Written by Kiana Reeves, Somatic Sex Educator, Full Spectrum Doula, and Foria's Chief Education Officer
In the first blog in this series, Sex After Baby Part 1, we covered many of the ways that healing after birth, during the postpartum period, and in the first few years of parenthood can get in the way of your sex life.
In this blog, we wanted to give you some in-depth practices to bring into your bedroom, solo or with your partner, so that you can still relish the sensuous nature of your body, and be nourished by the connection and pleasure that you can access through sexual intimacy.
Back to basics: nurturing the self
What does nourishment – in body and mind – have to do with sex? Everything. To put it in a nutshell, your body won’t prioritize your libido, or your availability for sexual connection, unless your fundamental biological needs are met and you feel safe and well-resourced, through your own efforts and those of your partner. (There is nothing hotter than feeling your needs fully honored by someone who loves you – even if they’re you.)
Practices for nurturing your sensual connection with yourself
Sleep as a pillar of sanity. Without quality sleep we all lose our internal balance and sense of wellbeing. With a newborn (and even young children) it’s highly likely that you’ll be getting much less sleep than you’re used to, or at least getting sleep at different times during the night and day.
With this change in your sleep rhythm, you can anticipate a change in your mood and energy levels. There’s an age-old saying of midwives everywhere – when the baby sleeps, you sleep. These wise words honor the long haul of bringing a newborn into the world and caring for them 24/7. Sleep not only impacts mood and energy; it will also impact your sex drive downstream. When you’re tired, your libido naturally goes on the backburner while your body refills its stores.
Finding ways to improve the quality of your sleep when you do get it might make all the difference. Get a sound machine, darken the windows, take every nap opportunity you can, don’t scroll on your phone, try to go to bed early, work out an agreement with your partner or your support people to take the baby in the early hours of the morning so you can sleep in, or trade times with your partner so you’re both getting the rest you need. Think of this as a deep restorative practice that will fuel your reserves for years to come.
Food as a pillar of energy and wellbeing. Just like sleep is an essential building block of wellbeing, and therefore your sex drive – so is food. When you have grown, birthed, fed, and cared for a small human, all with the resources of your own body, you can anticipate that your nutrient needs will be quite different. Quality fats, proteins, and carbs are your best friend – especially if you’re breastfeeding – to help you with stress levels, blood sugar balance, hormones, and, yes, your sex drive. When your body is nourished and at ease, your libido is more likely to come out of hiding.
There is a trickle-down effect when you’re well-nourished, impacting everything from your energy levels to your hormone production. And stress is the ultimate sex-drive dampener.
A note on breastfeeding. Prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production, also tends to dial down your sex drive, reducing estrogen and encouraging your body not to make any more babies right away. While this serves a biological function, it can also cause vaginal dryness and low libido. Using a clean lube to support your comfort is essential.
Pleasure is nourishment
Culturally, prioritizing pleasure is not something many of us have been taught, and when we’re tired and distributing lots of energy, sometimes the last thing on our minds is connecting with ourselves or our partner. That’s where making pleasure a regular practice can come in handy.
When you experience the idea of sex and connection as a drain on your energy, it makes sense that not engaging it is the right move. It’s only when we make time for pleasure and connection that we may realize it’s quite the opposite. Pleasure is a restorative force for our hearts, minds, and bodies.
Start with time for yourself.
Our favorite tools to for new birthing parents to unwind and get into your bodies:
Bathing and using warmth as a tool to stimulate circulation and relaxation. Sometimes you just need to be alone and relax in order to get in the mood. You’re giving a lot, so taking moments like these will deeply nourish your capacity to receive, and also to connect with your partner.
Dancing. If you’re physically able to, a good playlist of your favorite music and feeling your hips swing to the rhythm can get you into your body better than anything else. Moving your body in a way that feels good is not only an amazing practice for embodiment, bringing you right into your physical experience, it also brings joy and helps you move emotion – which can help you open up to the possibility of more pleasure.
Masturbation - self-pleasure is an amazing way to activate your libido, connect with your body, and remember how good it feels to be touched in a sexually intimate way. Plus, as your body changes and heals after birth it is a great way to get to know yourself again, giving you time to relearn your own landscape.
Don’t feel like masturbating? One of our favorite tools to work with (especially when you feel like you have no libido) is tapping into responsive desire with either visual and audio cues. This can help start getting your juices flowing - an erotic audio book, bottle of lube, or your favorite sensual movie might do the trick.
Once you feel like you have a good handle on how to connect with yourself, feed yourself, and sleep, you might feel ready to explore deepening your pleasure with a partner. Here are some suggestions.
Practices for nurturing your intimate and sexual connection with your partner
Non-sexual touch. One of the most important ways you can connect with your partner and understand their needs is through non-sexual touch. A lot of new parents have the experience of feeling “touched out”, so connecting through loving touch that feels giving and nourishing, instead of touching from a place of serving a sexual need, will go a really long way.
This can look like giving or receiving a massage, hugging or cuddling without expectation that it will go any further, and even holding hands. This type of touch should feel comforting to you both, and set your mind and body at ease - without any expectation. This gives your bodies a chance to co-regulate and feel connected, without the added pressure that “things need to go further” – which can make sex start to feel like a chore.
