Post pregnancy, our bodies go through a myriad of changes. The physical recovery and hormonal rollercoasters have been well documented, but igniting the sexual flame, again, postpartum, is one of those less talked about things. It's been shown that sexual function declines during pregnancy and doesn't return to its baseline levels during the postpartum period. Perhaps knowing more, before jumping in deep, can help prepare the body and mind for sex and connection post baby.
If your perineum is just coming off the ice, you might want to read on.
Preparing to have sex, postpartum?
Ready to start playing around postpartum, but unsure how it's all faring down there? You're not alone. Sex isn't routinely discussed in postpartum checkups, which tend to focus on clinical issues like contraception, with “advice on restarting postpartum sex mainly found in agony aunt pages rather than in the medical literature." And while many try their hand at sex 6 weeks postpartum, problems with sex have been reported by nearly half of the women in a postpartum sex study, over the course of the next year.
Why is postpartum sex uncomfortable?
With 83% of women experiencing sexual problems postpartum, let's unpack the common causes of all the pain.
- Concerns around body image
- Fluctuating hormones
- Maternal exhaustion
- Low libido
- Postpartum pain and discomfort
- Relationship tensions
- Urinary issues
- Birth trauma
- Postpartum Depression
Is sexual pain postpartum normal?
Excruciating sex? Don’t really feel in the mood? Recent studies reveal 1 in 4 postpartum women still say ouch when having sex a year and a half after having a baby, but only 15% report the pain to their doctors. Despite the significant impact on life, women's sexual function after delivery is often neglected by health-care professionals, and Dr Aviva Romm reminds us “painful sex might just be normal for you… is not something your doctor should say to you ever”. Is sexual pain postpartum common- yes. Is it normal- no.
I have no libido after having a baby
You are not alone. During postpartum, it’s very common to feel well - less like yourself. Specialist gynaecologist Pav Nanayakkara says clients who have low sexual desire after having babies can feel alone in their experience, but it's common for an interest in sex to take months, even years, to return.
Vaginismus and it's affect on sexual pleasure
Vaginismus - the sexy name for a condition which causes involuntary tightening of the vagina muscles- and a leading cause of really painful sex, can impact sexual desire and function. Brought on for some by vaginal trauma (birth), the strong locking of muscles make any penetrative attempts extremely painful, and sex just impossible. Most people don’t know about the condition, many women don’t talk about the pain, doctors aren’t routinely looking for it, or can just dismiss the symptoms as normal.
How can a prolapse affect my sex drive?
This bulging, or falling out of one or more of the pelvic organs, including the bladder, uterus, or bowel commonly occurs when there is a weakness in the pelvic floor, which can happen during and after childbirth. When a prolapse is to occur, it’s super common to lose all drive when it comes to sex.
Can hormonal changes impact my sex life postpartum?
Just as hormones impact the way we feel during our menstrual cycle and puberty, the hormonal drop after giving birth is the biggest of them all. It's the most sudden hormonal change, in the shortest amount of time, that any human-being will experience. And… it can send the body into a state of hormonal exhaustion. As oestrogen levels plummet, this can result in major vaginal dryness, painful sex, and low libido.
Breastfeeding and libido
During the breastfeeding period, many women experience a decrease in sexual desire and drive. After giving birth, the body starts to produce a larger amount of oxytocin and prolactin, and a smaller amount of oestrogen (as we mentioned earlier) and progesterone. This hormonal shift helps to prepare the body for breastfeeding, but can also greatly decrease your sex drive.
How can I help improve libido postpartum?
No matter what your relationship with sex was like prior to pregnancy, studies indicate that women develop lower levels of sexual pleasure and emotional satisfaction after giving birth. Changes in sexual desire and comfort may be part of the postpartum course.
Take it slow. There’s no need to immediately jump back into your regular sexual routine after giving birth. Discussing how you feel with your partner can help them to understand what your body is going through. Creating a space for open communication will allow you to both appreciate how you’re feeling within your body, and provide you with the necessary time and space for you to ease back into sex – when the time is right for you.
Treat vaginal dryness. The authority on all things intimate care- Lovers- recommends:
- Topically with intimate pH balanced and oestrogen boosted moisturisers, which can help restore lost moisture, particularly relevant for postpartum oestrogen drops.
- Minimising exposure to irritating toxins, soaps and other endocrine- disrupting chemicals.
- Including healthy fats and dark leafy greens in our diet, which helps with circulation and blood flow.
Discuss any issues with a health professional you trust. There may be more to your sexual story. Include a qualified sexologist in your exploration. Sexologists offer a safe space to discuss postpartum sexual experiences and challenges, and provide guidance and support on how best to approach sex postpartum. They can also provide emotional support, while you navigate the new area (or should we say era) of your sex life.
Above all, approach the prospect of sexual pleasure by respecting and listening to your body.