with Travis Goodman, Marriage and Family Therapist
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
- How Our Relationship and Our Sex Drive Can Change After a Baby
- The Value of Communication About Sex After Having a Baby
- Why We Need to Get Curious About Ourselves and Our Feelings on Sex
- How Religious Upbringing and Purity Culture Impact Sexual Beliefs
- Why It’s Important to Avoid Comparison About Sex After a Baby
- Tips for Building A New Normal for Your Sex Life
- Surviving the Postpartum Period
Are you struggling to find your footing with sex after having a baby? If so, you aren’t alone. Many couples experience barriers to sex in the postpartum period, including sleep deprivation, new relationship dynamics, and a lack of open communication.
Today, I’m joined by marriage and family therapist Travis Goodman, founder of Therapy4Dads, to discuss how sex changes after a baby, how to build other forms of intimacy, and how to find a new normal in the postpartum period and beyond.
Sex Can Bring Up a Lot of Concerns for Moms
If there’s one topic I hear about often from mom clients, it’s sex.
Guilt about not desiring sex. Frustration if they are the higher desire partner. Shame around their internalized rule book about sex lingering from the way they were brought up. And one of the biggest concerns—worry about whether the amount of sex they have after having a baby is “normal.”
There are a lot of feelings that come up around sex after a baby is born. Even once a mom is physically cleared to start having sex again, it doesn’t mean they are emotionally or psychologically ready to dive back in.
It can take a lot of time, processing, communication, and connection to reestablish physical intimacy.
I was happy to welcome Travis back to the show to talk about the role of communication in sex and how we can all overcome the barriers surrounding sex after having a baby.
How Our Relationship and Our Sex Drive Can Change After a Baby
It can be frustrating for both partners when our sex lives don’t seem to fall right back into place. Both partners are going through a big life adjustment, and the relationship itself is shifting as well.
New moms often experience challenges around sex, such as feeling touched out, body changes, having a lack of desire, hormonal or physical barriers, or being unable to shut off their brains from the mental load of motherhood. At the same time, their partners can experience similar barriers as well.
Travis pointed out that it’s important to think about our assumptions and expectations about sex after a baby. We might assume that things will go back to normal after six weeks, but that isn’t always the case.
This is partially due to a lack of conversation about intimacy and a limited view of what intimacy should look like. In most cases, our sex lives do change after having a baby, at least at first. But we can navigate those changes together.
The Value of Communication About Sex After Having a Baby
Travis said that couples often grapple with difficult emotions about sex after having a baby, but are unsure of how to communicate how they feel. They might be concerned with each others’ needs or experiencing guilt or frustration over how things are going.
He pointed out that couples need to remember that they are a team. They need to talk openly and honestly about sex and their feelings about intimacy.
When we don’t have an open dialogue with our partner about sex, we are left to form our own assumptions. This can lead to hurt, resentment, and miscommunication.
When we approach the conversation together, it removes some of the guilt and assumptions we might be holding onto. We can work together to unpack our feelings.
As we talk with our partner about sex, it’s helpful to remember that even if we are at different phases with sexual desires, we can still find a new path together.
Travis pointed out that these conversations can sometimes be emotionally charged. It’s important to approach the dialogue in a neutral way rather than from an accusatory or defensive standpoint.
It’s also important to remember that we aren’t just dealing with our realities in the postpartum period and the responsibilities of our new roles—we’re also bringing in a lifetime of feelings and beliefs about sex that we often haven’t explored or worked through.
Why We Need to Get Curious About Ourselves and Our Feelings on Sex
As we unpack these conversations with our partner, we also need to get curious with ourselves. What are the barriers we’re experiencing with sex? Are we not receiving enough support? Are we feeling resentful? Is there hurt there that needs to be processed? Do we need to make some changes in the household labor or carve out time for ourselves or each other?
It can be tempting to ignore our own concerns, but without that curiosity, we can find ourselves struggling to connect and forming patterns of resentment.
If we slow down and become curious, it can build a lot of understanding, patience, and grace, both for ourselves and our partner.
It often isn’t that we don’t want to be intimate—there are just many other things in the way. We might still be healing or experiencing pain that needs to be addressed. Or we might be coping with sleep deprivation, exhaustion, or postpartum depression.