Give them permission to masturbate as much as they need. We all have sexual needs, and in general, we should be responsible for meeting our own needs, and then coming to our partner with our desire – not with the expectation that they have to be ready when we are, or fulfill our needs.
That said, the postpartum period is often a very sensitive time to find the space and energy to connect sexually, so giving your partner the full permission they need to masturbate and explore sexual pleasure with themselves is a gift. If they know you won’t respond negatively if they watch porn, or read erotica, or spend some extra time in the bathroom or bed to care for themselves in this way, it is likely that there will be less pressure on both of you – and therefore you get to connect with each other based solely on your desire for each other, which is always way sexier.
OMing. - Receiving without reciprocating is not always easy. Orgasmic meditation, a practice that is fully focused on pleasure and the clitoris, is structured specifically so that it’s not reciprocal. This is simply training our bodies to be able to receive more – more pleasure, more attention, more touch.
At a basic level, OMing is the practice of 15 minutes of clitoral stroking. The receiver sets up a comfy spot, called a nest, and lies with their legs open, ready to receive touch. The “stroker” focuses all of their attention in the tip of their index finger, and for 15 minutes pays attention only to softly stroking the upper left quadrant of the clitoris, while being guided by their partner if they want more or less pressure and what area feels best when stroked.
While this may sound a bit prescriptive, many people report that this practice taught them to receive pleasure in a much deeper way. Don’t get us wrong, your partner’s pleasure is important, but we’re often in the habit of giving and receiving at the same time. To be able to sit in the moment and take in pleasure without having to give can be a huge gift, and especially for new parents, a huge relief.
Take turns giving each other pleasure. Not all intimacy has to lead to penetrative sex. in fact, it may take some time before you feel ready for penetrative sex after having a baby. The body changes. Everything can feel different. Playing with the idea of giving and receiving pleasure at different times can really nourish your intimate connection, and create more room for creativity.
What if you came up with an agreement that one night a week, you were in charge of bringing some magic and pleasure to your partner, and one night a week they focused solely on you? The possibilities are endless. You could get creative and bring in some of the earlier solo practices we mentioned, like dancing or self-pleasuring, but this time with your partner watching. It can be incredibly erotic to experience each other in new ways like this.
This can also be an invitation for both of you to ask for what you are wanting more of. For example, if your partner wants more oral sex and you want to be gently yet passionately kissed for half an hour with nothing else, it can create so much room for play and connection to share those needs with each other. Think of this as the ultimate gift you can give your partner – nourishment through sharing your love for them via pleasure.
Communicating your true needs in the moment. Yes, sometimes it’s capital-A Awkward. But this level of vulnerability will help your partner truly understand what you are going through and what you are available for, and you for them.
Something as simple as “baby, I would love to connect with you but I’m just not feeling up for penetration right now. Would it be ok if we spent the next hour just kissing and touching each other? I feel good about having your hands on my body, I just don’t feel ready for penetration.”
Or, “I can imagine it would feel really good for both of us to feel connected intimately right now, but my body just doesn’t feel ready for sexual stimulation yet. Does it sound good to you to lie naked together and feel each other’s bodies? I would love to touch you, I am just not open to being touched quite yet.”
Karezza - If you’re ready for penetrative sex but know you need to go slow, and with no goal of orgasm, Karezza might just be your cup of tea. Inspired by the Italian word meaning caress, Karezza is a practice of gentle, slow, and relaxing sex that focuses on connection – not orgasm. For anyone re-entering the territory of penetrative sex after baby, there are some great takeaways from this practice that we highly recommend. Take your time, stay connected at each moment to each other and to what feels good, and don’t have the goal of climax in mind for either of you.
Where to start if I have no libido?
Understand that not all sex drives show up spontaneously – especially after baby. Yours just might need a little support through your senses. If we experience mental arousal first, then physical – that’s spontaneous desire. If we need to experience physical arousal first, before our mental engine starts revving – that’s called responsive desire. When we’re stimulated via our senses, our minds follow suit. If you’re in a responsive-desire space, try exploring tastes, smells, and visual and auditory stimuli that strike you as sexy, be patient, and let your libido respond.
Where to start if I have sexual pain?
Pregnancy and childbirth, whether by vaginal delivery or C-section, have a profound impact on our bodies. Recovery can take longer than we think it will, and even after our doctor gives us the all-clear, we might still experience pain during sex. Causes can include scar tissue, pelvic floor dysfunction, lack of lubrication – and even lack of practice.
Our pelvic floor health has dramatic ramifications for our physical experience. If this dense hammock of muscle is either too tense or lacking in tone, it may affect a lot more than just our sexual pleasure – though that is certainly enough reason to take care of ourselves! We recommend working with a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist, Sexological Bodyworker, or a Holistic Pelvic Care provider. They’ll provide you with exercises and guidance to aid your recovery.
Where do I start if my partner and I have different needs? How do I connect with them, while honoring my own needs?
A lot of new birthing parents feel rushed back into sex. The common 6-week time frame might not seem long enough when you have actually gone through the experience of pushing a baby through your vagina, or are recovering from the intense abdominal surgery that is a c-section.
The pressure from partners or the okay from medical professionals can sometimes feel like they contradict our own timeline for healing. The good news is there are many ways to connect that don’t involve penetration, sex, or even climax, that still support intimacy and connection in a way where you can both get your needs met, without feeling like sex is a just another responsibility to add to your crowded new-parent plate.
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