Getting the Spice Back - Sexual Self-Reclamation After Childbirth. Joni Morrissey Sexologist
The hashtag #postbabyhankypanky is having a moment right now, joining all the other birth-related hashtags (#newbaby, #newborn, #momlife, #momreality, and #postbaby, to name a few). Dalhousie University's Hera Schlagintweit and her colleagues surveying new parents discovered that sexual concerns were not only frequent, but also a substantial source of stress for many of them. The survey found that 59% of new parents were concerned about their sexual health. According to the researchers, new mothers and new fathers expressed similar levels of severity regarding sexual concerns, despite the absence of data on the sexual orientation of their parents. In other words, if you're worried about the state of your own sex life post-baby, you're not alone.
What are the most common struggles in the postpartum period?
The mental challenges associated with postpartum can be influenced by both the physical trauma of birth itself as well as hormonal changes associated with pre- and post-pregnancy. In addition to postpartum depression, postpartum blues, anxiety, and postpartum posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), these psychological struggles may involve a range of emotions and diagnoses. There are many women who give birth who do not require a clinical diagnosis, but still experience emotional struggles that negatively affect their sexuality. In addition to emotions resulting from birth trauma, lack of vitality and intimate relationships, and body image are psychological factors women who give birth may struggle with.
Studying new parents, researchers found five types of emotional trauma that can result from the birth process: being stripped of dignity, feeling buried and forgotten, and experiencing a terrifying loss of control. A woman who gave birth to a child may develop PTSD if the experience is severe, which causes her to feel as if the trauma is simply repeating itself. Birth doesn't have to be considered traumatic by obstetricians or other medical professionals for the mother to feel traumatized. Many people who give birth don't end up with postpartum depression, but some experience lingering feelings of trauma after the birth, which can make it challenging to resume sexual activity.
Many new mums become upset by the changes to their bodies that occur after giving birth, which is sometimes referred to as the "body change blues." When people realize they can't just turn a switch and get their old bodies back, they can feel strong emotions like discomfort, anxiety, and shame. They stop feeling sexual and sensual as usual when they are hit by the body-change blues. It is uncomfortable for them to be seen naked, touched, or engage in sexual activities. The top psychological concern of women who have recently given birth is changing body image, including the impact these changes can have on sexual activity.
An absence of vitality or intimacy that persists
The transition back to normal life after childbirth can be challenging for some women. In spite of their wish to see friends again or resume activities that make them feel vital and alive, they find themselves unable to do so because of the baby. In terms of sexual intimacy, doctors usually recommend waiting six weeks before being sexually active. It is important to note that there is no one right time frame for resuming sex; some people do so quite quickly, whereas others haven't done so for six months or even years. New parents are frequently touching their babies throughout the day, which interferes with regaining vitality and intimacy. This is known as "over-touch." They may also have other small children requiring physical attention. Which means that when a partner comes home from work and is wanting to be intimate the mother can feel overwhelmed and not at all interested. This can lead to both partners feeling undervalued and undesired.
How to heal from birth trauma emotions
Talking about your birth journey and talking about your experience can help you to heal from any trauma you feel around the birth. No matter what your experience was, not discussing it makes those memories more likely to go underground and fester. When you talk about them, they lose their ability to trigger you in the future. Similarly, if you are having difficulty exploring your sexuality as a result of the emotions surrounding your birth trauma, talking about them may free you.
For healing, I recommend sharing and retelling your birthing story as many times as necessary. Share this with your friends. Share with your family. Do not keep it a secret from your partner. If you journal, write it all down. If you paint or draw, create something that will represent your feelings. Be aware of the difficult and happy parts of your story as you tell it. Don't hold back. Let the whole story out.
Healing from the body change blues
A client of mine became distressed when her tummy didn't bounce back to how it was before she had a baby. She felt uncomfortable and ashamed going out in public without her baby. This is because she imagined people who didn’t know she’d just had a baby would think she had a weight problem. She also stopped feeling sexual around her partner, even though he assured her that she was as sexy as ever to him. After some experimentation, this woman found that wearing loose-fitting tops helped her regain comfort in public. She also came up with a creative solution for the bedroom: wearing a sexy top during sex took attention away from her tummy and helped her feel sexual again.
