If the idea of jumping back in the sack after having a baby doesn’t turn you on (except if it’s to sleep), then you’re definitely not alone. Many couples struggle with this touchy dance after they’re given the go-ahead at the six-week postpartum appointment. But it can be hard on a relationship if one partner is ready and the other isn’t. And as the weeks (months?) pass by, it can often get harder, not easier.
Here’s the thing: Even if your body has healed from having a baby, you might not be mentally or emotionally ready to have sex. Not to mention that you’ve probably been puked on and peed on all day, spent hours holding and comforting your baby, can’t remember the last time you showered and are barely sleeping. It’s no surprise that intimacy falls by the wayside.
To find out if there’s anything couples can do to get their sexy back, we spoke to Veronica Kazoleas, an award-winning social psychologist, former healthcare executive, and founder of The Nookie, a Toronto-based sex and sensuality shop that focuses on pleasure over products.
You recently hosted a postpartum sexuality workshop and spoke to women about re-connecting with partners, and ways to avoid painful sex. What were some of the commonalities?
VK: Lubrication was a big one. Women who are breastfeeding can experience vaginal dryness, and if their first go at post-baby sex was uncomfortable, they tend to just avoid it. A lubricant can really help. Incontinence was another concern, and feeling resentful or like you’re letting your partner down were also common themes. Finally, a lot of women need someone to give them permission to have desires. So at The Nookie, we emphasize pleasure first, and we also hold events like educational workshops, comedy shows and cabarets that give women permission to walk through our door.
So how do you get yourself to a place where you actually want to have sex again?
VK: You’re not going to like this, but the answer is self-care. I know, unrealistic, right? But women need to focus on normalizing and restructuring the way we think about and approach sex, and if you’re not feeling relaxed and cared for, you’re not going to feel like doing anything sensual, sexual or intimate at all. So my first piece of advice is to take care of yourself—whatever that looks like for you. I suggest trying yoga to get used to moving your body again, and having a professional massage, so you can be touched in a way that is giving something to you instead of taking something from you. I also suggest masturbation. I really hope over time that masturbation becomes as normal to talk about as yoga is, from a self-care perspective.
All of that sounds lovely, but what if you’re just too tired to even think about sex or self-care?
VK: Don’t view “sleep or sex” as a one-or-the-other choice. For example, taking five minutes to masturbate is an investment in a more relaxed and restful sleep. If you have time to check your Facebook and your Instagram, you have time to touch yourself.
Good point. But even if we can get on board with masturbation, what do you say to women who know they should start having sex with their partner again, but it’s become contentious?
VK: That’s a tricky one. Relationship dynamics are complicated. But for those who want to have sex and want to improve their sex life, you need to talk about sex. And restructure how you look at sex: Instead of looking at it as something you give to someone or something you are withholding, really try to figure out why you’re feeling resentful and what your expectations of your partner are. Resentment is rarely about sex. It’s almost always about not feeling supported and feeling like you need more from your partner.
Sounds like a tough conversation.
VK: Schedule it. Don’t have it in the heat of the moment. Have a scheduled time during the week to talk about household chores, as well as a a time to talk about feelings.
Maybe during date night?
VK: Absolutely not. Date night is a time to do something together, find common interests, reminisce about when you first met or try something new. Research shows that engaging in physiologically stimulating activities increases arousal and attraction in people.
OK, so we’re on a date, and our partner is looking pretty cute. But hold up: we’re still not feeling great about being naked. Advice?
VK: Lingerie can be a great tool. It helps some women feel pretty and sexy again, and that can help to get both of you in the mood. If you’re not there yet, maybe try sexting—if you don’t know what to say, just Google “sexting examples” to get you started. You can also try switching up your sex positions and use the reverse cowboy position, where the woman sits on top but faces backward. There’s also doggy-style or a lying flat variation of doggy-style which can be a good one for feeling like your vagina is tighter and having a shallower penetration if you’re concerned about pain. I’ll say this: If you want to try to have sex but are anxious about how you look, believe me, your partner is probably just so happy to be close to you.
These ideas seem like they could work to get our sexy back. But what would you say to a woman who feels like she’s tried it all and still can’t seem to get there?
VK: I’ve had women come into my shop and burst into tears. They’re at their wit’s end because everyone has been dismissing their concerns about their sexual health. If we can’t find a solution in a product I sell, I usually suggest that they speak to a reputable psychologist or therapist who specializes in sexual health. A lot of the time, women just need to be heard.