Where, Oh Where, Has Our Sex Life Gone

By Gabriel Constans
Issue 132, September/October 2005

cosleeping family

When your newborn is literally sucking the energy from you 24 hours a day, will the energy to make love with your husband ever return? How do you nurture your relationship and find time for sex when you have young children who want and need your attention every waking—and sleeping—moment? What is the secret to having intimate evenings together when your child or children are in their teens?

You may find yourself replying to these questions by exclaiming, “Never!” “It’s impossible!” “You’re kidding!” or “We’ve given up trying.” The reality is that you do have to make adjustments, continually negotiate with your partner, and practice the patience of saints, but you don’t have to give up your sex life altogether.

From the moment your baby comes into the world, your lives are changed forever. No matter how long you’ve been together before the birth or how much you’ve read about parenting, nothing will prepare you for the overwhelming responsibility, attention, and energy that it requires. Rarely do couples talk beforehand about how having a baby will affect their sexual lives, yet it can be one of the most difficult aspects of becoming a mother or father.

When you give birth or adopt a child after months or years of having plenty of time to lavish affection on each other, you are unceremoniously thrust into everything being structured around the baby. In terms of upsetting the apple cart of domestic tranquility, newborns are the most powerful force on the planet. When or if you sleep, eat, work, or make love is pretty much determined by the newest member of the family. It is utterly amazing how such a little bundle of flesh and bones can exert so much control over the lives of full-grown adults.

New fathers are especially vulnerable during this change in life, and often come down with the “Woe is me” syndrome. Not only does the baby come between the mother and father, the baby takes all her attention. The physical bond between mother and child is very powerful and can be difficult for a father to accept, even if he’s thought about it ahead of time. And if, like many people, a father equates sex with love, he may begin to fear that he isn’t loved anymore. This is especially true when the baby’s mother doesn’t have the time, energy, or desire—or all three—to make love as often or for as long as she used to. In the first months after birth, she may not want to at all.

Without denying the physical attraction that is part of the relationship dance, a healthy union consists of more than just sex. Most women do not love their partners any less after the birth of a child; they simply do not have the time, energy, or stamina to sexually express their love in the ways they did before. This is where men and women can allow patience and understanding to take root instead of frustration and anger, and can appreciate the many ways we can communicate our feelings for one another. Give each other long hugs and kisses. Massage her or his back, neck, hands, arms, legs, feet, or face. Cook and serve a special meal. Talk to each other, taking the time to be present and listen. Don’t assume you each know what the other is thinking or feeling. If you simply want sex, then find some time alone to masturbate—there is nothing wrong with some self-loving and care. Don’t expect your partner to fulfill all your needs or desires all the time.

Usually, as a child develops, stops nursing, and needs less physical attention, a woman’s libido also returns. If you’re the mother’s partner, let her be in the driver’s seat. She’ll let you know when she’s ready. Absence of sex doesn’t necessarily mean absence of love or desire—it is simply a physical and emotional reality that can arise from having a baby.

As your child grows physically and cognitively, enters toddlerhood and, later, the first years in school, an array of options for intimacy with your sweetheart will be presented. If your child sleeps in your bed, once she has fallen asleep you can take a mat and go to another room for some mutual pleasure. Make sure to be aware of and adjust the sounds you allow yourselves to make, depending on how deeply your child sleeps. Another wonderful opportunity is to develop a community of other parents with children of similar age and exchange childcare two to three mornings or afternoons a week. This is not only emotionally beneficial in sharing the experience of parenting, but it also allows you to arrange a time, whenever possible, for you and your mate to get together and have a romantic morning or afternoon. If you have other family or friends who offer to provide childcare, don’t pass it up—always say, “Thank you. Yes. When and where?”

You can also carry on your romance without having to physically touch each other. Write a love letter, or send a card, a gift, or some flowers with a note. Stop by your partner’s place of work. If your son or daughter is with you, bring him or her along. You don’t have to stay long—just stop by to let your partner know you’re thinking about him and can’t wait to see him when he gets home. If you’re the person working, take a break on your lunch hour, go home, and give everyone hugs and kisses. If you work too far away, give them a call. Let them know that, even in the midst of your busy day, you are thinking of them.

Once your child begins attending school, there are more chances to ren-dezvous in a variety of locations. At this age, too, it is much easier to have ?a child stay overnight with a friend or relative, thus giving you the entire night together to indulge in your fantasies or just go out to dinner, dancing, to a play, or to a movie.

As children move on into adolescence, their teens and early twenties, they become more aware of themselves and of their parents’ sexuality. It isn’t as easy to sneak off into the bedroom or bath while the kids are watching their favorite show or playing a video game. Nor can you linger in bed on a weekend morning without them figuring out what’s going on. Make sure your bed-room door is soundproof, and teach your kids about privacy and knocking before opening a closed door. As they age, they will want the same respect ?for their own privacy.

With or without children, relationships change. Don’t let being a parent put a total stop to your sex life. One does not preclude the other—you can experience the ecstasy and the agony of having children and the joy and pleasure of a satisfying love life. It depends on your expectations, your ability to adapt to change, to love one another exactly where you are. Learn to love without trying to manipulate, control, or coerce the other into some memory you have of how you think things were “before children,” or expecting to match an imaginary image of “perfect sex.” If you look, listen, feel, and pause long enough to see what you have in your relationship and not what is temporarily missing from it, you may come to appreciate your partner in an entirely new light.

Gabriel Constans’s books include Saint Catherine’s Baby (RockWay Press), Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter (Helm Publishing), and The Penis Dialogues: Handle With Care (Aslan Publishing). Gabriel and his wife, Aukele, have five children.