Postpartum sex can be a bit of a sore point. Here's how to broach it.
New parenthood is a rapid series of bewildering failures. A relentless frontal assault that sends sane women mad, destroys good men and confuses your pets.
Like most hardships, it’s good to prepare for parenthood’s arrival – as long as you realise that most of your strategy will be useless.
To quote one of the 20th Century’s greatest philosophers, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. You can’t argue with that logic – and not just because that philosopher was Mike Tyson, the Plato of mouth punching.
Only it’s worse than being king hit. You’re exhausted, you’re up to your neck in expensive, irritating baby toys, and you’re suddenly, jarringly celibate.
A Tyson punch in the mouth, in most ways, would be more fun – at least you’d get some sleep.
For some men, this will be their first sexual drought in a decade or more, and it sucks.
Of course, you keep quiet because a) you’re not a cloddish oaf who thinks she wants your penis in her vagina just 10 minutes after an actual living person was torn out of it, and b) you don’t want to physically hurt the mother of your child, especially by shagging her.
So, instead, you will stoically man up. Albeit reserving the right to take longer showers than usual.
It’s not the speed, it’s the sudden deceleration that kills you
Despite her swollen proportions, my partner was quite up for it before the baby arrived. Which was great, even if it was a bit like shagging a tent.
We’d also been trying really, really hard to become pregnant in the months prior to conception.
(Many women bemoan the routine, unromantic nature of this get-the-job-done, goal-oriented shagging-just-to-conceive. Its mechanical regularity, its biological requirement only for male orgasm.
Some husbands jump on this bandwagon, too, nodding sympathetically about intimacy and feeling pressured to finish so she can nod off. Ha! These men are liars and frauds.
It’s a glorious, wonderful time, like sex must have been in the Fifties – in and out in two minutes, your duty done, sleep gratefully accepted. Bliss! Except, retrospectively, it feels like it was the last feast of a condemned man.)
But all is not lost! Just your wife’s libido and your chances of ever having sex again. This is your life now: a sad, tired man with a laptop infected by viruses from RedTube’s most shameful corners, who would dob his own brother into Border Force in exchange for a disinterested three-minute handjob.
That’s how it feels right now, at any rate.
The good news is there is light at the end of the lonely tunnel. Desire almost always returns, and sometimes sooner than expected.
For a lucky few it could be a couple of weeks after birth, (in rare cases). More likely it will be at least six weeks, after she has her post-birth doctor check-up. Most likely, it will be longer again.
Don’t be selfish. Or stupid.
Disclaimer: The following information is intended to give you hope. Not ammunition. Use it wisely, or it might backfire.
There’s been loads of study devoted to post-partum sex, and some of the results are surprising.
According to the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, a thumping 83 per cent of women experienced sexual difficulties during the three months following their first baby.
These include physical recovery from episiotomies, and the catch-all of ‘vaginal dryness’ which can be caused by hormonal fluctuations, and is also a particularly un-fun phrase to get while playing Pictionary at a family Christmas. (But a real winner for Cards Against Humanity).
But wait, there’s hope.
Another study, by the University of Michigan, found that, by the fourth month, 85 per cent of women have climbed back on the proverbial horse. 65 per cent have engaged in oral sex and 61 per cent have masturbated.
The same study, published in The Journal Of Sexual Medicine, and reported by LiveScience.com, noted that factors such as “fatigue, stress, body image, breastfeeding and vaginal trauma were not” – repeat: not – “associated with how quickly women started having sex again.”
So what is then?
“In terms of timing, the most important factors for a woman were her perceptions of her partner’s sexual needs and desires, suggesting that some women start sexual activity again more for their partner’s benefit than their own,” said Sari van Anders, behavioural endocrinologist and researcher from the study.
But her caving in for the occasional (generously lubed, steady-as-she-goes) charity root isn’t the whole story.
“One interesting thing is that women performed oral sex on their partners and engaged in masturbation earlier than they received oral sex or engaged in intercourse,” said van Anders.
“People have frequently assumed that women just aren’t interested in sexuality early in the postpartum period and that the sexual activity they do engage in is for the sake of their partners, but the rates of masturbation suggests that many women are [also] feeling sexual.”
Less nagging, more seducing
What this means is you need to talk frankly, but warily, about how much you continue to fancy her, even though she has grown a muff like a beefeater’s hat, as well as lost her mind, while you’ve been destroyed by exhaustion and sexlessness, and your dog hates you.
Because, says van Anders, in terms of a new mother’s own libido, “the biggest driver of high sexual desire for women were their feelings of intimacy and closeness to their partners.”
In lady magazine speak, this means reiterating, earnestly and often, of your wonder at the miracle of creation, and her part in it. Of your wonder at her. Of your awe at her sexy, superwoman body. If you are lucky, this will come easily; feel the power of the dark, soppy side, young padawan.
In manspeak, this means sucking it up, while discreetly letting her know you are keen. Discretely. Not lazily pressing your boner into her spine at bedtime. But strategically touching the parts of her body not directly involved in sex.
A light hand on the curve of her lower back as you stand behind her in the kitchen. A playful pat on the ass as you pass her in the hall. Massages, kisses and caresses wherever and whenever you can steal them.
Most importantly, do this without the expectation of sex. What matters here is maintaining physical contact and intimacy, so that when you do get back down to it, it doesn’t feel weird or awkward.
In the meantime, be patient. No petulance, no shaming, and no huffed frustration if the massage oil and candles are yet to work their magic.
And when you finally get the green light, go gently. Try different positions (on the side is better, post caesarean, so as not to put pressure on the wound), use lots of lubricant, tell her, constantly, how good it feels. It’s straightforward. Don’t complicate it.
Eventually, and probably soon, she’ll be up for it again, too. But for now, don’t push back that date by being a putz.