In 2017, the Journal of Sex Research examined the impact of pregnancy and childbirth on women’s sexual health from 56 different studies dating back to 1996. Their findings concluded that after eight weeks, most couples resume vaginal intercourse, but pre-pregnancy frequency does not occur on average until closer to 12 weeks post-childbirth. Even so, plenty of women are nowhere near ready to have sex after a few short months. Some of the most obvious reasons sex after birth is impacted include decreased libido, soreness, and body image issues.
Sex After Birth
But, what doctors don’t tell you, is that in addition to experiencing vaginal soreness, women may also experience nipple soreness due to breastfeeding. Decreased sex drive may be hormonal but it can also have a lot to do with partner communication. And while most people associate body image with one’s shape or size, some women have trouble adjusting to the new color of their nipples or labia. Like most things regarding women’s sexual health, postpregnancy sex is not one size fits all. Here, we spoke with six women about how their sex lives changed—for worse or better—after giving birth.
Katie, age 35
“I developed postnatal anxiety after having my child four years ago. It wasn’t properly diagnosed and got worse rather than better for the first couple of years. I found it really hard to enjoy sex or climax because I was basically anxious all the time. Unless the baby was out of the house being looked after somewhere else, I just couldn’t relax. Weirdly though, physically, I could orgasm a lot easier than before I had a baby; if I could get in the right frame of mind, I could actually reach orgasm much faster than I used to. So, since I’ve had my anxiety treated, sex has actually been better than ever.”
It’s difficult if you rely on nipple stimulation to be aroused while you’re still breastfeeding. And like many women, I kept lactating long after I’d stopped breastfeeding. I remember reading about someone else asking their doctor about this saying: ‘When I squeeze my nipples, milk still comes out, and the male Doctor had said: ‘Stop squeezing your nipples.’ Which is funny until you think about how, if a man went to a doctor and said there was a problem when they masturbated, a doctor would never say: ‘Well, stop touching your dick!’
Alicia, age 37
“I’m 15 weeks postpartum. This is my 4th living little one, my first and only with my partner. My previous relationships were very abusive and that definitely affected recovery including my sex life. I have a rather high sex drive, so you can imagine how being abused and cheated on during pregnancy and postpartum caused some issues down the line.
With this pregnancy and postpartum, things have been very different, night and day. Our sex life during my pregnancy was incredible and intense physically for as long as we were OK to have sex, medically. As Taran was a preemie and my partner and I were apart for most of [my time in the hospital with him], sex wasn’t really something we could do often. We did make love only a week and a half after he was born and it was a bit sore but still felt good.
Since then we have sex about 2-3 times a week, which is still about average for us. Physically I’m still really sensitive so it doesn’t last long. It can be hard to find time as we are both usually very tired, but when we do, I find I sleep much better. One drawback has been my breasts. I’m breastfeeding Taran. Hence my nipples are extremely sensitive almost to the point of pain sometimes. And while I enjoy a little bit of pain, it’s too much at the moment.”
JM Green, 42
“I had a water birth with some first-degree tears when I was 31. My baby was 8 lbs and it was a natural birth so I’m not sure first degree tears are that uncommon. The stitches and healing seemed to go fine except sex remained very painful for months afterward. It really affected my marriage and libido. I was afraid it would hurt and my husband was afraid to hurt me. Ultimately, I saw an OB-GYN. I had bad scar tissue that was causing pain. The doctor prescribed an ointment and gradually things got back to normal, but it took several months. It eventually healed and sex became enjoyable again but it took the better part of a year. It was awful.”
“My body image definitely did not improve after having a baby. I don’t feel attractive in general, and usually, I’m not, because I’m busy taking care of our two-year-old daughter. Though my husband still desires me, he doesn’t as much as before because I have zero confidence and, quite frankly, sometimes I just look like shit. But I’m also just so fucking exhausted.
The biggest baby-related reason our sex life was affected was because I felt resentment and anger towards my husband as a father. Whenever I felt that he did something really wrong as a parent, it made me respect him less and also be less attracted to him. Anger over how my daughter is cared for is a new type of feeling that I’ve never experienced. I’ve also noticed my libido is lower in general since I’ve had a baby.
My nipple color changed and my inner labia has darkened a bit, to the point where I don’t like it anymore. I’m a little self-conscious about my vagina. I look at it in the mirror from time to time and get sad when I think about how it used to be. So for a while, even when I was in the mood—as rare as that occurrence is—I kept worrying about how my grip feels to my husband, even though he had nothing but praise.
I got my tubes tied in June of this year, so I’m good now, but I couldn’t fully enjoy sex because my daughter had not been planned, and so I was always thinking ‘What if I this happens again?’ There was always that threat of getting pregnant again, which kept me from being able to fully let go.”
Jessica Claire Haney, age 46
“It was hard for me to understand how anyone could possibly be interested in sex again within a few months [of giving birth]. I didn’t have a lot of physical issues as in tears or anything but I think the hormonal changes were significant, not just from the birth but also because I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis which is usually in check, but after both pregnancies went a little further afield. I didn’t have to take medication as I sought out complementary and alternative care but I’m sure that the thyroid issues contributed to lack of libido and probably also physically just not priming me for sex.
Even after I felt physically OK to have sex and had something of a libido, I was struggling so hard just to be a parent. My partner’s failure to understand the magnitude of that for me and then, especially after my second child, to understand the extent of my fatigue and what we would later learn was Lyme disease, made me less and less interested in intimacy.”
Elyse Fox, age 29
“When I’m asked questions about my sex life I think.. ‘what sex life?’ It’s really bizarre that was once a wondrous treat becomes a chore, and not a chore like doing laundry but a chore you can’t fathom completing like emptying a river by hand. I felt guilty at first, I felt bad for my partner for being cut off cold-turkey from something that brought us so close together and the ultimate reward, it helped us bring life into this world. It took a lot of nights of inward reflection to realize that he will be just fine, my body just went through the most traumatic experience and not only do I need time to physically heal but mentally as well. Sex should always be an enjoyable activity and not forced. I’ve become celibate until the timing feels right again.”