Getting sexual mojo back: monogamous female edition
May 6, 2011 10:35 AM   Subscribe

I need inspiration for rekindling my dormant sexuality, now that motherhood is underway.

I look good; I feel fine; everything is operational. But my head isn't in it. I am drawing blanks. I can't think of any fantasies. I would love to channel my inner _________, but I have no idea who that might be.

I'm late 30's, happily married, happy in general. But I feel like I have no vision for what (female) sexuality can be in this context. I did my experimenting. I found love. We explored far and wide within our relationship. Then we engaged with fertility and pregnancy and breastfeeding. And now I'm not sure what's next. And because I feel so unconnected to sexuality in general, when we try to get back into it, my mind wanders and I start feeling empty inside or overly tearful, even as earworms of children's songs play on a loop inside my head.

Mostly I'm looking for recommendations of things to read -- fiction, essays -- that might prove inspirational. Or if you've been through this and know what mental shift I need to make to get back in gear, I'm all ears.
posted by misoramen to Human Relations (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
How long has it been since you gave birth? Are you still breastfeeding? It can take a very long time for hormones to settle back into anything resembling normal, but my understanding is that for almost everyone, they eventually do.
posted by decathecting at 10:49 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I looked at your earlier question, are you still worried about your child's development? That could put a damper on all kinds of feelings. Are you a full-time at-home parent? Whether you are or not do you have any time to yourself? The change in identity when one becomes a parent can be very confusing and powerful. Are you breastfeeding? If you are it can still be affecting your hormones.
posted by mareli at 11:04 AM on May 6, 2011

Thank you, already, for your insights! The child is 2, nurses at naptime and bedtime only. I'm the primary caregiver, and I don't get much alone time. But I could certainly read things to get my head better connected. Somehow I got Entertainment Weekly read this week. I'm hoping there's some theory out there about women's sexuality with children in the mix.
posted by misoramen at 11:12 AM on May 6, 2011

"I'm hoping there's some theory out there about women's sexuality with children in the mix."

The theory is: For most women, until you stop breastfeeding, your hormones are not super-friendly to sexytime.

It is different once you have children, yes. But what's probably keeping you in this space where you're unconnected and can't get turned on isn't any defect in your sexuality or any huge change because you had children; it's more than likely the breastfeeding hormones. You don't need a mental shift; you need to recognize it's probably hormonal and therefore you have a few options that I can see:

1) You can certainly call your ob/gyn or your local nursing center/support group and see if they have any advice, as they are more qualified than us internet people.

2) You can stop breastfeeding, give it three months to settle down before you panic about anything, and return to sexytime, which will probably be shockingly normal and not require any mental shifting. As the hormones clear your system you will probably feel like it again.

3) You can wait it out until you're ready to wean and find ways to be intimate with your partner that don't require your head to be in the game or you to be turned on.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:19 AM on May 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthing that the breastfeeding hormones are at play, even if you're not boobin' it up 24/7.

Beyond the hormone factor, I think that there is a physical issue in that you don't really own your body when you're breastfeeding. It is there for a "higher purpose" and I know that I was being manhandled so much by baby/toddler that any sort of sexual touch was just... ugh.

I also wouldn't underestimate how draining breastfeeding is. I was tired all the time when breastfeeding a toddler.
posted by k8t at 11:31 AM on May 6, 2011

Adding to what others have said: My wife is currently nursing our near-3-month old. She wants to have lots of sex and gets excited about it, but she can't do it once it comes down to it. So her mind and her body are in different places.

She says exactly the same things the OP has said: Can't get children's songs out of her head; wondering if we have enough of certain types of clothes.

Yet she wants to do it, so she is confused. She understands all the technical reasons for why she is feeling the way she feels, but she can't get beyond them when her emotions take over.

The nursing is certainly a big hormonal issue, but your body did also give birth, for cryin' out loud! :) Doesn't it take something like two or three years for a woman's body to "totally recover" from giving birth?
posted by TinWhistle at 11:52 AM on May 6, 2011

I've thought-out-loud about similar elsewhere on AskMeFi recently (here); I think in society in general we don't really have "being a mother" presented to us as a context inclusive of a woman's sexuality (except the MILF/cougar "fetish", which I feel is often more derogatory than it is celebratory of older women's or mothers' sexuality).

