In the first in a series of guest blogs (from brilliant experts featured in Your No Guilt Pregnancy Plan, people I admire, colleagues and friends) I've asked Dr Karen Gurney to talk to us about the nitty gritty and realities of post-baby sex.
Karen is a Clinical Psychologist and Psychosexologist for the NHS and director of The
Havelock Clinic, an independent sexual problems service run by doctors, physiotherapists and
psychologists. They offer a variety of face to face and online treatment options to help people get the sex life they want. She's also shared some great tips and truths about pregnancy and post-birth sex in Your No Guilt Pregnancy Plan.
If you want to be inspired, get support, hear some frank discussion or find some info on sex as parents, do check out the resources page and make sure to click through to the legends at The Hotbed Collective too.
It’s not the impact of having kids on people’s sex lives that’s surprising (after all what other major life event takes away your alone time, your sleep, and your body confidence in quite the same way?), but more that we don’t always give it much thought beforehand. There’s so many other things to think about pre-birth that spending time considering an impending sex drought might be the straw to break the camel’s back.
Would it have been better to have been warned that the first few years after having kids is known to be a time of low sexual satisfaction? That the first year after having a child as many as 50% of people experience a sexual problem? Or that our sex lives post kids might require some serious modifications, sacrifices and new ways of being to the extent that they are barely recognisable? Is forewarned forearmed?
I would say so.
The thing is, sex after kids does not have to spell the end of a good sex life, especially if we have some idea of what might be ahead and therefore know that it’s not us. In fact, if approached in the right way this new way of being can even add a new dimension to an already good sex life.
Take Sarah and Alex as an example*. Pre-kids they weren’t always on the same page when it came to sex. Alex liked sex early in the morning, Sarah in the afternoon. But they both had plenty of spare time and lots of energy so they met in the middle when needed and it worked. Alex needed time to feel relaxed and emotionally connected before they got down to anything remotely physically intimate, but they generally had lots of time on their hands so this was not a problem.
Along came the new arrival, and together with all the other upheaval, their sex life was turned upside down. When the time came that they felt comfortable being sexual again they found that mornings didn’t work as lie-ins were extinct. The afternoons didn’t work as either the baby was awake or there was a Mount Everest-sized pile of washing. Evenings were the only chance they had but both of them were exhausted and they’d never really been sex-in-the-evening sort of people. When they did get round to it, there was zero time to set the scene and it often felt like a race against time in case the baby woke, or that they were borrowing from an already large sleep overdraft. It was dissatisfying, and they both felt a mixture of neglected and worried.
As time went on Sarah and Alex found new ways of making their sex life work just as well, at times even better, than before. In the early days they had felt resentment towards each other for not feeling like sex much, even though they both also secretly felt the same way. Talking about it at times when they were getting on and feeing close helped them reaffirm that they did still desire each other, and that it was nothing other than circumstance that got in the way. Knowing that they both still felt attracted and committed to each other allowed them to take the pressure off sex for a bit, and just concentrate on getting to grips with family life. When sex did happen, they started to feel like it was an added bonus and a great way to reconnect, rather than keeping a mental tally of all the times it didn’t happen and feeling rejected.
As their little one grew, they became even more inventive in making their new sex life work. They had found a way to broach that the just-before-sleep sex was not good for either of them, and came up with a solution to schedule time together to be sexually intimate not long after their baby had gone down in the evening. This allowed them the time to fully get in the mood, and the fact that they planned this together gave them both equal permission to ignore the huge pile of jobs that needed doing and prioritise each other temporarily.
For Sarah and Alex one of the biggest surprises came in how precious this time to be sexual became. Pre-kids they both felt like they could have sex anytime, and so the impetus to do it often got overtaken by the pull of other things. In some ways, as good as it was, their sex life had lost its specialness a little bit so many years in. They noticed, post kids, that this time to nurture intimacy might have been far less than before, but due to the effort it took to create it, how much they now valued it and the commitment it took to make it happen in the face of competing pressures, it suddenly felt more charged, meaningful and erotic. Parenthood took their sex life in a whole new direction.
For many couples, sex after kids can take a temporary bashing by the unforgiving and relentless waves of new parenthood. But if you are aware the storm might be heading your way, can weather it for a bit safe in the knowledge that your boat is seaworthy, can keep talking to your ship mate about the direction you are heading in, and use the resources you already have to overcome the obstacles in your way, you might even find yourself exploring new exotic lands.
*not their real names. Also, interpret their gender in any way that works for you.