Clothing changes can alleviate body change blues, and I am all for thinking of creative solutions. To overcome the body change blues, one usually needs to examine their body image on a deeper level. When we do not have a positive body image, we are unable to perceive ourselves as sexy, attractive, or desirable.
Understanding that the shape or size of your body has nothing to do with your body image is the first step. In reality, there is no such thing as a perfect body. You will only feel more uncomfortable in your own skin if you keep trying to achieve a perfect body. Accepting your body as it is the second step towards improving your body image. No one says you can't change your body in some way; it just means that you should make decisions based on your health, not on your desire to look a certain way. There are some exercises you can do to get over the body change blues. Take a few moments to look in a mirror at your naked body. Pay attention to every part of your body. There may be parts of your body that you are reluctant to look at. See if you can overcome your hesitancy and look at these parts. Take a moment to consider how you feel about each part. Take note of which parts are sensual and which aren't. This exercise is not about changing your feelings about your body, but just being with it. Being comfortable and accepting of yourself will naturally increase if you can be with your body without pressure or expectations.
Offering gratitude to your body is another exercise. As a mother, you have put a lot of pressure on your body! Give it thanks for all that it’s done, Journaling or doing this exercise mentally are both options. List everything you're grateful for about your body. Tell your body what you need it to know.
Healing from a lack of vitality and/or intimacy
New parents may find their sense of vitality is revived by carving out more alone time, while others may regain it by spending more time with friends and family. It can be especially difficult to get back to your normal life if you don't have childcare available to allow for some alone time or to spend time with friends or partner. You may need to think outside the box. A friend who can watch your baby may be able to help you regain your vitality if dancing will help you feel better. You might even offer to reciprocate if she has a little one.
Resuming sexual activity after giving birth may be crucial for couples who are also partners to regaining their previous intimacy level. The reasons we've discussed, such as birth trauma (physical and psychological) and body change blues, can make it difficult. The situation can also be challenging from a practical standpoint: fatigue, lack of time, over-touching. Here are some ways to reclaim intimacy with your partner.
Scheduling sex is the first step. Your first reaction might be, "But sex should be spontaneous!". Scheduling it will suck the life out of it.” The opposite is typically true for couples who schedule sex. They can arrange childcare or be reasonably certain that baby will sleep if they schedule sex during times when they are both less tired. My clients who tried this practice included texts about when to schedule sex into their foreplay, often lasting many hours. Scheduling sex in at least 3 to four times a week is optimal. This approach works best for partners who feel uncertain about trying it postpartum because it removes the uncertainty. There is also no clear definition of what "sex" means. Cuddling or mutual masturbation may initially be the only forms of intimacy, but later intercourse may be included.
The last thing I want to mention is how to heal from over-touch. Setting boundaries can be a very helpful thing to do. After giving birth, some women find that just fifteen minutes alone - such as having a friend watch the baby so they can be alone - can make all the difference. It can sometimes make all the difference to take a few minutes. In a relationship, defining intimacy as talking or doing something quiet, instead of just sex, can create the space to heal from over touch.
The first step to dealing with psychological stress related to your sexual self as a new parent is to take an inventory of your feelings. Do you experience stress as a result of birth trauma, changed body image, lack of vitality and/or intimacy? Is it a combination of these? Should any of these questions be answered yes, consider whether professional help may be of benefit to you. If you don’t feel you need support, that’s great but feel free to work through any of the exercises that resonate with you that I have laid out above.
Both Donna (owner of Nauti) and I have not only been through the process of birthing and growing a family with all of its strains but we have made it our mission to help as many people as possible.
If you need guidance when it comes to relationship, intimacy or mental health issues I am here to help, my contact details are below.
Donna is available in store or by phone and email to assist you with all your toy, lingerie and any other spicy questions.
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