’m going to use partner to cover girlfriend and wife in this post) may have worked very hard to have this child, especially if infertility was a concern. Money was spent, doctors were (and are) involved, in-laws are probably over-involved, but at some point you realize that even when all of those people are gone, you and your partner are still faced with somehow including this baby into your relationship.
All the work you put into creating space for the two of you now has to make room for someone else who is the neediest person you’ve ever met.
The whole idea may seem counter-intuitive at this point.
The first thing to remember is that it’ll be much more helpful for you if you weren’t just waiting for a return to normalcy. Resisting change can be a big cause of stress and anger in any situation. A shift in your sex life may not have been something you thought about once your partner became pregnant. Even if you were the type to read any of the, admittedly, few books out there for new dads (at least compared to what’s available to mothers), it can be hard to take in how your newborn will affect your sex life.
If you expect that at some point you’ll have the same approach to sex and intimacy that you did prior to the baby it may make it more difficult for you to take in the changes that you inevitably need to make in order to have sex after pregnancy.
Your partner has gone through many physical changes over the past year. There were major bodily changes, especially if she had a c-section. Any vaginal tearing can make sex extremely painful and, physically for her, sex is not recommended for anywhere from four to six weeks. Certain birth control methods may not be recommended as well, especially if she is breastfeeding. Some women have a strong increase in desire, but should not have sex due to what their body has gone through. Many women have a decrease in arousal and this can last for a while. “A while” is not defined, just so you know.
So, what to do? Your body didn’t go through these changes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take some time to learn a bit more about hers. There’s lots of information out there, or talk to the doctor as well about your partner’s safety in having sex after pregnancy.
Talking About Sex Before Pregnancy Makes it Easier to Talk About Sex After Pregnancy
Communication is key here. As is knowing your partner well. Each stage of your child’s life is going to bring up some new challenges and, if you’re open to it, opportunities to better understand yourself. Were you and your child’s mother comfortable talking about your sex life before she became pregnant? How attentive were you both to each other’s feelings and desires? If everything was on the table before and if, as you were getting to know each other, you both were honest with what you both wanted, then you’re ahead of the game.
Being able to continue having those sometimes-difficult/always-important conversations will only help you both. If these conversations in the past were perfunctory and quick. If just enough was said so that sex never moved beyond physical excitement (or a way to make up after an argument without discussing what was at the core of the argument), then sex after pregnancy is going to be a challenge.
Because not only has your child’s mother been dealing with all kinds of physical, hormonal, and emotional issues, you too may have some of your own stuff, including, for some men, paternal post-partum depression.
Managing Shameful Feelings
While, admittedly, your body did not just go through nine months of intense change, you did watch your sexual partner’s body go through incredible shifts that may have made her very different than the woman you met and fell in love with. And that body didn’t just pop back into place the day your child was born.
You may be upset by this. Your desire for your wife or girlfriend may not be at the same level it was before. You may have said to yourself during her pregnancy, “Just wait a few more months and then that body that I love will be back.”
You may feel incredible guilt and shame for having these thoughts and feelings, but if a few months go by following pregnancy and that body is not back to how you remembered it you may be struggling with your own libido while your partner is ready to get it on as soon as a friend is willing to watch Junior for a few hours.
Your feelings are your feelings and your desires are your desires. Being able to admit them—not putting them onto your wife or girlfriend—is an important step. It can be a relief to say these out loud and not be judged. You don’t get to be judged for a feeling—it’s how you act on it that matters.
You’re not the first man to have this reaction to your partner’s body. There may also be some other emotional factors affecting your sex drive that have nothing to do with how your partner looks.
- You may be scared. Having a child for the first time=scary. There are so many unknowns and so many decisions to make without having the time or the energy to invest in weighing every option.
- You’re tired. Sex may seem like a chore to you after holding, feeding, burping, cleaning, changing, bathing—hit rewind, press play—again and again and again. Getting the energy to have sex when both of you feel exhausted isn’t easy.
Fear and exhaustion are just two reasons. While you will hopefully get a routine (which your baby will change as soon as it’s in place) you’re learn that you can live with less sleep than you realized. The fear, though. That’s never fully going away and how you manage that anxiety with each milestone is going to be very personal. When was the last time you reflected on how you regularly deal with changes and fears or any difficult feelings. Kids are apt to test those ways.
If you think it would help to have a conversation about some of these concerns—away from your partner, not judged by your friends—please don’t hesitate to give me a call or send me an email. You don’t have to figure this all out on your own, and the shame and loneliness that comes from holding all this in can get in your way. Good luck!
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He practices counseling in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.