© Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac. 2001, 2002, 2003
Sex After Children
Our baby just had her first birthday, and my husband and
I are getting along OK, but the problem is he's really frustrated
that we almost never make love because I usually feel too tired and
"touched-out" when we finally get to bed. This is a BIG topic, so
please consider this column a summary of the summary of what could
be said about it, and for much more information, please see chapter
8 of our book, Mother Nurture. Here are the headlines:
Understand your differences - In most couples, the man
is interested in more frequent lovemaking than the woman is, and
this difference usually increases dramatically after children
arrive. The hormonal perturbations and physical issues of pregnancy,
childbirth, and nursing combined with fatigue, being pulled on all
day by children, stress, and physical depletion all tend to lower a
mother's libido, and if she also feels let down by or emotionally
distant from her partner, sex is at the bottom of her list of
preferred ways to spend the next half hour.
On the other hand, a father is usually still quite interested in
his wife as a lover (though some men also experience a drop in
sexual interest after becoming a parent). While he misses sex
itself, the principal loss for a man is typically that it starts to
feel that his partner doesn't care enough about him as a person to
approach him as a lover or stretch herself to engage him for a
little while - especially when he sees her stretching herself much
more for the children or even for a friend who calls on the phone.
The solution is to not take these differences personally, but to
recognize them as normal and rooted in utterly impersonal biological
imperatives of men and women. Try to have empathy and compassion for
each other, which will help you feel better and get closer, and will
be the basis for addressing your differences in practical ways.
Take care of your personal well-being, teamwork, and
emotional intimacy - Many fathers can shift into lover mode even
if they don't feel that well, and even if things are somewhat tense
with their partner. But in order to be comfortable with lovemaking,
most mothers need to have a basic amount of energy and wellness, a
sense of not being let down by their mate, and feelings of being
cared about and connected. We've written about these extensively in
our book and previous columns, so ‘nuff said here, other than we
REALLY encourage you to make sure these pieces are in place.
Make fondness and affection a part of daily life - Look
for opportunities to acknowledge each other for everything you do.
Whenever you can, deliberately express your liking, warmth, caring,
and concern for your partner - even if it's just a look or a smile.
Try to touch each other, non-sexually, several times a day. Carve
out times, from merely a few minutes to a date night or a weekend
away, that are for just the two of you, with no interruptions from
children. Try to go to bed at the same time, even if one of you gets
up to watch some TV after the other one drifts off. Hold hands, hug,
kiss, snuggle on the couch or in bed - all the sweet things you used
to do before kids.
On this foundation, come to an understanding that works for
both of you as to about how often you'll make love - For some
couples, especially during the first few months postpartum, they'll
agree to no lovemaking. But for many others, they'll come to
something closer to once a week or so.
Yes, that frequency is probably closer to the natural preference
of many dads with young children (two to three times a week) than it
is to that of many moms (once every month or so). But to be frank,
for many fathers the prospect of indefinitely, with no end in sight,
meeting their wife as a lover just once a month would be quite
troubling, and could ultimately be a major factor eroding the
marriage. A loose analogy is conversation: it would also be
troubling to many mothers to be told that they can expect their
partner to talk with them in any depth only once a month.
The truth is that there is a middle ground in sex between
hot-to-trot (ahh, those were the days . . . . !) and are-you-crazy?!
(And there is probably an equivalent middle ground for many men when
it comes to sitting down on the couch to talk with their wife about
something that's upsetting her.) We consciously reach down inside to
find an authentic willingness to do something even if it is not our
first preference. And as we engage the process, a natural interest
or presence with the activity is usually kindled, and when it's
over, we are usually glad we took the time, and there's a nice glow
in the relationship.
Whether it's sex - or a deep and meaningful conversation - we're
talking about taking half an hour or so a week to keep re-knitting
the ties that bind a couple together and create a solid family
framework in which to raise precious children. (And of course it's
wise to have more than one good conversation a week!)
If there is clarity about a fairly predictable frequency of
lovemaking, that also eliminates many upsets. If they've agreed to
make love once a week or so and it's been about that long, if she
says no tonight because she had a hard day with the kids or at work,
he probably won't feel helplessly frustrated, but will figure
there's a good chance he'll get lucky tomorrow night. If they've
recently made love and he puts his hand on her hip, she doesn't have
to stiffen to make sure he doesn't get the wrong idea that sex is in
the offing. They can kiss passionately or fondle each other for a
few minutes before rolling over to go to sleep - sweet pleasures for
many men and some women that are one more way to evoke loving
feelings - without fearing that now they have to go all the way.
* * *
In our experience, if you take care of the basics above, you can
always work out the practical details - like you've gotten out of
the habit, the baby's in the bedroom, setting up a time for sex
seems unromantic, lovemaking has grown routine or even boring, and
so on. And more than anything, try to let lovemaking deepen your
love for each other, touching with a cherishing in your lips and
fingertips, the giving of your bodies opening your hearts.
(Rick Hanson is a clinical
psychologist, Jan Hanson is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they
are raising a daughter and son, ages 12 and 14. With Ricki
Pollycove, M.D., they are the authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's
Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published
by Penguin. You can see their website at www.nurturemom.com or email
them with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org;
unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be possible.)