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Do you have seven minutes? Then you have enough time for sex, says Robin Milhausen, a sexuality educator and prof at the University of Guelph in Ontario, whose research has beenpresented internationally. Not just take-one-for-the-team sex, or I-feel-guilty-because-he-did-daycare-drop-off-all-week sex. But the kind that culminates in the big O — yes, for both of you.
“Seven to 20 minutes is the approximate duration of sex,” she notes. Heck, that’s less time than it takes to do the dishes or vacuum cheese popcorn out of the playroom rug. And while some parents we talked to say their sex life is satisfying, even hot, most report a sharp downturn in between-the-sheets action post-kids. So what’s holding so many of us back?
“If we were having better, more satisfying sex, we would be having more of it,” Milhausen says, quoting studies that found fewer than 30 percent of women regularly have orgasms during sex with a partner. She thinks there are a few reasons for this. For starters, women are “anatomically disadvantaged” — the way our parts are arranged makes the mechanics of getting to orgasm way less of a sure thing than it is for most men. Second, it takes a lot to get us in the mood; there are more than 300 factors that impact a woman’s arousal (and, yes, worrying about what you have to do at work tomorrow is one of them).
OK, but presumably most of us thought sex was worth seven to 20 minutes of our time before the kids came along — that’s how we ended up with kids in the first place.
Becoming a parent can definitely affect your desire — and usually the woman is the one who wants it less, as mom of four Cindy Trusdell Elliott has discovered: “My husband would love more sex, but I’m not that interested. My mind is on what I still have to do — prep lunches for kids — or what I’d rather do — finally sit down and veg. Sleep is often more appealing. It’s not fair to my husband, I know. But the drive just ain’t there for me. Breastfeeding might dim it too, but I’m not stopping that just to feel hornier!”
Like Trusdell Elliott, Milhausen is a nursing mom, so she knows from both first-hand experience and from her review of parenting literature that breastfeeding mothers are less likely to seek out sexual contact. The act of breastfeeding, and all the biochemistry that goes with it, simply makes moms feel physically satisfied. When breastfeeding, as during orgasm, a woman’s body releases oxytocin — the so-called love hormone that promotes feelings of bonding and well-being. Except, instead of bonding with her partner, a new mom’s biological imperative is to bond with her baby. “Research shows that breastfeeding mothers have their needs met,” Milhausen says. “They feel satisfied and connected without sex.” Cue a drop-off in the parents’ bedroom recreation.
In the short term, that won’t pose a problem in a solid, committed relationship. “You can coast on the goodwill of your partner for a period of time,” Milhausen says. But as time goes on, a lack of sex can harm your relationship: “it’s like taking money from a bank” — if you don’t make any deposits, you’ll run out of funds. She says parents are at their lowest level of marital satisfaction when their youngest child is in preschool. “You’re really tired, and if you haven’t nurtured that bond throughout, you could be in real trouble.”
Don’t worry, she isn’t suggesting that uninterested parties lie back and think of England for the good of their marriage. But she does urge couples to reach out to each other in a variety of ways. “Connect physically, from a simple touch all the way up to sex.”
As many times as you’ve heard this before, and as unromantic as it sounds, planning is an important part of the equation. “Men often initiate at 11 p.m., which is the least likely time,” Milhausen points out. “Figure out when your high energy times are and arrange a playdate for your children.”
Sex in the daytime works for Todaysparent.com community member Cayley Parsons: “I say grab it while you can! Kids having a Sunday nap? Or maybe they are done their dinner but still in their high chairs — run to the living room for a quickie!”
And, if you don’t think you’re into sex toys…well, Milhausen says maybe you should try some sex toys. For women who have difficulty achieving orgasm, she says a vibrator during sex can be “like seeing in colour for the first time.”
As Milhausen puts it: “How do you keep the spark alive? You’ve got to mix it up now and again.”
Are you happy with your sex life?
Here’s what some members of the Todaysparent.com community say:
“With five kids under eight, I think my hubby and I enjoy our lovemaking more when it does happen because it doesn’t happen as frequently as one would think in a marriage. What I’m not happy about is that it is often planned, without many of the spur-of-the-moment romantic situations we used to have pre-children.” – Lisa
“It’s definitely slowed down and a lot harder to have because you never get alone time. So when it happens, enjoy it!” – Marissa
“There’s a sex life after kids?” – Gayla
“My husband and I have been married since 2000 (together since 1996) and have two kids together. I can honestly say that ever since our daughter was born 11 years ago, our sex life has slowed down to about once a month (maybe twice if we’re lucky), and most of the time, it’s planned and not as exciting as when it’s spontaneous. We seem to play the parent role 24/7 and don’t take time to remember each other, which sucks, but we make up for it in other ways, such as cooking together, studying together (we’re both in college, which probably also contributes to lack of sex), conversing about things we both enjoy, etc. Sex isn’t everything and I find that cuddle time before falling asleep can be just as sweet (that is, until my hubby begins snoring!).” – Julie-Ann
“We have four kids, nine, eight, five and three. Our sex life actually picked up after we were done having kids. I really like my sleep, though, and it is hard for me to get in the mood, so I’ve started reading romance novels to nudge my libido a little. I’ve considered taking supplements, and I read the book Forty Beads, which is kind of a sex-life makeover. I’m not ready to jump into that program yet, but it’s a great idea!” – Amber
“At nine months pregnant with our second child, I don’t physically feel like sex but would like it! I guess we can just rule out a normal sex life for the next while. Thank God my husband is understanding, but I still feel bad anyway. I would love tips!” – Sharon
“Sex after kids seems like a constant choice between sleep or sex…and often sleep seems oh, so much more satisfying, or at least necessary. My favourite is when the baby is napping and the older one is at a friend’s. There is nothing more delicious than sex in the middle of the afternoon, when we are actually awake and aware — not just trying to fit it in before 10 at night (9:53).” – Jessica
“Lately it has come down to the battle of sex or sleep. Usually sleep wins out.” – Tanya
“Sex sure isn’t what it used to be. Sadly, I’m OK with that, but my hubby wants more. I want more, but right now I want sleep. I know I need to pick it up some; I do want to enjoy sex again. We do date nights and spend evenings talking about our day.” – Andrea
“Definitely not. People say, ‘Have date night. Make time for each other.’ But who has the time or the energy?" – Tracy