I've admitted to this before, and I will again: I am a sheepish feminist. I suspect many of us are, albeit closeted. What this means is that I know and believe and teach and preach all the things about self-love. It's not just words - I really mean it. I look at every body and see beauty. But I grew up hearing a different message, and my subconscious hasn't quite caught up to my consciousness. I'm oh-so-much closer than I've ever been in terms of confidence but, after my pregnancies, I struggled when I looked in the mirror .
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We face a tough road of contradictory expectations: grow a human, look like you haven't; be sexy for your partner, be an ever-present parent; be a feminist, look thin and good doing it.
So, when I speak to my clients, both prenatally and postpartum, about having sex in the postpartum period, I understand deeply when I hear a woman say that she does not feel sexy, and I will never argue with her. It is valid and legitimate and completely reasonable to not feel sexy and to not want to have sex.
It is okay if you know you should love your stretch marks and loose skin, but don't really feel it. But (and you had to know there'd be a 'but'), as tempting as it is to sweep sex under the rug in the postpartum, it will become the elephant in the room if it is not addressed.
I spoke to Tynan Rhea, a sexual health coach, to get her thoughts on how women can overcome some of the insecurities they face about their own body.
"A great exercise comes from Emily Nagoski's book, Come As You Are. Nagoski recommends looking at yourself in the mirror every day and picking a part of your body that you like and telling yourself that you like it. No matter how big or small an area or item, there is always something to appreciate," she says. "Regina Spektor sings 'I have a perfect body, sometimes I forget, I have a perfect body because my eyelashes catch my sweat, yes they do, they do, they do, they do!' It might sound silly, but this is one way to start changing the internal narrative."
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I LOVE this advice. Even as I sometimes struggle with some parts of me, I am still mostly in awe of how miraculous our bodies are and am incredibly grateful for how well mine works. When I remember this and choose to thank my body for how amazing it is well, dammit, I feel proud as all hell about it. And THAT is sexy. Just like your human-birthing body is strong, valiant, noble, and sexy too.
"Everyone needs to challenge the narratives about what makes a person and a body attractive, not just women," says Rhea. "Instead of focusing our efforts on making our bodies fit the beauty industry standard of 'hotness' (which is impossible, as it's designed to keep you unsatisfied and paying for 'improvements'), we need to refocus our efforts on exploring our body's uniqueness, battle scars, abilities. The stories we tell ourselves and each other matter, but they are not fixed. They can be rewritten."
As always, be kind and generous with yourself. If you just aren't into sex for the first little while postpartum, that's ok. You don't need to - and shouldn't - force it if you aren't feeling it. Or maybe you're ok with certain things, but not others. You do not 'owe' anybody sex, ever.
It is ok to not be into it but it's important to talk about it. Tell your partner how you're feeling so that it doesn't become that elephant in the room. Talk about it and acknowledge each other's feelings and thoughts. Be a team.
You can even come up with a plan or a timeline to help take some of the immediate pressure off. No, it's not the spontaneous sex of your pre-baby life but, buddy, that's probably something you'll have to accept - for now, at least. Rhea also says that asking your partner to step up with more child care, chores, and errands will you give you some time to rest, which can go a long way in the 'mood' department.
So, I know I just said to be a team when it comes to figuring out sex with your partner. But, even if you don't want to roll around with him or her, you might still feel like taking matters into your own hands.
"Taking some time to masturbate is a significantly better use of your energy than continuing to pour it into sex activities that are draining at best or feel violating at worst," says Rhea.
Hell, yeah. And maybe masturbation will be your gateway activity into feeling sexier all around and feeling like a team player again.
If, as time goes on, you are still not feeling into it, consider reaching out. "It's extremely common for sex therapists to see couples with mismatched sexual desire," says Rhea. "Ask for help if you need it and if you want it- you don't have to navigate this alone."
And, just because you need to hear it one more time:
"You are inherently sexy," Rhea reminds us. "No work is required! Your squishy, unique, hairy body is beautiful just as it is." Preach it, sister. She's right; you are one hot-damn sexy beast.
All that said, Tynan Rhea advises: "If refusing sex is an unsafe choice for you, I would encourage you to seek the services of organizations that specialize in family and domestic violence. It should never be unsafe to refuse sex, and you have every right to seek the help and support you need."