A baby is born. There’s relief, joy, and plenty of celebration to go around. There’s also a deeply felt shift for the new parents and especially for the birthing parent who just underwent an experience universally considered profoundly transformational. The next few days, weeks, and months, there’s a lot of conversation around postpartum care for the baby, the adjustment for the family unit (however that may look), and for the physical health of the birthing parent. The last thing it seems on anyone’s mind is sex and sexual pleasure. Which is especially strange given that it’s often how the pregnancy came about in the first place. This very natural aspect of having a human body, after birthing, is relegated to the darkest corners of our most hushed conversations and swept under the rug, with the cultural subtext being that this is something we simply ignore now. Leaving those with postpartum bodies quietly wondering – is my desire normal?
We’re here to tell you it absolutely is. And it’s likely the cultural silence is largely shaped by the patriarchal ideology that the pleasure of people with uteruses isn’t real and doesn’t matter besides. So let’s normalize talking about postpartum sexual pleasure (and sexual pleasure for people with uteruses generally) and decide for ourselves what that looks like. Here are some things we wish were part of the larger conversation about the postpartum experience:
The postpartum libido
The first thing to note here is that your libido is a moving target and has been your whole life. Think about it, are you the same person sexually-speaking, that you were 10 or 20 years ago? Probably not. If you’re thinking, actually, yes, I’ve pretty much always liked the same things, chances are there have still been some shifts, however small, that you’ve made here and there without even realizing that are part of your sexual repetoire that weren’t 5 or 10 years ago. It’s the nature of the beast. Like our bodies, our sexual fantasies and libido will shift along with us, if even incrementally. Certainly, we can expect some things may change after a life-altering experience like giving birth. As you transition into this new phase in life, the foremost thing is to listen to what your body is telling you and to honor that. Whether you’re raring to go or need to take it one step at a time, follow your body’s lead and abide its wisdom. You never have to go on anyone else’s schedule when it comes to your libido.
My partner is beyond ready
We get it. You’re coupled and your partner, though patient, has made it clear that they are DTF and looking to you for the greenlight. Like everything else in a partnership, the only thing to keep in mind is making sure the lines of communication with your partner remain open about how you’re feeling and what you are and aren’t ready for. Chances are, as excited as they are to share sexual intimacy with you, they’re going to need guidance from you in terms of what, when, and how. As you’re adjusting to your healing body, they’re adjusting as well, and likely just want to be included in whatever you may be going through both physically and emotionally. And don’t forget, you chose them as your partner, so let them be a partner in this. If they’re kept in the loop of what’s happening with you, the chances are greater that they can support you in your healing and perhaps offer some suggestions that might help and wouldn’t have occurred to you. Two heads are better than one!
Prioritize your pleasure
The whole cultural silence around pleasure for people who just gave birth is insidious. Even the most sexually free people after giving birth go through shame and guilt for even thinking about it because society dictates that the baby should be the only consideration from now on. Even thinking about anything but the baby becomes sacrilege, labeling anyone who considers themselves or their pleasure - drumroll please- a bad parent. Honestly, how exhausting. Repeat this mantra to yourself as early and often as possible: My pleasure is a priority. Because it is. It’s not a frivolous pastime or a guilt-ridden shameful act reserved for shitty parents. It’s your human need and a beautiful way to celebrate your glorious body, especially after it did this really difficult thing. I mean, if ever it needed some lovin’ it would be after carrying and birthing a whole new person! Lean in and love on yourself and/or let your partner do it for you.
Adulting is hard. Parenting is hard. Life is hard. There’s so much hard you guys. But sexual pleasure doesn’t have to be. Sexual play is one of the joys of being an adult living in your own place. Look at this transitional time as a time of exploration. Maybe your postpartum body is experiencing some back pain or less agility or just otherwise normal changes that you have to adapt to during this time. Instead of focusing on these things as perceived limitations, look at them as opportunities to try something new. If you remain open and playful about it, there are workarounds that might open new doors of pleasure that perhaps you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. If vaginal play is out of the question, there’s always foreplay, touching, kissing. There’s always dirty talk, masturbating together, or alone. Yeah, we said it. They’re just suggestions - follow your own bliss.
Pleasure and play for a postpartum body (like any body) aren’t just about achieving orgasm. There’s a bigger picture to keep in mind here and it’s called sexual wellness. Again, when we talk about the wellbeing of a postpartum body, we don’t consider this aspect of it, and instead worry more about aftercare strictly from a narrow, physical-health perspective. But sexual health is a part of the puzzle of our health and wellness - and don’t let the lack of conversation around it make it seem less important. It’s essential to tune into every aspect of your postpartum body and acknowledge your relaxation, joy, and intimacy as integral parts of the healing process.
When we said sexual play, we meant it
Two words: Adult Toys. Whether you’ve used them before or not, this is definitely territory to explore for those in any adjustment or transitional period of life. Postpartum isn’t just a physical experience, it’s emotional, mental, and spiritual. It’s a whole-being shift so you might have to reconfigure how you play along with everything else. And toys are a safe, easy way to do that with tons of variety to boot. Even if you’re already a fan, the usuals may no longer be the right fit, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and try something new. Consider that maybe you didn’t need lube before and you might now, or maybe something that didn’t work before will work now, or try using the toys you like in a different way. You are only limited by your imagination, so get creative, tap into your fantasies, and play your hearts out.
Sex Toys, the other multi-vitamin
For whoever needs to hear this: sex toys aren’t the main attraction. They are fun, fantastic tools that are essential to joy for a lot of us. But still, the main attraction is unequivocally YOU. See them for what they are, something to assist, support and prioritize your pleasure. The reason there’s so much variety beyond vibrators and dildos is because we’re all different and figuring out the toys that will be right for us after giving birth will revolve around not just what’s going on with our bodies but also our personalities, proclivities, and our emotional landscape. The heading of this paragraph might be a bit cheeky but the point is that just as we take relaxing baths, take vitamins, or practice meditation to support other aspects of our self-care, sex toys are a huge asset to enabling our sexual wellness.
Ultimately, a postpartum body is going to need a lot of things and those needs will ebb and flow and require your attention and patience. Amongst these, SELF-LOVE being the first and foremost consideration. Why? Because many say this is the hardest lesson of giving birth – remembering to take care of yourself. So expect that to be part of the journey. The voice in your head that tells you to ignore the small (or loud) pangs of desire, to neglect the yearning to bond with your partner in that intimate way again, or disregard the urge to find someplace quiet to go and masturbate and see what’s what with your glorious, powerful body. Don’t listen to that voice. Birth, afterall, is about celebrating life, so celebrate your own. You deserve every bit of self-discovery and every resource available to you to make you a happy human in this - in the words of poet Mary Oliver- wild and precious life.