Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sex and Parenthood

If you are a parent and your relationship is going through a sexual drought, PLEASE read this article. When I read it I breathed a sigh of relief as I felt reassured that I was not alone. This is something that is a bit of a taboo subject between couples and tends not to be discussed, especially not out in the open. It’s a lengthy read I know, but very well worth it!

One big headache
by Eve Ahmed

More couples than ever are turning their backs on sex when they become parents in their thirties. Our correspondent explains why the sex drought happens, and how to get over it

‘I haven’t had sex with my husband for five months. I haven’t wanted to and the idea of it makes me shudder. I have tried to force myself to do it, but I just can’t. He was understanding at first but then got frustrated and pushy. We ended up arguing. Now he’s gone completely the other way, showing no interest in me at all. I can understand his frustration and I know he’s feeling rejected. I could try the whole ‘candles, romantic dinner, quiet night in’ thing, but I really can’t stomach the thought of it’.
“I don’t want to leave him. He is a great dad and we get along well, generally. But I can’t have sex with him any more — it feels wrong and false. I realise this sounds selfish, but these are my honest thoughts. I’m at a loss what to do. Can a marriage survive without sex?”

Parenting websites buzz with stories like this from new mums complaining that they’ve started to dislike making love. This dilemma was posted by a thirtysomething; surveys consistently show heterosexual adults aged 30 to 40 have less sex than those in their teens, twenties and over forties. More babies are now born to women aged 30-34 than to any other age group, and most new mums do go off sex for a time, hence the surveys’ findings.

Other research reports that more than 90 per cent of parents say that broken nights and domestic responsibilities mean that they are simply too tired to make love as often as they used to; almost 70 per cent say sex is not so good compared with pre-parenthood days; 60 per cent have sex less than once a week, with 25 per cent on less than once a month.

“When a lack of sex following childbirth becomes protracted, it always spells trouble for the couple,” says Denise Knowles, a Relate counsellor. “Three quarters of clients identify the arrival of their first child as the time when their relationship started to go wrong, with a lacklustre love life cited as a major cause of conflict.”

Gordon’s story is typical. He’s 33, his wife Sarah 31. He says: “We’d been very happy until we had Connor, but then things went downhill.

“Sarah went right off sex and started constantly finding fault with me. She stayed at home looking after our baby and was resentful because she missed her career, while I still had mine. I’d get home from work and she’d go on about me not helping around the house. I used to dread the rows and from starting off wanting sex when she didn’t, I went off it too. I lost all attraction to her and wondered if I wanted to carry on in the relationship at all.”
They turned to Scottish Marriage Care for help. Maureen Hally, a counsellor, says: “After the initial tiredness, couples do need to ‘get back into the saddle’, or they’ll lose the habit of making love and lose their intimacy, which is what sets this relationship apart from all the others they have.”

That’s what happened to Georgie, 36, and her partner Sam, 37, parents to a three-year-old. She says: “I was too exhausted at first to want to make love and then, when I went back to work, I was even more tired. We’ve done it twice since Christmas, and that’s it. I know Sam feels resentful but for me it’s a relief not to have to bother with the whole business. I don’t miss it at all — it felt like yet another task I had to complete in my busy day.

“It’s a bit of a taboo subject for us so we never talk about it, but I do know at some level that we’ve lost our special closeness, and that worries me.”

Dr Petra Boynton, a psychologist, blames the pace of life lived by women today for the rise in the numbers who have “gone off it” that experts such as her are seeing.

“They’re expected to be great parents, great career women, have a beautiful house, be perfectly groomed, and be for ever eager for sex. It’s too much pressure. At least in our grandmother’s day they got away with lying back and letting him get on with it. Now women’s magazines tell them they need to put on a geisha-style show for their man each night, or he’ll leave them.”
These magazines are obsessed with sex and imply that everyone is at it like proverbial rabbits. “But couples with children really don’t make love much at all,” says Denise Knowles. “That doesn’t matter, though — it’s normal. As long as they keep the intimacy up with touching, kissing and cuddling, then it will come back one day.”

