Friday 17 January 2020

Sex post-childbirth: everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask

According to Irish sexual health educators and midwives, it’s about time we re-frame the post-childbirth sex discussion
According to Irish sexual health educators and midwives, it’s about time we re-frame the post-childbirth sex discussion
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

The prospect of having sex post-childbirth can be scary.

Not only has your body been through a huge physiological trauma, but you're beyond exhausted, and you have a heap of newfound insecurities and concerns like will it hurt? And will things feel, or look, different?

On top of all that - there are an abundance of scaremongering articles aimed at new and not-so-new mums about their bodies.

These contain lots of phrases about snapping and 'bouncing back', and are written under the assumption that pre-pregnancy bodies are infinitely better than post-pregnancy ones.

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Similarly sex B.C. (Before Child) is often viewed as a sort of sexual golden era that couples with children will never see the likes of again.

But rejoice one and all! I come bearing good news; your body and sex life will not be irreversibly ruined after a tiny human comes hurtling out of your pelvis.

Here’s a fun fact. Sex can actually improve post child birth. For women at any rate.

Did you know, for example, that many ladies have increased sensitivity following a vaginal birth?

All that huffing and puffing can leave your g-spot more exposed (a real bonus they don’t mention in any of the neonatal classes) which can increase the likelihood of orgasm through penetrative sex. So it’s not all doom and gloom.

According to Irish sexual health educators and midwives, it’s about time we re-frame the post-childbirth sex discussion.

Instead of trying to ‘return’ to your old sex life, it's better to 'picture yourself embarking on a new and exciting journey of sexual self discovery'.

“Resuming your sex life after a baby is work,” founder of sexsiopa.ie Shawna Scott said.

“Its emotional work. You are physically exhausted, and your sex might not look like the sex you had before.

“I hear a lot of people talking about getting their sex life ‘back on track’ and I hate that phrase. Maybe the emphasis should be on discovery instead of recovery. You have to re-imagine what sex is for you.”

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Shawna Scott

Things are inevitably going to change, positions you swore by may no longer work, and things you hated are suddenly the best thing in the world - ever.

Given this, it's important you feel at ease and take all the time you need.

Doctors recommend you wait six weeks after birth before having sex, but if the prospect of jumping into bed with your partner doesn't excite you, then don't do it.

This may sound like simple and straight forward advice, but it can be a difficult concept for many Irish mums to get their head around.

In the recent MAMMI (Maternal Health And Maternal Morbidity in Ireland) study many women described the first time they had sex post child-birth as an act of obligation, rather than one of passion.

“Do not do anything until you feel absolutely ready,” midwife and host of Yonic Boom podcast Tara Fakhry said.

“Don’t feel pressure. It’s not a tick box exercise. Sex will become part of your life again and have confidence in that. You are physically and mentally vulnerable so mind yourself. There is no rush – take your time,” she said.

It's also important to create non sexual moments of intimacy as a couple.

Heading away for a hotel break is great but not really an option if you don't have the means.

Doing simple things - like preparing dinner together - can create closeness when you often don't have a huge amount of one on one time.

From the partner’s perspective, it's a good idea to be supportive but not overbearing.

"Let the mum know that they are wanted, desired, that they are still seen as sexual beings," Tara said.

"But not in a way that makes them feel pressured into doing something they are not ready for. Keep that communication open all the time, and reassure them.”

You may also be confronted with new insecurities based on common misconceptions/ rubbish jokes (E.G Robbie Williams comparing being at the cold face of childbirth to watching his favorite pub burn to the ground).

“There are also lots of unhelpful stereotypes about vaginas being blown out after birth. That’s not the case,” Shawna Scott said.

It’s worth remembering that vaginas are designed and built to do exactly this. They know the score.

If there is a difference in tightness, it is often marginal and can be rectified. If you are not happy with how things feel post-childbirth, then it's of paramount importance you do not accept it.

The same applies if you feel discomfort or a sense of numbness.

“After giving birth a lack of sensation or pain during sex is common, but it is not normal. If it continues it is something you should seek medical advice about,” Midwife and host of Yonic Boom podcast Tara Fakhry said.

“These things can be fixed but, as women, we are used to enduring discomfort and pain. Don’t be apologetic about your body. If something doesn’t feel right go to your doctor. If sex is no longer enjoyable – go to your doctor. Don’t suffer, and don’t endure it.”

If you are in a hetero-normative relationship, and the prospect of having sex feels overwhelming and daunting then try taking penetration off the table.

“Sex does not always mean penetration," Shawna Scott said. “There are so many other intimate things you can do together – sometimes taking that option away can help people feel more relaxed and at ease.”

There's also a lot to be said for 'self love'. Most sexual health educators recommend exploring your own body to sexually re-connect with yourself.

"Have a wank and take it from there," Tara Fakhry said. "It's a good way to find out what you feel comfortable doing."

There may be new and shiny sex aids you have to factor into your love life. Namely lubricant.

Around 43pc of Irish mums experience a lack of vaginal lubrication after child birth.

So a high quality, body safe lubricant is your best friend, especially if you are breastfeeding.

Some people are embarrassed about buying or using lube but try to think of it as a fun addition to your sex life, not some sort of personal failing.

"It's a great investment and will really help reduce any discomfort during intercourse," Deirdre O'Malley head researcher on the MAMMI report said.

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Amy Rochford, Roisin Meaghar and Tara Fakhry, hosts of Yonic Boom podcast

"There are a huge range of products out there - so find one that suits you, and it will enhance your sex life."

Practicalities aside, to really move forward and enjoy your life, body and sexuality, it's important to accept that your version of normal has changed forever.

“It all comes down to accepting your life and not striving to return to what you were before baby, the new normal is not bad, it’s just different,” Tara Fakhry said.

And finally, take some reassurance in the fact that if you are in a loving relationship, going through childbirth will bring you even closer together.

Yes, you will have lost any sense of mystique but you'll gain a whole new level of intimacy.

"If a someone has watched you give birth they should be worshiping you for doing such an incredible thing," Tara said.

"You gave them a baby AND you want to have sex with them? How lucky are they?"

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