Dr. Gayle Peterson on sex and motherhood
This month, we’re talking about the taboo subject of sex and motherhood. Not many moms will admit to the their friends what exactly is going on in the bedroom. It’s easy to joke about how sore our nipples are from nursing or that we’re still four sizes above our pre-baby weight, but fully disclosing the hidden truth about our sex lives is not so easy. That’s why we’ve turned to the experts to uncover the truth about what’s going on—or what’snot going on—under the covers and what to do about it. We’ve enlisted the help of family therapist Dr. Gayle Peterson, who’s treated countless couples in her Bay Area practice.
Being a new mom can present many challenges. One of the top complaints I hear from my patients is that they just don’t feel sexy anymore. Though it is true that a lack of sleep and hormonal changes may decrease your sexual appetite dramatically in the first year following the birth of your child, it does not sentence you to celibacy. Your need for hugs may have decreased temporarily. Some moms are so relieved to put their bundle of joy down for a nap that the last thing they want is to jump into someone else’s arms—even if it’s their husband’s.
Sexual complaints in the marriage often arise in the first year following the birth of a child. A new father may be at risk of feeling peripheral to the intense mother-infant bond that is newly developing, and a new mother may feel exhausted by the emotional and physical demands motherhood requires. Mothers often feel “touched out” from breastfeeding, cuddling and holding the baby throughout the day, while fathers may feel a lack of physical involvement and emotional inclusion. If communication is not flowing, dissatisfaction is often expressed through complaints about sexuality. This can set a couple on a course of disconnection, at a time when what they need most is to reconnect. Sexual intimacy is one expression of connection, but making love takes many forms, including honest emotional intimacy.
Realize that you will have to schedule, plan and protect intimate time as a couple. The time of spontaneous lovemaking is over, but this doesn’t have to mean that lovemaking itself is over! Start with honest communication. Make love with words first. Share your feelings, fears and hopes for your relationship together. Deepening your emotional connection may get the libido flowing!
When you’re ready, arrange to have uninterrupted private time with your husband. Light candles, take a warm bath together. When there’s time to relax again and focus on yourselves, tell each other how you feel. Does he express his love and attraction for you, and you for him in sexual and non-sexual ways? What changes or adjustments need to occur to reconnect? Research shows that satisfaction in marriage is measured by a 5-1 ratio of positive to negative comments. That means 5 appreciations for your partner to every one criticism! How do you fare in your relationship?
You may find that though the frequency of lovemaking decreases, the quality of sexual intimacy increases. Many women report deeper and stronger orgasms following pregnancy and birth. Indeed, the increase in surface area of the womb and heightened blood supply brought to the lower pelvic floor during pregnancy can contribute to greater sensuality. But do not underestimate the depth of emotional sharing and communication in establishing a new and deeper sexuality. —Gayle Peterson
A message from Dr. Gayle….
The birth of a baby is the birth of family. Childbirth ushers in joyful change and demanding reorganization. Family researchers identify the arrival of a newborn to be one of the most stressful events that a couple navigates during the course of their relationship. Our families are the gardens in which our children grow. Still, so few parents know about the research on what contributes to creating a healthy family. I wrote Making Healthy Families to educate parents to the common processes and characteristics that research has discovered contribute to creating and sustaining an emotionally healthy family. The key theme in developing a strong foundation for your family is promoting experiences of connection over disconnection. This month our focus is on sex and motherhood!