10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Sex After Giving Birth

Giving birth changes sex. There’s no easy way around it. Whether you give birth vaginally or by C-section, physical intimacy after parenthood is a whole new game. Not all the changes are negative but I wished I’d understood these things beforehand.

  1. Hormones can seriously disrupt desire. When I was pregnant with my first son, I naively thought the juicy surge of hormones that had me craving sex every day would continue after a couple of weeks healing. Wrong! Those same hormones that matched my sex-drive to that of a teenage boy during pregnancy shifted around after I gave birth, causing my libido to be non-existent for nearly a year post-baby. Among other things, hormones drive women to procreate and after birth, that need has been fulfilled. On top of this, as many as 1 in 5 women experience some form of postpartum mood disorders, which are most likely a cause of this lack of libido. Anyone that has ever wrestled with depression or anxiety knows what strain it has on a partnership.
  2. Lube is your best friend. Estrogen, the hormone that keeps our bodies vibrant and causes us to self-lubricate when aroused, can be as low as a menopausal woman’s in the the postpartum period. If you had a vaginal birth, not only are you dry, your vagina is just more sensitive in general. Lubrication becomes essential to having comfortable sex. The good news is coconut oil is slippery, edible, and totally safe. The problem disappears after you stop breastfeeding or about one year postbirth.
  3. Someone else doing the dishes and laundry is a huge turn-on. The dishes and laundry get crazy out of control even with just one extra kid. Somewhere along the line, they both became my job. When my partner helps without a fight, it gives me the mental space to even think about sex. I can’t feel sexy when I’m wiping smashed banana off the floor, but when he does it, I feel like I have a partner—a partner I want to reward.
  4. Things feel different after birth. Almost everything has shifted around down there. Even with an “easy” childbirth, there is still a rearrangement of parts that happens from pregnancy and pushing. There may be a tear or episiotomy and some scar tissue to navigate. If a woman had a C-Section without pushing first, her vagina may be in good shape, but she has the incision site to worry about. Position is everything. In a lot of ways, it feels like the “first time” again after birth, which comes with its own discomfort and awkwardness.
  5. The six-to-eight week “OK” from your OB/GYN is BS. Around six weeks postpartum, a woman goes into her OB/GYN or midwife’s office, they give her a mini-exam and then announce that she’s “good to go” for sex. Some women are excited to get back to their sex lives, but most women I know experience this as a “WTF?!” moment. With my first child, it was seven months before sex felt good again. With my second child, it took four months, and my third somewhere in between. There’s a wide range of time, encompassing the whole first year after birth, that’s normal for a woman to feel ready for sex again. All this six week “go ahead” does is turn up the pressure a woman is likely already feeling from her partner. Pressure is not sexy.
  6. It takes more effort to prepare for sex. My days are no longer my own. They belong to my children and my household needs and they’re mostly filled with mundane tasks. I have to actively work to refuel my sexy tank to get in the mood. A bubble bath, some time alone, a glass of wine without kids underfoot, some red lipstick… I’ve had to set up cues for myself that help me get in the mood, something I never experienced before kids.
  7. You have to learn to ask for what you need. Just want oral? Prefer to give a hand job while your bits heal up? Rather take it slow or give a quickie because you are exhausted? Need the rug vacuumed or sheets changed first? This is good sex-life advice no matter what stage a relationship is in, but I found it invaluable after kids.
  8. Location is everything. There’s a possibility your bedroom may no longer be your own. Or, when your beloved offspring stops napping regularly and you’re confined to the exhausted after bed-time hours for sex, your house no longer feels like your own. My partner and I searched and shelled out for the perfect couch after kids because it became our primary F-spot. A mid-day weekend shower while the kid is watching Thomas the Train may do. It’s wise to keep a blanket in the back of the car so that things can be attended to on the rare date night.
  9. Men may need more sex than women. I resisted this notion for a long, long time but am starting to see its truth. While I’m touched out from toddlers all day and any girlfriend I see readily offers a deep hug, men are largely touch-deprived. Sex is the primary way many men connect with their partners, so it can fuel a sense of connection beyond the bedroom.
  10. Sex is a bridge back to your womanhood. After my child was born, I was a person I didn’t quite know yet—a person similar to my old self but forever changed as well. I both accepted and mourned this reality. Add to that the life role changes between my partner and me, and it felt like we were in two different universes. Sex is a path back to my womanhood.  It reminds me of desire that is strictly for grown-ups.  It brings back a connection that is just for my partner and me.
Elisabeth Mitchell is a writer, postpartum doula and yoga teacher. She lives in Western, NC with her husband and three young kids where inspiration, beauty, and messes run amok. When she's not staring down a sink full of dishes, she loves hindu mythology, coffee, and laughing inappropriately loud at her own jokes.