By Kathy Fray
At the recommended time, we try a bit of sex. It’s a wasteland down there. Women are awful liars. I do not think of all the women who gave birth in pain any more, I think of all the women who conceived in pain; the Irish families with eleven months between one child and the next.
Anne Enright — Making Babies
Lots of new mums after giving birth think ‘Sex? Sex! I don’t know that I’m ever having sex again — please, just leave my body alone. My body’s been tenanted for most of the past year, and this landlord needs some solitude for a while. You’re not to bring that thing anywhere near my insides — well not till I maybe want another child.’
The medically recommended period of sexual abstinence is six weeks or so after delivery, due to the possibility of uterine infection. But often it’s not until your baby’s two to three months old that you will realise you may not have had a delectable cuddle (let alone a climactic snog) for a very long time, and the subject of resuscitating life in your boudoir enters your consciousness (or maybe you start receiving hints from your he-man). It is usual by about six-weeks postnatal for your GP or Midwife to remind you that it may be time to be considering the need for contraception again — oh yes, some women do have two babies born in the same calendar year, and I don’t mean twins. (I have one girlfriend who was thoroughly lusting for sex again just a couple of weeks after a full episiotomy. Eeek!) My advice to you on this so-very-personal topic is that if you aren’t feeling like sex, just know that you are not frigid or unusual at all, you’re quite normal in fact.
Points to note for first postnatal sex:
- No sex while there is still lochia bleeding.
- No sex before an episiotomy or Caesar scar has fully healed.
- About two out of three women initially find sex ‘uncomfortable’ (woman on top to start is a good plan).
- If you had an episiotomy, then you have a particularly high chance that first sex postpartum will be somewhat painful — but the same discomfort should not go on for months. (See Dyspareunia below)
- Due to the oxytocin released in your bloodstream from love- making, in the first weeks your boobs may leak milk (especially squirting at orgasm), and you may feel uterus involution contractions afterwards.
- If your perineum is sore afterwards, a cold witch-hazel compress will probably feel pretty good.
- Especially if you’re breastfeeding, due to the drop in oestrogen, you are going to need lubrication (because it’s normal to be dry), so have some lube ready for the exciting unrestrained reunion!
Sex-life after birthing life? No, thank you!
Mother Nature can interfere with a woman’s libido for up to two years post childbirth, in an attempt to try to prevent the female from becoming impregnated again too soon.
Also, if the mother’s body is low in some vitamins or minerals (e.g. folic acid or iron), then that will affect the sexual-pleasure centre of the brain, making a woman feel disinterested.
Additionally, one of our body’s basic survival mechanisms is to hinder sexual arousal when we are angry, anxious, cold, fearful, hungry, in pain, sad or tired. So here’s the point that many new dads don’t get (and many couples don’t have a clue about either) . . .
Dear Dada When a new mum is feeling overwhelmed, ugly, exhausted and unloved — she usually loses the natural desire to ‘mate’ because in Nature these are far from suitable circumstances for conception. When she’s a milking machine at one end, frankly she may have no inclination to perform her ‘conjugal duties’ at the other! And after childbirth, there can also be a delicate but profound change in how the new mum perceives her partner — she can find his attractiveness subtly influenced by how he performs as a father, more than by his performance as a partner.
But, if her husband willingly helps with chores, adoringly enjoys nurturing their child, displays that he’s a good dad, happily shares the parenting load, lovingly pays her caring attention, and maintains close bonds with her emotionally — hey presto, just like magic, she may find him sexually attractive — because in Nature these are suitable circumstances for conception. There is a subtle, unconscious link between a man’s enthusiasm for being a dad and assisting domestically, and a woman’s sexual enthusiasm, even though a lot of women and most men are probably unaware of this correlation. Naomi Wolf highlights these studies in her book Misconceptions, as outlined in John Gottman and Nan Silver’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
When you are finally ready to move on from a cuddle, and want to rock each other’s world again, then it can be very nice to return to the pleasure of having sex-for-just-two again (instead of that three’s-a- crowd sex when your baby was kicking).
As for positions, well in the early days the classic man-on-top can be uncomfortable after childbirth — it can be much better to go for the woman-on- top. By the way, did you realise that the clitoris is the only organ in the human body that has pleasure as its only function? And, as highlighted by Eve Ensler in The Vagina Monologues, it has twice as many sensitive nerve endings as a penis!
Dyspareunia — painful sex
As many as one in five women can experience dyspareunia (acute pain during sex) that is not gradually decreasing three-plus months after giving birth. Or, for example, they may find the seam in jeans impossibly uncomfortable. If you are one of those up to 20 per cent of women, you should discuss it with your GP even at just 8 weeks after childbirth, and have the sore area looked at — it’s a condition that may need to be sorted out medically, and can almost always be fixed.
It could be problems such as a neuroma (lump of tangled nerve tissue at an episiotomy scar); or a granuloma (lump of inflamed skin tissue); or vaginismus (sudden painful contractions of the vaginal muscles in spasm response to touch). Months upon months of ongoing painful sex shouldn’t be tolerated.