I mean, yes, hormonal changes almost certainly play into it; it's well-known that losing touch with your libido after having a baby (and feeling "touched out", etc.) is common, if disconcerting. But I think even past the hormonal thing is just trying to envision yourself as a sexual being AND a mother, together, and I think that's often hard to do because where is the example? We don't (both men and women) think of our mothers as sexual beings, usually (or really want to, amirite?), and that's right there our biggest and earliest example of motherhood. Also once you have kids it's really most often presented as - that the mother is more devoted to the kids than her husband, that the husband has to go without sex or beg for sexual relations all the time, that the mother is too busy/too resentful of her husband to want to have sex - I mean it's a humor trope that's everywhere. You may agree or disagree with it, but it does subconsciously surround us anyway.

The women's magazines that push being "hot and sexy", like Cosmo, definitely present it mostly in the context of being a single woman. The ones that are more mothers' magazines don't seem to give more help than "take time for the two of you alone" and "try new things with each other to bring the spark back!" The pictures in the media of "sexy women" are young and thin and clearly unburdened with spawn. Post-pregnancy body changes are, if presented anywhere at all, are usually played for laughs - droopy boobs, squishy wrinkled tummies, can you believe she wore that in public? why isn't she back in shape yet? how ridiculous she looks trying to act younger than her age! Romance novels are for dissatisfied mothers/older ladies, isn't that hilariously awful, etc. and so forth.

Now, there is the "yummy mummy" thing that's come up in the past decade with the chick-lit trend, but I have to say frankly it seems trying-too-hard to me - like, I have kids, I'm too TIRED to think about pushing my stroller in four-inch heels and the latest designer bag, rushing to my yoga class! I do appreciate the idea of still being attractive post-children being presented in some way at least but I don't think it's necessarily a particularly evolved, or helpful, or truly accessible to most women sort of idea so far, yet. I feel sort of resentful of the idea that now that I'm "off the market" I should try harder at "keeping up appearances" instead of "letting myself go" - these aren't women-friendly narratives at all, you know?

The other thing I can think of offhand is - have you ever read Jean Auel's "Clan of the Cave Bear" series? I remember as a teenager being quite interested in the (second/third/perhaps fourth?) books how having had children was presented as this very sexy thing - proof of fertility making a woman more desirable. I haven't read them in years and I know they're very much female-fantasy POV (all that prehistoric oral sex! and Ayla's such a Mary Sue), but it isn't a bad thing to have at least that idea out there, because where else do we see it?

Anyway, I have found that, for me, the more aware and thoughtful I am of what's surrounding me in society and analyzing/picking apart how I and everyone else is influenced by these ideas, the easier it becomes to subvert them. It was hard for me to feel as easily and naturally sexual as I felt pre-children (because, I realize, pre-children I fit the societal narrative of a woman who was sexual, so I never had to think about it) and it took me years to get back to kind of feeling normal (and it's a new normal; I simply do not feel sexual in the same way now that I did then, and that's not just the passage of time, either). If society is not going to give you space and examples to emulate, you have to figure it out on your own, and construct your own example, and that's hard to do! But it really helps, I think.

I definitely still have this self-consciousness about my body and being "in the moment" sexually I never had to worry about before - not mentally drifting off, not feeling awkward receiving attention, not feeling awkward giving attention, not feeling like I'm playacting (and making myself look ridiculous, like bad porn) rather than experiencing. It helps sometimes, to be honest (as a quick fix), to be not-entirely-cold-sober (whether that's a little drunk, a little high, a little sleepy - right when waking up, for example; or consciously trying to turn myself on FIRST, by reading or thinking about something hot, or getting myself revved up physically before involving my partner).

And it helps that I talk a LOT about how I feel with my husband - that I envy how things haven't really changed for him since having kids, that he has the space and example to carry on sexually as he's always done, that I can't help but feel sort of inferior compared to all the examples "what is a sexy woman" I've had surrounding me all my life (which isn't his fault, it's just how it is) - that I feel very safe exploring these uncomfortable ideas with him, and that he is very aware of how I feel and is careful to make sure he doesn't tripwire over things we know I'm sensitive about. More than ever, this open and loving connection to my partner is integral to having a satisfying sex life and reconstructing my self-image, and I'm thankful to have it. I feel lucky, because I see how easy it can be to disconnect here and not be entirely aware of what's going on.

