"Don't you like my big boobs?" said my client to her husband with a playful smile as they sat on my couch in couples therapy. "When I look at your breasts now, I think of the baby breastfeeding. That is not a turn-on," he responded flatly to his beautiful wife. Her face looked stung with rejection and then silent tears streamed down her flushed cheeks. She longed for the intimacy they shared prior to their 6-month-old baby's birth.
Freud might say her husband was suffering from a "Madonna-whore complex," a psychological condition where men desire the erotic vixen but cannot desire the respected partner. Dare I say, I think this is a very real phenomenon, and one that does not bode well for women's sexuality or relationships.
I blame the Madonna-whore complex on our culture. Young women and mothers are often polarized, with younger women being sexualized and mothers seen as wholesome, pure and nurturing. Even in Jungian psychology, the three female archetypes are Maiden, Mother and Crone. This means women are first young and beautiful, then become moms, and then get old. This bothers me.
Can we mothers please have the opportunity to be seen as sexy and desirable after we have given birth? Can women please be afforded the same right as men to remain sexual beings beyond the transition to parenthood?
I dealt with this challenge myself. It started during the third trimester of my pregnancy with our first daughter. I was surprised to find that as my belly grew, my sexual appetite increased almost as much as my appetite for food (OK, not anywhere as much, but nevertheless I was surprised to be feeling frisky). I remember my husband started to feel self-conscious of the baby's presence. He even worried that he would "bump her head" when we were having intercourse. (I assured him that he really needn't worry...) Anyway, at this point, the baby had literally come between our sex life.
After giving birth, like many couples, our sex life was impacted by factors such as healing from delivery, hormone changes, breastfeeding and by my not feeling as confident in my post-pregnancy body. Also, I found it challenging to integrate my new identity as mother into my concept of self without losing other parts of myself.
Can somebody be a good mother and also have lust? Could somebody behave erotically with their partner knowing a baby in the next room? Honestly, I wasn't sure. I mean, I don't recall ever seeing a sexually-empowered mother characterized in a Disney princess movie, do you?
It took about a year of some serious effort to adequately process my new identity as a mother and also reconnect with my healthy sexual self. As a mother of two and a therapist who has counseled hundreds through the transition to family, I recommend the following to integrate the concepts of motherhood and sexuality:
1. Understand sexual challenges are a normal part of the transition to family.
It takes time to process the new roles and relationships when baby makes three. Personally, I think this is nature's birth control. This will pass. (Otherwise, we all would be only children!)
2. Take care of your health.
Exercise, eat nutritiously and prioritize sleep over the dishes and scrapbooking and other things that can wait. Follow up with your doctors to make sure you are healing well following vaginal or cesarean delivery.
3. Make the effort to put yourself together.
Don't throw in the towel on your looks. Make a conscious choice to never wear "mom jeans" and put some effort into your appearance. Do this for yourself. It will increase your self-esteem and confidence in the bedroom.
4. Stay connected with your partner.
Spend 20 minutes a day looking into each other's eyes rather than your phones or laptops and talking about anything other than the baby or household responsibilities. Talk about the things you talked about when you were just people, not parents.
5. Make sex a priority.
Get creative (try having sex after the morning feeding when the baby is snoozing, having a quickie in the shower, etc.) If the family bed is cramping your sex life, set some boundaries with baby and stick her in her bassinet so you get can some loving.
6. Understand how birth control (or lack thereof) might be impacting your sex life.
For example, some women don't want to have sex because of fear of pregnancy (I know a woman who got pregnant two months after having triplets...) Other times, a method of birth control might be effecting desire.
7. Understand how breastfeeding might be a variable.
For example, it is common for breast milk to discharge during orgasm, which can dampen the mood (no pun intended.) Feed or pump before sex, or wear a sexy bra during sex. Make decisions about breastfeeding that are right for you and your family.
8. Have a sense of humor.
Sex during parenthood brings much fodder for laughter and playfulness--don't take yourself or life too seriously and enjoy the ridiculousness of it all. Breast milk pads falling out of your shirt when you are trying to be sexy? Breast milk squirting everywhere? Baby crying? All opportunities to turn to your partner for a shared chuckle and connection.
9. Identify a hero who is a sexy mom.
Pick a real-life example to stop you from feeling like you have to keep up with the Kardashians! When you're covered in spit-up and feel your sexiness slip, think of your hero and pull it together. After all, aren't you pretty damned awesome for all that you do??
10. Don't buy into the myth that mothers aren't sexy.
A grown woman knows her body and can rock her curves. Embrace motherhood AND your sensuality.
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