independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Orla Barry: 'I haven't had sex with my wife in over a year'

We haven't had sex since before our son was born

Couples need to have an open conversation about sex after childbirth - photo posed
Couples need to have an open conversation about sex after childbirth - photo posed

I LOVE my wife very much but we haven't really had sex in over a year. I had hoped it would resolve itself but over the last few months nothing has changed.

We had a baby son last year and he is the love of our lives. Although she is tired a lot, I know my wife is happy with our lives overall. It's just that physically there is no real spark.

We have been together seven years and we struggled to have a child so it was a huge joy when he eventually came along. During the pregnancy we didn't really have sex, which I think was a mutual decision. I just didn't find myself as interested as usual and honestly I began to see her as a mother who was pregnant with our child. She didn't seem to mind either.

After the baby was born, I thought things might change but actually the situation has worsened. I was there during the delivery and was proud of myself for not freaking out or fainting. It was quite a traumatic birth and she stayed in hospital for over a week.

I do remember thinking it would take me some time to think of parts of her body in a more sexual way again. It's not that I don't think she is beautiful, but over the last year I have seen her body in such a different light that it's taking time to adjust.

Initially I thought we should hold off having sex. Then a few months later when I initiated things, she started saying she was too tired or was afraid the baby would wake up.

When I tried again, she said it was just too painful. I don't think it's because the region hasn't healed properly but that she just can't bear the thought of it.

I don't know what to say. I know I was having doubts about my own ability to make love and now I'm wondering does she not feel the same any more.

She has become quite obsessed with her body shape. I try to tell her she is beautiful but she doesn't hear me.

She doesn't let me see her naked the way she used to either. I don't know if this is normal for a couple having had their first child or an indication that something serious is going wrong.

I think she has gone through so much in the last year that I don't want to overwhelm her with my concerns.

Then again, the longer this goes on, the more frustrated and anxious I get, and amid all the sleep deprivation I'm driving everyone mad.

Congratulations on the birth of your son and surviving the first year, which for many is the most challenging – until adolescence hits, naturally. No doubt your lives have changed remarkably and you're still adjusting to parenthood.

The realisation that this little person is utterly dependant on you can be overwhelming, not to mind the hours of lost sleep thrown in. Your wife has had so many hormones coursing through her body in the last year that headaches and fatigue are hardly surprising.

All that said, I do sense that at least half the problem may be emotional and psychological, and a frank discussion might be required to understand what's really driving this lack of intimacy.

Women's bodies do change naturally with pregnancy and it can take time afterwards for their previous body shape to return. It shouldn't make a difference given the amazing experience they have just been through, but society rarely celebrates the woman's body that isn't size 8 and cellulite free.

The hullabaloo with Kate Middleton's bump post birth is an indication of that. Women are bombarded with advice about losing the post-baby weight or toning up the body and it can be hard if you're feeling self-conscious to ignore it. Do continue telling her how little it matters to you.

Taking time out to do some form of exercise, whether it's yoga or walking, does help psychologically as well as physically.

It's widely accepted that exercise is a handy mood booster. There are some yoga and pilates classes specifically aimed at women who are pregnant or post pregnancy.

I'm wondering at her description of sex as being too painful. Has she consulted with a doctor about this and are you sure that there is no physical reason for this? It is also possible that she has developed vaginismus, which is essentially an involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor, which can make intercourse very painful, if not impossible.

It is a common condition among women although rarely talked about. The causes can vary from physical experiences such as difficult childbirth, sexual abuse or urinary tract infections to anxieties about sex or fear of pain.

If, as you mentioned, it was a complicated birth, that might well be triggering her reaction. In anticipation of pain, the body tightens the vaginal muscles, protecting itself against harm.

Further attempts at sex, rather than easing the problem, may reinforce the reflex response and exacerbate the issue.

If she is uncomfortable talking to her GP about this, I would suggest she visits a well woman clinic where they have a lot of experience in this area.

Whether her lack of libido is due to physical or emotional and psychological problems, both of you do need to have an open conversation about this.

It may take her time to feel she can have a sex life as you did before but this will also give you a chance to deal with your own worries.

If it's a condition like vaginismus, it will take time and it will be something you will work on together.

You have both gone through an incredible life-changing experience, so try and enjoy this time amid all the sleep loss.

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