Couples can run into problems if they feel uncomfortable talking about sex with each other. This makes it very hard to let each other know about anxieties and frustrations, and virtually impossible to work out what sorts of changes or alternatives to intercourse might suit you both for a while (like oral sex or manually stimulating each other without vaginal penetration). For many men and women a massage can be a satisfying way of sharing intimacy. If you can’t talk to each other about sex, it’s so easy for the messages to get mixed up and everyone gets their wires crossed. As an example, a new father who doesn’t know that his partner’s libido is likely to turn off for a while could easily interpret her lack of interest as a rejection, and withdraw from her emotionally. This sets up a vicious cycle as his partner interprets the withdrawal as lack of support. It’s also important to realize that sexual needs will change with time.
Even when the vagina has settled down, there are a number of factors that restrict our expression of sexuality after a baby arrives. The main ones are very obvious. The first thing most people will tell you is that they are just too tired. The demands of waking during the night, feeding every few hours, and ploughing through mounds of washing are simply exhausting. I think we sometimes underestimate the impact of pregnancy and delivery on a woman’s body functions, and the time it takes to recover. A colleague of mine had her third baby a few months ago. One morning recently we were talking about sex in general and fantasies in particular. She took a deep sigh and looked wistfully into the distance. ‘You know, right now my idea of the ultimate fantasy is to get into my pyjamas, slip in under the eiderdown … on my own … and go straight to sleep without a single interruption until morning.’ A few women I spoke to said that sex after dark was almost impossible for a while simply because they were so tired. ‘Sometimes it’s like there’s this conflict inside you. You go to bed and you think of the enjoyment you would get from sex versus the need your body has for sleep. Your body just says “There’s no argument, I’ll take the sleep!”