(By the way, I want to make clear I am absolutely not assuming my experience is everyone's experience; I'm only sharing my own thoughts and my own journey, but I do feel it does resonate with other women out there, based on discussions I've had; so I hope at least some of this tl;dr is helpful.)
posted by flex at 1:02 PM on May 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

No sex nights. Set a night a week where you are not to have any sex, but you must engage in sensual touching for 20 minutes, then 40, then an hour. Kissing allowed on 2nd and 3rd nights.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:21 PM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

> Mostly I'm looking for recommendations of things to read -- fiction, essays -- that might prove inspirational.

Oh God, I'm going to get so much scorn for this, and I swear it isn't my thing, but... many women in your position swear by Twilight. (Here are some of them. They are funny. They are smart. They are lustful.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:14 PM on May 6, 2011

Nthing that breastfeeding hormones almost certainly have a lot to do with the way you're feeling, and that things may well just slide back to normal once your kid is weaned.

But also, and I realize this may sound a little odd, but... how much time does your husband (I'm assuming a heterosexual marriage here; apologies if it should be "wife") spend with the kid? You said you're the primary caregiver; does he also do a lot of active parenting? Do the three of you spend fun time together as a family?

I ask only because, in my experience, one of the things that I find sexiest about my husband is seeing him interact lovingly with our child, and feeling the bond between the three of us all together. Your question makes it sound as though you're feeling a disconnect between your role as a mother and your role as a wife and lover; I suspect that sort of compartmentalization might be made worse by circumstances (like having a busy or minimally-parenting partner) that reinforce the all-encompassing exclusivity of the you-and-baby dyad, naturally making the sexual relationship with your husband feel, as you describe, foreign or tacked-on.

Maybe I'm way off-base, and you have a great, super-involved partner-- in which case, disregard. But I do recommend (happy) family time as a nice low-cost, readily available aphrodisiac.
posted by Bardolph at 3:45 PM on May 6, 2011

Ditto on the breastfeeding and hormones comments - it took me a few months after breastfeeding stopped to get back to feeling like myself. It's not you, it's the hormones - remember that!

Is this pressure you're putting on yourself, or are you getting some pressure from your SO? Modern American society doesn't give women any break from having to be sexy (seconding what flex said), so that's all we see in the media. Three months postpartum and we're supposed to be back to normal, right? Hah! In my experience (2 kids in my 30s and a full-time career) it took a lot longer. Hormones, sleep deprivation, stress... If the house is a mess or we need to talk about budget or whatever, that doesn't help.

What does help, in my experience, is to get away for a weekend. We take the kids with us and we go spelunking in Chicago, or go camping, or go to an amusement park. We spend the weekend enjoying each other and our kids away from the usual routines and responsibilities. "Romance" isn't the focus at all, but somehow it becomes the result.

Humor helps too - to have a sense of humor about the whole thing, and to be able to laugh together. It takes some of the pressure off.

But hormones rule. Allow yourself the time to wean and get over breastfeeding (however long that takes for you and your little one, I'm not saying you should stop), and I think you'll find things get better quickly.

I love the Twilight recommendation, btw - and the movies are extremely atmospheric, though very chaste. :) You might find some romance novelists to like, too -- Jennifer Crusie's characters are smart, funny, real women in relationships, for a start. For other suggestions visit the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books site.
posted by hms71 at 5:27 AM on May 7, 2011

The more sex you have, the more you will desire it. "Just do it"---the Nike motto may be all the inspiration you need!

I breast-fed four children. There was a marvelous book, "The Mother's Almanac: A Guide to Living and Loving with Small Children" that was popular at the time. A great quote from the book: "The best mothers are not mothers all the time." You WILL recapture your sexual self.

Engage with your husband, be patient with your reactions---don't worry, it will happen.
Congrats on your baby and best wishes!
posted by ragtimepiano at 9:02 PM on May 7, 2011

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