Both partners are often carrying invisible loads and adjusting to parenthood. Sometimes our relationship falls through the cracks. But with honest communication, we can understand each other better and work toward rebuilding emotional and, eventually, physical intimacy.
How Religious Upbringing and Purity Culture Impact Sexual Beliefs
In Travis’s experience as a therapist, he has seen that communication breakdowns often happen around sex. Some couples just don’t talk about it at all.
There can be many reasons we are uncomfortable talking about sex, including a background in religion. Sometimes religious upbringing teaches us to feel shame and guilt around sex. We’re not taught to have an open, healthy dialogue about it. Those beliefs don’t always go away on their own as we get older.
We often put pressure on ourselves to feel sexy or to experience desire. When we don’t, we can start to feel like we’re failing.
It can be confusing to try to open up and talk about sex. If we’re used to avoidance or negative associations with sex, it can be hard to view ourselves as sexual beings or feel free when it comes to sex.
Travis pointed out that it can be helpful to expand our dialogue about intimacy and begin to work toward a healthier outlook on our bodies and sex. When we start to unpack where our beliefs came from, and talk to our partner about those feelings and beliefs, we can begin to heal and move forward.
Why It’s Important to Avoid Comparison About Sex After a Baby
It’s easy to get caught up in comparison when it comes to sex after having a baby. Sometimes I hear mom clients express grief over their old sex lives, wishing they could just go back to the way things were.
Other times, they want to know what’s common for other couples, questioning whether their sex lives are adequate.
Sex after a baby looks different for every couple, and it usually looks different than it did before. But it’s important to avoid comparison. It might be helpful to shut down social media or avoid situations that are leading to comparison.
It doesn’t matter what other couples are doing, or what sex used to look like for you. What matters is how you and your partner are feeling about sex and intimacy now—and what is comfortable and right for both of you.
Tips for Building A New Normal for Your Sex Life
One of the most helpful ways to approach intimacy in the postpartum period is to remember that this is just a season. Sex won’t always be this hard.
Your sex life might not ever look the way it once was—but eventually, you can find a new normal that is fulfilling, connected, and wonderful.
At first, that might involve working toward a frequency of sex that feels good to both of you. It might also look like engaging in other forms of intimacy, such as kissing, massaging, cuddling, or setting aside time for a date night.
As time goes on, you’ll discover what works for you and your partner. Maybe you won’t be able to be as spontaneous as you once were, but maybe you can plan exciting date nights to look forward to. Maybe you need more time to build arousal, but that can be a great way to connect.
Travis pointed out that you can’t take the first year as a baseline for what sex will look like in the future. But over time, you will start to reclaim some parts. In the meantime, honest communication and frequent check-ins matter.
Surviving the Postpartum Period
Ultimately, we have to be patient with ourselves and our partner, especially during the postpartum period. The first six months to a year is essentially a bubble of survival. Sometimes in the early days we don’t even have time to shower, much less to have sex.
We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves. Even if we get medical clearance at the six week appointment, we just might not be ready to resume sex yet (many moms aren’t), and that’s okay.
Doctors are only looking at physical healing at that time. They aren’t considering sleep, emotions, hormones, or internal pain that might come with pelvic floor issues or more difficult birth situations.
If you don’t feel ready to resume sex, that’s okay—just be open and honest with your partner. Try to avoid putting pressure or rigid expectations on yourself. Remember that your partner is your teammate. The two of you can face this situation and navigate it in your own way.
Travis also pointed out that time together is as valuable as physical connection, especially when it feels like your relationship gets put on the back burner. Sometimes carving out time and space to spend together is what you really need in the postpartum period.
If you’re experiencing resentment or a lack of intimacy in your relationship, our Reconnect Bundle can help! Find your way back to each other and reignite the spark again.
Travis is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). He has been practicing over the past 9 years in both a hospital and private practice setting. He has further expertise, training, and certification in Attachment-Focused EMDR, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
- Travis’s Podcast: Therapy4Dads
- Podcast Episode: Adjusting to Becoming a Dad
- Happy as a Mother Wellness Center
- Reconnect Bundle