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Motherhood, Pleasure and Wellbeing

This piece first appeared in Byrdie.


I remember laying out in the sun as a teenager, lemon in my hair, thumbing through magazines—blissfully unaware these quiet, uninterrupted hours would one day be so rare. Now, deep in the throes of juggling motherhood and a career, my memory savors those quiet and fully-present moments like never before.

One thing nearly all mothers have in common right now is stress and a lack of time for ourselves. Almost every conversation I have with other moms centers on how we are "surviving," and what's helping us "get through the day"—not language you would associate with a thriving sense of wellbeing.

As we approach yet another Mother’s Day, celebrating both the seen and unseen labor mothers pour into their families and society at large—and gift flowers, cards, dinners, jewelry, or, gasp, time alone—it feels right to suggest we break the mold a bit. Let's think about what moms really need more of, which in my opinion can be summed up in one word: pleasure.

When we talk about mothers and pleasure, we have to talk about why that lack exists in the first place. There is something insidious about the unconscious expectations of mothering and the unpaid labor of "women’s work" (work historically done by women—especially domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning, and child rearing). So much of this work is the anticipation of needs. Mothers can tell when children are sleepy, hungry, cranky, and when they are feeling sick. Mothers are also deeply in tune with our partners. 

This deep emotional awareness trains us to constantly scan our environments and help regulate. This can be a superpower, but it’s not sustainable without the time and space needed to experience ourselves as independent minds, bodies, and souls.

To understand the true value of pleasure, we first have to understand the primary role of the nervous system, and how it shapes our entire perception of the world. Our nervous system regulation—the fluctuations we experience beyond chronic states of upregulation (fight or flight) and chronic states of downregulation (when we freeze)—is directly tied to how we show up as parents.

The core idea of "self care" is taking time to nourish ourselves so our nervous systems are more resourced. But, we often miss the point when we talk about, and implement, "self-care" as it can act more like a bandage than an ongoing, regenerative relationship with the self. This is why we need pleasure: a free, accessible, and deeply restorative antidote to chronic stress. 

While pleasure is similar to mindfulness, it brings you into the present moment, it comes with the bonus of feeling extra-good. When you take it one step further and talk about sexual pleasure, which is powerful, primal, essential, regenerative, and helps us remember who we are—that's where things really get fun. When you have a baby, or if you have young children, the fundamentals of survival take precedence. And pleasure is often relegated to the realms of "when there is time"— and there is almost never enough time.

At some point, motherhood became decoupled from the sexual and the sensual, even though sex is often the act of creation itself. The clothes and the marketing sold to us as mothers makes it clear the world no longer wants to see or celebrate mothers as sexual beings. So please quickly put your milky breast away, tuck your tummy in, get back into your pre-baby shape, and don’t even think about wearing that thong bikini or crop top.

Studies show sexual pleasure and arousal impact the neurochemicals we produce, increasing the production of coveted, feel-good biological cocktails like dopamine and oxytocin. The data connects it to enhanced moods, better immune function, better sleep, reduced levels of cortisol (the stress hormone that our body produces), and ultimately an improved sense of wellbeing.

There are millions of reasons why pleasure is the antidote to stress for all. And it is my hope that with all the love, grace, and comfort mothers bring us, we can also allow them to shake off the societal concepts and feel sexually empowered to seek out pleasure. Grant mothers permission to stay connected to their bodies and to feel the primal nature of being—our society desperately needs this reminder.


Kiana Reeves is a somatic sex educator, doula, pelvic care practitioner and Chief Education Officer at Foria.

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