She says that new parents aren’t educated in the fact that not everyone merrily jumps back into intercourse after the woman’s six-week postnatal check-up, as pregnancy books imply. She cites cases of mothers of teens too embarrassed to make love with their husbands, in case the adolescent overhears. “Once you’re a parent, sex will never be the same again, sometimes until the kids leave home as young adults.”

There’s another reason for the 30-40 sexual drought. “After childbirth, sex is just not what it was, for both parties. As it’s less enjoyable, why put in the effort?” asks Barry Fowler, who’s evangelical about women exercising their pubococcygeus muscles, preferably with the PelvicToner he manufactures. “Men are very much focused on their own outcome during sex. That can’t be unconnected to the fact that only 10 per cent of women achieve coital orgasm. This would change if women took responsibility both for being better toned in the pelvic floor and for telling men what they want.”

There’s a consensus that, while new dads remain keen on the quantity of sex they have, for new mums it’s a quality issue. “Men are all about penetration and performance, which denies women the opportunity to find out what they want,” Boynton claims. “Guys can get into it very quickly but women take longer and need to be wooed back into it after giving birth. That sensitivity to how each other’s body works is something we talk about in counselling,” Hally confirms. But with conflicted couples typically accessing the service up to eight years after the rows start, the path back to conjugal joy may be a rocky one.

Sometimes, there’s no other option. Ben, a former client, says: “We’d have split up if we hadn’t got help. My wife didn’t want it after our son was born, first of all because she was too tired, but then it became a habit for her to say no whenever I suggested it, for months on end. At the same time, we started quarrelling about anything and everything, destructively raking up tiny incidents from the past. Sometimes I know she felt coerced into sex, but that made me feel bad and I stopped trying to get close to her at all. I slept on the sofa, because I couldn’t bear to be near her.”

Boynton’s tip for couples stuck in the too tired/too resentful for intercourse cycle is housework. “New mums don’t want to make love because they carry the burden of household duties, as well as all the other roles they play. If they divvy out the domestic stuff, they’ll be more amenable.”
Ben agrees: “Men do change if they know they’ll get something out of it — in this case, the resumption of a healthy love life. It’s really important. When you come together as a couple and fall in love, that bond deepens when you conceive a child together. It happens within that framework and it seems crazy that children should then erase that element of your relationship. Sex will always be important to us.

“It’s a way of expressing our love, being intimate, and it’s completely adult.”


Start small. Don’t expect to feel that you can suddenly buck up one evening and begin flirting while you fill up baby bottles. Instead, set tiny goals.

Day One: Just try not to say anything negative.

Day Two: Remind yourself to say please and thank you a lot.

Day Three: Compliment one thing about your partner’s appearance.

Day Four: Women — put on make-up, wash your hair, and look pretty so you feel pretty. The more attractive you feel the more loving and confident you’ll feel towards your man.

Day Five: Have a 60-second kiss.

And so on. It might take weeks but those weeks would have passed anyway, and this way you’re on a track towards getting yourself back in dating mode.

Having a baby is difficult because it can bring resentment into a relationship. It’s easy to start keeping score — “Well, I’ve stayed in every night this week, while he’s waltzed off to the pub twice.” If you’ve gone horribly off track, you have to take steps back to being nice to one another. You can’t go from rowing 24/7 and then expect a few pink candles by the bed to make you feel instantly lusty.

So work at just being sweet. Then you’ll find yourself laughing on the sofa. Don’t even think about sex to start with; just make sure that you get one long kiss in every day.
We take sex so lightly now, it’s easy to forget how important it is for maintaining the emotional bond between a couple. When we make love, we produce oxytocin, which bonds us together the same way a mother bonds with her child. It increases affection and attachment and in some men it can help cancel out some of the effects of testosterone, which means he might be less tempted to stray. Most of us take our sex lives for granted, because it is just there. But after kids, you have to start prioritising it



Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats scary! shoooot here I am holding out on sex till I get married, only to find that a lot of women after child birthlose the urge...**sigh**??

4:41 pm  
Blogger Gbemi's Piece said...

I'll be sure to refer back to this ATK (after the kids).

3:52 am  
Blogger TP said...

That is quite scary. And my family are on my case to start having babies now! I say, no thank you, I'm definitely not in a hurry after reading this.

9:45 am  

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