Sex after childbirth

Timaree answers your questions about sex, love and relationships

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Sex advice shouldn’t be syndicated. We wanted a local feel to ours so we’ve enlisted the sound advice of resident sex professor Timaree Schmit. Have a question about your love life that needs answers? Email her at asktimaree@philadelphiaweekly.com. | Image: Redlite photos

“I wish it was talked about more,” says new mom Gabby. 

“You get warned about lots while pregnant, but commentary on your sex life after birth boils down to ‘it’ll hurt the first few times’ and ‘keep a towel nearby in case you leak.’

“It’s like I’ve gone through a metamorphosis and have to relearn who I am,” says the 36-year-old Philly resident, saying that not only does her body feel different – like it needs to be “retrained,” but on an emotional level. 

She says she’s “more risk averse, less impulsive. Which has broad life implications but also impacts my perceptions of sex.” Gabby says she used to be comfortable taking sexy pictures and posting them online, but now she’s hesitant and even shy about looking at her friends’ sexy content. “And the porn that used to turn me on doesn’t anymore.”

“Pregnancy was incredibly difficult on my sex life,” she says. 

“I thought I was supposed to feel radiant and “the sexiest I’ve ever felt. Instead, my body didn’t feel like my own and I stopped recognizing myself in the mirror.” 

She adds that postpartum it’s better, “but still not 100 percent there. The shape of my body is different,” Gabby says, describing changes to her hips, rib cage, stomach and vagina. 

“I have to relearn what turns me on and what feels good.” 

She says pelvic physical therapy is helpful, but it was something she only heard about from a friend, that no doctor or midwife had mentioned it. 

“It’s surprising how little the doctors focus on the mother after birth,” she says. 

Gabby is far from alone in having her body and sexuality dramatically impacted by pregnancy and  childbirth. I put out a call on social media for experiences and was overwhelmed by a deluge of replies. It was clear that it was a huge topic and something that very few folks had the opportunity to discuss freely. Here are a few of the MANY responses, heavily edited for brevity. 

AG, 34:  I can totally see how people get pregnant before being cleared to have sex and end up with kids 11 months apart. The hormones, bonding and watching my husband love on our baby is such an aphrodisiac. Even after having had an unplanned c-section I just wanted him all the time because he was such a great supportive partner and an amazing father. He literally had to keep reminding me that we weren’t cleared to have sex. Four months later, my drive is still higher than what it was going into pregnancy and I want to have another baby already. Hormones really are something!

Mother of 3: Between nursing and my husband’s “accidental” biting, my brain ceased recognizing feeling in my nipples. It wasn’t until I left him and dated someone else that the sensation returned. Freaky. Also, I was embarrassed by my saggy lower abdomen until a partner specifically stroked it and complimented me on having a body that tells a wonderfully human story. PS: I’m so fucking glad to have my tits back!

Jenna, 35: When I was pregnant, I felt so confident in my body – for the first time in a long time.  You feel like you have some sort of universe-ordained permission to let that big round belly hang out because you’re growing a human being in there. My husband loved how I looked pregnant. Seeing me that way made him feel very virile and the sex was fantastic. With my first pregnancy and birth experience, I went full-on mother goddess.

Pregnancy had me feeling like a teenage boy. Sex multiple times a day, either with my partner or myself, especially during the second trimester and somewhat into the third.” 

However, 29 1/2 hours of labor with an 8 lb. 10.5 oz. baby whose head was in the 96th percentile for circumference, and the fact that my water never broke and he was a caul birth, means my pelvic floor went through a lot. It wasn’t clean and it wasn’t pretty. The tearing and the scar tissue caused me to have pretty serious pain when we tried to have sex, FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR. My husband was incredibly patient and gentle. We took things slowly, and we basically had to stick to missionary or spooning but even then, sometimes the pain was so bad, I had to tearfully ask him to stop.

My body definitely changed after pregnancy/birth. While I had a new appreciation for it, and I was proud of what it had done, I was shaped differently. I’m pregnant again, this time at 16 weeks. I’m hopeful that it brings me back in touch with my body again, and that I’ll feel that awe, power and appreciation I felt the first time. Maybe I’ll find some grace, peace and forgiveness for it, too.

Emma: Pregnancy had me feeling like a teenage boy. Sex multiple times a day, either with my partner or myself, especially during the second trimester and somewhat into the third. Probably had sex eight weeks after birth…and it sucked and was painful. I went to pelvic floor PT for five months to help with scar tissue from the tearing and just abdominal tightness. Since recovering and healing, positions that used to feel good now don’t and positions that I never cared for are now awesome!

Holly, 39: I have a 13-year-old son. Before being pregnant, I would consider myself sexually active. After having him, I would say it took about four months before I was interested in having sex again. Within a year after having him, my sex drive has gone to basically zero. I did talk to my doctor. He told me it was just due to having a young child and that it was normal and would go away in time. Well, here we are, years later, and my sex drive is still basically zero. 

Kay: Pregnancy after the first trimester was amazing! My hormones were pumping and I couldn’t get enough. Toward the end of my third trimester, I became a squirter. Each time I went to L&D thinking my water had broken, only to be told I must have peed. I didn’t. 

After pregnancy, sex was difficult. I had torn and had stitches…my husband was used to my high libido and I was stressed because I had to stop working for six weeks – so money was tight. Then I thought breastfeeding was so “natural,” but I was struggling. Physically, I felt different, but mentally, I was different, too. Compartmentalizing is amazing, but at a certain time it takes too much energy to open up the right suitcase to enjoy your sexuality. 

