Last October, my wife, Alison, and I celebrated five years of marriage, yet the night of our anniversary heralded the arrival of a seemingly more elusive milestone: our first sex in two months. We sent our three-year-old son off to his grandparents and booked a stay at the sort of ritzy five-star hotel I’d normally filter out of my Expedia search results. After a night on the town, we were eager to luxuriate in our suite. I drew a bath, dimmed the lights and popped some mini-bar bubbly for us to enjoy among the bubbles.
My hope, of course, was that whatever transpired in the tub would carry over to the bedroom. And it did…just not quite how I anticipated: After a couple of sips of our drinks, we started dozing off. Once the cooling bathwater roused us out of the tub, we zombie-walked to the bed and promptly crashed, assuaged by the knowledge that, when you’re a parent, the promise of 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep is better than any sex you can possibly have. Parenthood requires sacrifice, be it your career, your social life, your sleep or your sanity. In many regards, my wife and I are among the lucky ones: Our son started sleeping through the night at three months, and our parents are usually game to take him off our hands so we can enjoy a couple of nights out together per month, as well as the occasional weekend away. In our case, however, we’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice at the altar that is our bed.
Of course, any long-term union experiences a gradual decline in sexual frequency, and at the time our son was born, Alison and I were seven years into our relationship (a.k.a. the “maybe once a month” club). However, in our first year as parents, our bedroom sprouted tumbleweeds. Alison’s C-section recovery gave way to the all-consuming exhaustion of parenthood. But even as our lives re-established some semblance of normalcy a few months in, we came to view sex less as a pleasurable indulgence than as the exceedingly risky act that could trigger this whole shell-shock-inducing process all over again. (Every time I’d roll over to suggestively spoon Alison, she’d elbow me and say, “Get that thing away from me!”) Then, once our son’s sleep routine was locked in, we became extra paranoid about making any noise that might wake him. Further quashing our game is the fact that Alison and I have traditionally been, shall we say, morning people—and nothing ruins sunrise sex quite like a human alarm clock signalling the change of another poopy diaper.
As a friend once told me, when you’re a parent, the days go by slowly, but the weeks go by fast. Even now with our relatively well-behaved toddler, every day is a decathlon. Before we know it, three months have gone by with little more than PG-13 cuddling in front of the TV. (And our precious date nights tend to be less about one-on-one time than overdue catch-ups with friends, which often result in drunken stumbles into bed, one of us already deep into snoresville before even so much as a good-night kiss.
This circumstance has by no means diminished our affection for each other (as Alison is fond of saying, “our relationship is, like, 98 percent perfect”). We’ve just had to work harder at expressing it. Scheduling sex may seem antithetical to the concept of romance, but Alison and I are at our most amorous when we’re fortunate enough to book a weekend away, breaking our routine long enough to catch up on sleep and reconnect physically. And we’ve experimented with various motivational techniques, whether it’s adding a little libido-boosting maca powder to our morning smoothies or jointly visiting the sort of websites that usually necessitate clearing one’s browser history.
We’re also learning to be more vocal when we’re in the mood, no matter how unsexy the scenario. After Alison and I got into the stupidest shouting match during a botched parallel-parking attempt, she admitted the argument got her worked up, in a good way. Later that night, we got parallel in a different manner. It may not be the stuff of champagne and bubble baths, but amid the mind-numbing daily grind of parenthood, sometimes mouthing off is the first step to getting it on.
* Names have been changed.
A version of this article appeared in our February 2016 issue, titled “No sex please, we’re parents”, pg. 63.