Let’s talk about sex, baby. Or rather, the complete and utter lack of it.
Sex has always been an important part of my life, my relationships and my identity. I have been lucky enough to enjoy a pretty healthy and fulfilling sex-life, even during my pregnancies (which were oddly the times I had the highest sex drive) and after the arrival of my first daughter. Sure, it was different, and not as frequent as we both might have wanted, but it existed. Lazy weekends in bed became a longed-for memory, but were substituted for snatched moments and more inventive locations. So why, this time around, are we now coming to our twelfth month of sexual drought?
Reason No 1: Exhaustion
I cannot remember the last time I had more than about three hours of straight, uninterrupted sleep. I think it might have been the summer of 2013. That is not an exaggeration. While pregnant, I was constantly up all night weeing, or fighting off waves of nausea or acid-reflux, or all three. Once our eldest arrived, breastfeeding meant I was on night duty and she fed nigh-on constantly. By the time I weaned her and she started sleeping through, I was already five months pregnant, and my bladder had once again shrunk to the size of a raisin. And the cycle repeats. This is beyond tiredness, this is sheer, visceral, bone-aching exhaustion. My eyes are only open due to a diet of caffeine and biscuits. The idea of expending the last, precious vestiges of life left in me having sex is not appealing.
Reason 2: Being ‘touched out’
Most mothers will relate to this feeling, especially those who breastfeed or have more than one child. Your body is not your own. There is someone cuddling, holding, pulling, licking, biting, wiping their nose on, pinching or kissing you at virtually any given moment. That golden hour after the children are asleep, when finally you regain a smidgen of bodily autonomy, is spent quickly restoring order to your house, maybe taking a bath, or reading a book or watching a show with a glass of something if you’re lucky. I tend to hide in the garden, relishing the quiet and listening to the birdsong; trying to breathe out the day. I do not want to spend that time having anyone else touch me. No sir.
Reason 3: Hormonal changes.
As a species, we are not always as stupid as we look, and we’ve evolved some pretty nifty biological systems to ensure our survival. So, if you’re breastfeeding an infant, your hormone levels alter. You’re likely to not ovulate or have a period. You’re also likely to have a decreased sex drive. And even if your baby gives you five minutes and you do manage to muster the energy to do the deed, you’re likely to experience vaginal dryness and a thinning of the vaginal walls making sex uncomfortable or possibly even unpleasant. Clever! Now with care, attention and lubricant this can be overcome, but it’s a bit more complicated for me (see reason number four).
Reason 4: Pelvic floor trauma
Not to frighten anyone out there, but giving birth twice has severely messed with my vagina. But not in the way I had expected. Before having a baby you’re told in hushed tones that things might feel ‘different’ (i.e. looser) afterwards, but are assured that with time and regular Kegel exercises it’ll all come good again, or at least workable. No one told me that the opposite could happen: that your pelvic floor could react to the trauma of giving birth by basically going into spasm and try to seal itself shut. Add on top that I have fairly extensive scarring from tearing during both my deliveries – penetrative sex is just not going to happen. A trip to my GP, a gynaecologist, and a women’s health physiotherapist later, and I’ve got a plan drawn up to try to fix this. I plan to devote a post to the information I got from the physio because this is stuff that NO ONE TELLS YOU! But right now, I feel incredibly disconnected from, and almost scared and ashamed of, my own body – for the first time. Which is fucking stupid because it created, delivered and continues to provide sustenance for two human beings.
Reason 5: Perinatal mental illness
I started relapsing into severe anxiety with a side order of depression and OCD early in my second pregnancy. I was the sole breadwinner, pregnant and still breastfeeding my eldest, trying to run the household, and isolated from a lot of my friends and family. Then I was made redundant. Financially we were under extraordinary pressure, and I began to get sicker and sicker. Things got worse after I gave birth, and nearly twelve months on, I’m only just starting to see that there might be light ahead. If you are depressed, or constantly in fight-or-flight-or-freeze-mode, or frightened that everything is contaminated and might make you sick, you do not want to have sex. Even though good sex with someone you care about is one of the things known to be an excellent counter to mental illness.
Reason 6: I’m really angry and full of resentment
I love my partner. He has many amazing qualities and is truly a beautiful person, inside and out. But the last few years have been very, very tough, and he hasn’t always got things right (and nor have I). Unfortunately, we both suffer with the inability to express negative emotions. We both sit on them. And in my case, silently seethe and/or shout at children and animals. In his case, deflect them inwards and mope. We have been in fire-fighting mode for nearly three years and had little time to take stock of where we are, and where we might want to be. As a result I am still holding on to a lot of resentment and anger that I haven’t felt able to share. I know I should probably just ‘let it go’ but I’m clueless as to how I might go about that. And sometimes I wonder if I am so angry and resentful that I just don’t feel like having sex with him – that maybe the reasons listed above, although each very real, could be more easily overcome if I wasn’t so fucking pissed off at him still. We have plans for couple’s counselling in the near future, in case you’re wondering!
So there you have it, six reasons my libido is absent without leave. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on any progress as I’m sure you’re all agog with interest!
I’m fairly confident that I can’t be the only one who has experienced this particular delightful postpartum phenomenon. I’d love to hear any tips and tricks or just ‘I hear you’ rants – please leave a comment or get in touch on Twitter.