Sex After Birth: What to Expect with Sex Educator Hannah Witton
Many people will tell you that having kids ruins your sex life. But here’s what they won’t tell you: having kids will change your sex life but that’s not necessarily a good or bad thing.
Your sex life isn’t just about how many times you have sex (in fact frequency of sex has little to do with overall sexual satisfaction) and a sexless relationship doesn’t automatically make it a doomed relationship.
How your sex life changes after giving birth
Change happens all the time when it comes to our sex lives and is completely normal. Would you want your sex life to still be the same as it was when you were 18? Probably not. It’s unrealistic to think our sex lives, our desires, our relationships and how our bodies look and work are going to stay the same forever. There will be gradual changes and there will be sudden changes, like childbirth.
Feeling frustrated and resisting change made me feel worse. I would resent my sex life for not being the same as it was, I felt like there was something wrong with me and something wrong with my relationship. But the more I’ve learned to accept change (even if it does suck sometimes!), the happier I have been.
After having a baby it’s completely normal and expected for sex to be different. That doesn’t mean our relationships are doomed, it doesn’t mean we’ll never feel sexy again, and it doesn’t mean the end of our sex lives. Just the start of a new one.
How long after giving birth can you have sex?
Some of the most searched for questions about postpartum sex relate to when you can have it. Many people are asking “can you have sex at two, three, four, five weeks postpartum?” and what happens if you do? There’s no required waiting time to have sex post birth but most medical professionals will recommend waiting six weeks.
Everyone’s pregnancy, delivery, recovery and postpartum experience is different and so when you want to or are able to have sex will be different too.
Bladder leaks may be impacting your sex life after giving birth. They are a common experience postpartum as the pelvic floor weakens during pregnancy and childbirth. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with pelvic floor exercises can help to stop the involuntary leaking of urine, and the Elvie Trainer can help you learn how to do your Kegels correctly.
If you’re one of the people feeling ready and eager to have sex again two weeks postpartum then you know your body best, but it might still be a good idea to talk to your midwife or doctor if there’s anything specific to you and your birth/recovery that you should be aware of such as stitches healing.
However, for many people, they still dont feel ready for sex at six weeks postpartum and this is also completely normal. Because that is what’s recommended it can feel like you should be ready (physically and emotionally) by then to have sex but many aren’t and that’s okay. It’s easy to get caught up in messaging around what you think your sex life should be like but there are no “shoulds” (except for consent!) when it comes to sex. You know your body and desires best.
How does sex feel after birth?
Many people will experience discomfort or pain with sex after birth. Whilst of course I want to normalize this experience because it’s something many people go through and there’s nothing wrong with you if you find sex uncomfortable after birth, I also want to emphasize that this shouldn’t be the case long term. Yes, it might take a while to find sex comfortable and physically enjoyable again but the process of getting there shouldn’t be “forcing” it or putting yourself through pain. Rediscovering your sexuality, your body and connecting with your partner should still be an overall positive, joyful and pleasurable experience even if penetrative sex is tricky for a while.
Take your time, there is no rush.
Vaginal dryness is also really common after birth, especially if you are breastfeeding. Nursing your child is using up all the moisture in your body! Make sure to drink plenty of water and use plenty of lube! Vaginal dryness is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Also, really taking your time and allowing yourself to get properly turned on (with help from your partner if their involved) can help the production of natural vaginal lubrication. However, postpartum it might be difficult to find all that time required (but there is no shame in it taking a while to get aroused!)
Expanding your sex menu
If you usually have penis in vagina (PIV) sex, maybe now is the time to expand a bit of what is on the sex menu. There is so much more to sex than penetration. Solo sex is a great way to still feel connected to yourself sexually postpartum and is easier to find time for than partnered sex! And there’s all kinds of other sex and sexy things: Oral sex, mutual masturbation, dirty talk, passionate kissing, spanking, flirting etc… It’s difficult to find time for intimacy after having a baby, and you also might not be interested in some kinds of sex, but if you expand your definition of sex and think about all the intimate things you can do together, it’s possible to find something to fit into your new life that makes you feel good.
One thing I would recommend when exploring your sex buffet menu is creating ‘Want, Will, Won’t’ lists with your partner. You can find extensive lists online of every sexual activity out there from beautifully simple and vanilla to hardcore BDSM, you can also include not just sexual acts but how you want sex to make you feel e.g. empowered, relaxed, dominated, desired etc. Take these lists and separately categorize them into “want” (these things I’m really interested in doing/feeling), “will” (if you’re into it or under some circumstances I’d be up for it) and “won’t” (nope, no, don’t ask, hard limit). Then you see where you have things in common on your “want” lists and talk about what would turn a “will” into a “want” or a “will” into a “won’t”. The exercise itself and sharing with your partner can be an exciting sexual and intimate activity in itself.
I mentioned at the beginning that the number of times you have sex in a long term relationship doesn’t correlate to sexual satisfaction, but there is something that does: sexual currency. Sexual currency is anything and everythig that could be interpreted as remotely sexual going on between you and your partner but isn’t actually sex. This could be flirting, talking about sex, making sex jokes, texting each other sexual emojis, ass grabbing in the kitchen, a big long smooch on the sofa, a sensual massage - you get the picture. Couples that have high sexual currency don’t need to be having sex all the time to feel sexually satisfied. People who feel like their sex life is “dying” often go straight to “well we should have more sex” but actually the key is to create more sexual currency in the relationship. If there’s no sexual currency, no wonder you’re not having sex or enjoying the sex you are having. It’s so overlooked and often forgotton about in long term relationships but is so crucial to sexual satisfaction.
Also, sex doesn’t happen in a vaccuum, what is the state of your relationship? Having a baby together is huge and can definitely shift relationship dynamics, wants and needs. If you find it difficult to have conversations about your relationship and how you feel in it, try looking up some relationship check-in questions, and when you’re both feeling relaxed and open ask them to each other. They can work as really helpful prompts to have those deep conversations and create intimacy.
What is responsive desire?
For most people, desire is responsive rather than spontaneous. Instead of spontaneously feeling sexy or wanting to have sex, most people respond to comething they’re enjoying first. This might be spending a bit of time intentionally getting in the mood and creating the right context to feel sexy, properly checking in with your partner beforehand about how their day has been, passionately kissing, touching and saying sweet nothings to each other. More often than not, once you get going desire will kick in. Of course, if you don’t want to then your boundaries should absolutely be respected, but if you want to want sex then a good place to start is doing something sexual that you know you like and responsive desire will likely follow. In reality, libidos go up and down all the time and relationship satisfaction, outside stress, hormones, mental health and body image can all impact how much we want to have sex or how sexy we feel.
You do you
Postpartum sex can bring up all sorts of thoughts about your body, your partner, what you think you should be doing vs what you want to be doing and it is important to allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. There is nothing wrong with you, you’re doing great. Try to talk openly about what you’re feeling with your partner, or with your friends. If you’re worried about the medical side of things please talk to your doctor or midwife. But ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to do postpartum sex. Experiences will vary massively and you are not alone in navigating this overwhelming and complicated time and aspect of your life. You’ve got this. We’ve all got this. Here’s to finding joy and pleasure in whatever way we want and are capable of right now!
By Hannah Witton, sex educator, author and podcast host.