Tiel: My coming out story happened when I was pregnant the first time. The hormone surges made me really take a look at exactly how attracted I was to all the genders and be honest with myself for the first time. Like honest enough to come out to my family.

Jessy, 39: The first half of my pregnancy sucked and it affected my sex drive because I just felt like shit almost all of the time. Once that let up, I because incredibly horny and needed sex at least daily. I was growing a human and felt empowered, radiant, etc. 

Once the baby was born, I wasn’t allowed to have sex for six weeks, which was honestly a relief. I didn’t put pressure on myself to try to engage sexually because the doctor had said so, and I was so tired and working to nurse and care for an infant, as well as recover from surgery. Slowly, I got my libido back. 

As a parent, I’m pretty much tired all of the time. By evening, I’m often too exhausted to have sex. Daytime sex is much more exciting these days (though I’ve always been a fan). I nursed for 18 months. The first months were painful on my breasts and especially on nipples, so what was once a super pleasurable area became a no-touch zone. Watching porn where there was any nipple play was an immediate turn off during that time because I associated breasts with my son. 

Ann, 33: One thing that I never anticipated is vaginal tenderness after a C-section delivery. Apparently it has nothing to do with the way you deliver and everything to do with hormone changes while breastfeeding. I had no idea! After recovering a bit, I went to my doctor for an IUD insertion and the nurse was impressed I didn’t flinch when it was inserted. I didn’t feel that at all, but when she inserted the speculum I cringed hard. I was shocked and confused. It still takes a lot longer to warm up before sex since I’m still breastfeeding. 

Anakis: Having a change in sexual habits throughout pregnancy and postpartum isn’t unique, but being polyamorous with two male partners and being involved in the BDSM/kink community is a little less than typical. Once I became pregnant, I decided to set up new boundaries, not wanting to cause my body any unnecessary harm, and therefore dropping a lot of the BDSM side of my relationship. The shift in pace, along with the anxieties of having sex while pregnant, slowed our sexual relationship down significantly, but we managed to find intimacy and connection in other ways. 

Once the baby was born, I wasn’t allowed to have sex for six weeks, which was honestly a relief. I didn’t put pressure on myself to try to engage sexually because the doctor had said so, and I was so tired and working to nurse and care for an infant, as well as recover from surgery.”

Early postpartum intimacy felt like losing my virginity again, a bit scary, but very exciting. With my sexual primary, we would do whatever we could get away with leading up to intercourse until I was cleared by my doctor to do whatever I was comfortable with. My breasts have grown much more sensitive and I found nipple stimulation much more pleasurable while pregnant and postpartum. 

It was very reassuring knowing that I was loved and seen as beautiful even when I felt unrecognizable compared to my pre-motherhood body. Overall, I am still making peace with the body motherhood has given me. It took awhile for me to stop mourning my pre-pregnancy shape, and some days I still miss it. Even if my breasts may never be as round and perky as they once were, they are able to perform the miracle of feeding my daughter. My stomach may never look the same but why should it? My body did something so complicated and complex, it’s difficult to fully comprehend. Motherhood really is a superpower, so I try my best to be patient with myself and embrace the “mom-bod” I have earned.

Hillary: As a fat woman, I’ve struggled with body image my entire life. This, as one might imagine, played a role in how I felt about my body during sex and while pregnant. I think, oftentimes, it was hard to feel “in the moment” for a lot of things because I was so worried about how I looked. Pregnancy as a fat woman was difficult because of physicians, not even myself. However, I had an incredibly easy pregnancy. I started to feel frustrated with the lack of support and representation of fat pregnant bodies in the media, so I started taking photos of myself. And it actually became this empowering thing, loving the amazing things my body was doing, how capable and strong it is. Sixteen hours of labor, one 8 lb. baby later, I felt strange in this new body all over again. I struggled with feeling sexy, sexual, and even just an identity beyond being a walking milk machine for a tiny baby. I found a creative outlet in makeup and began to find passions again and also just to focus on what my body had accomplished.

Kristy: Having a traumatic birthing experience, hemorrhage, made me furious about how we treat and talk (or not talk) about women’s health during and after pregnancy. This anger fueled me to speak out more, which has led to me feeling more empowered, and I think this played a huge part in how I expect to be treated now. I refuse to allow this beautiful, though slightly broken, body to be objectified or unappreciated. After giving birth, I know the true strength of a woman, and I appreciate it more.

Tea: I have been extremely lucky, nothing much changed in my body because of the two pregnancies and childbirths. I didn’t gain any weight, I didn’t get any stretch marks and I recovered really quickly from both. My sex drive has always been very high, and this never changed. Actually now I feel more sexual than ever, and we are trying more new things than ever before (such as group sex with other people).

With kids, I care even less what other people think about me and this has been very good for my sexuality as well. I did get some permanent problems with pooping as I had to be cut in both childbirths, but this is something that no one else can notice unless I tell them.

Beth, 47: After my second child was born, my sex drive was zero. I felt like no one warned me that having children would be the greatest challenge to my relationship, sense of self and stamina. I felt washed up. Things improved once the kids got a little older. My husband and I started working out, hanging out and having more fun. Thankfully, the embers were fanned into a flame and after 18 years with the same partner, we have more fun now than ever.  

Have a question for Timaree? Send an email to asktimaree@philadelphiaweekly.com.

  • Timaree Schmit Headshot

    Timaree Schmit is basically an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but in the shape of a person. She has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and years of experience in community organizing, performance art, and finding the extra weird pockets of Philly.