Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to email@example.com.
My husband and I welcomed our first baby, Dylan, six months ago. He’s wonderful and adorable and brings us endless joy, but he’s also a ridiculous amount of work and needy and exhausting. You know, a typical baby. Most days, after I put him down for bed, I want to fall into my own bed and just wake up the next morning. My husband is all in and does a ton of the heavy lifting, but I’m still breastfeeding on demand, so it feels like it’s all me all the time. I’m a leaky, sleep deprived mess of a woman just trying to not burn the house down.
The problem is, my husband is REALLY ready to have sex again, and I’m just not. I’m not anywhere close to being ready. I have zero libido and after my tiny human sucks on me all day, the last thing I want is to share my body with anyone else. I haven’t even masturbated in the last six months. He’s starting to take it personally, though, and I’m not sure how to handle it. I’m still in love with him and attracted to him, and I’m sure I’ll want to have sex again some day, but I’m not there yet because I’M SO TIRED. Is this normal? And how can I make everyone happy in this situation?
Super Not Horny
Dear Super Not Horny,
First of all, fuck normal. What does it matter if something is normal or not? You’re having an experience, you’re having a problem, and that problem exists regardless of whether or not 51% of the population also experiences it.
You’re not alone in this. I can tell you, for sure, that you are not. Many many many women experience a diminishment of their sex drives when they have a newborn, especially while they’re breastfeeding.
You ask what you can do to make everyone happy in this situation, and that question caught me a bit sideways. Why is it on you to make everyone happy? Why isn’t it on your husband to make everyone happy? He wants sex, you don’t, so doesn’t it make sense that he would be the one empowered with coming up with ways to help bridge the gap between where you are now (exhausted, leaking, not feeling it) to where he would like you to be (rested, leaking, enjoying that post-orgasm glow)? I know that the world we live in is one where women are supposed to solve all of the problems but, like, has he come up with any kind of an idea to help you through?
But let’s assume that he doesn’t have any ideas, or that his ideas are crap and you don’t want to hear them. So, I want you to know that I think that sex is great, sex is a gift, sex knits us together with our partners, it’s a basic need like food and water and sunshine. When done well, it makes people happy. It improves the quality of life. What I want is to help you help yourself out of the land of “no libido could my husband just please stop wanting sex” to the land of “wow we’re doing it every few weeks that’s an improvement.” And my plan has three parts.
One: Admit that this baby is sucking up all of the touch you used to give to your husband. The feeling you have at the end of the day is often referred to as being “touched out.” I love to touch and be touched, I love snuggling and cuddling and hugs and kisses, but after I had my newborn all I wanted was an hour where no one touched me. When a friend asked, “How’s the new baby?” I responded, “HE WON’T STOP TOUCHING ME.” We all have a certain capacity for intimacy and your baby is taking more than his fair share. This takes the blame off of you, and off of your husband, and puts it onto the situation. The baby is taking a lot from you, and you’re giving a lot to him, and there isn’t anything left over for your husband.
Two: Realize that sex is a practice. If you want to get into amazing physical shape, do you suddenly join a gym and then workout for five hours straight? No, because you’d probably throw up a little bit. Instead, you ramp up to it. You join a gym one day, get a tour the next day, go to the gym in your workout clothes a third day to do 20 minutes on the treadmill, etc… You ease your way in, build one day on the next, until you make it a habit, until going to the gym is something that you just do.
Here’s the thing about having kids and sex: They are not compatible. If you, say, stopped having sex in the first trimester because you were sick, and then didn’t do it in the second trimester because it weirded one or both of you out, and then didn’t do it in the third trimester because how can we even find it anymore, and then had a baby and took the mandatory six weeks off from sex post-partum, then your new normal is not having sex. Sex is, at this point, a foreign country that you used to live in but now you’ve been away so long you’ve forgotten the language. The less you do it, the less you want to do it but. Conversely, the more you do it, the more you’ll want to do it.
Also, like exercise, sex is good for you and it’s good for your relationship. If my husband is getting on my every single nerve then I know that it’s time for us to have sex. You see, even though in that moment he’s annoying the shit out of me, I know that, counter-intuitively, having sex will fix that problem. Because it’s not that he’s annoying, it’s that any human you occupy space with is annoying unless that human is giving you orgasms in which case they’re pretty OK. Sex = orgasm = oxytocin flooding your brain = aw, it’s kind of cute how he rearranges the dishwasher after I’ve loaded it. I swear I don’t know how people live together for years without ever having sex. Sex is magic lubricating glue – it bonds you back together while eliminating points of friction.
Three: Slowly move yourself from the sexless desert back into a sex life. First off, rethink what constitutes a sex life by which I mean: start masturbating. Start masturbating ASAP. Get yourself there, by yourself, with no pressure or expectations from anyone else. Watch a porn, read some erotic literature, google image search “hot cocks” – do whatever you need to do that makes you feel a twinge of a sexual tingle. Now, do it again. I mean, not that same day, unless you’re so moved, but definitely the next week. Get your body used to experiencing orgasms again so your body will expect to experience orgasms again.
Next, start to notice the times of day when you and your husband would both be available to be intimate. Notice that they probably aren’t going to be at night, when you’re exhausted, or in the morning, when you’re being woken up by a crying baby. They’re probably going to be during nap time. Girl, nap time sex is where it’s at. Everyone has energy and no one is crying.
Then, if you find yourself dreading the idea of foreplay – the touching, the stroking, him going anywhere near your boobs – start incorporating your husband into your sex life with forms of sex that don’t involve touching you don’t like. For instance, throw on a porno, invite him to sit down, and you can participate as much as you like while he masturbates. It could be as simple as wrapping a leg around him while he does it. Get naked with him and have him watch you as you masturbate, no touching allowed. Start making out with him whenever the mood strikes. Ease your way back into relating to him physically. Or, if you want to go big, bank some breast milk, get a sitter, get a hotel room, and, once you get into this hotel room, establish a safe word and then tie your husband up so he can’t touch you. Now, touch him.
You are perfectly normal to be completely uninterested in sex after having a baby, but that doesn’t mean that you should just wait for breastfeeding to end and your libido to come creeping back on its own. Dedicate time to yourself, to your relationship, and reconnect with your sexual self. And don’t do it just to make your husband happy – do it because it will make you happy.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.