“We’ve rekindled our intimacy!” This is my favorite kind of feedback after working with a gentle sleep client.  I also know that most parents are not coming back to a healthy sex life so easily, even after they begin sleeping again.

The Madonna-Whore complex is a pervasive social rule where you can either be loved and respected (as the Madonna/ virgin mother) or you can be desired (like a prostitute). You can either be giving (to children) or you can desiring (of pleasure). We have often internalized this without knowing it; and it may be sabotaging our sex lives. 

Most parents who have birthed a baby, breastfed or have experienced postpartum exhaustion will experience some sexual challenges, or even completely cease having sex for years. While  there can be a decrease of libido due to breastfeeding hormones (for those who feed this way) as evolutionary biology is trying to space out the children, this still does not mean zero libido is normal, or that our greatest sexual challenge is always hormonal. And the procreative act evolutionary biology is concerned with slowing down certainly isn’t the only way to connect sexually. Sexual connection is a wide world and a magical addition to our lives and our well-being. 

Why is desire low for so many of us? 

  1. We struggle in our relationship to our bodies through birth (trauma), breastfeeding etc.
  2. We don’t know how to share a new body we’ve barely gotten used to ourselves. 
  3. We suffer postpartum mood challenges. Even it it is “just anxiety.” 
  4. We are exhausted. Even if we are sleeping. Parenting itself is exhausting. 
  5. Stress. When are you going back to work? Is your mothering up to par? 
  6. We have trouble finding the time to connect with our partners in non-sexual ways first. 
  7. Our partners may feel so stressed by the new responsibilities that they don’t feel sexual. 
  8. Our partners may be effected by mother/whore and not know how to approach us. (I am not bashing men. I have seen female partners internalize this.) 
  9. We may have hormonal imbalances after birth or along with breastfeeding and beyond. 
  10. Our society de-sexes us the second we become mothers (and to some extent, fathers.)

We might remember that Madonna was still a sex icon after Lourdes was born…but this is a rare example. Madonna was never really like a virgin; she was always going to be the quintessential whore. My only other exposure was learning as a teenager that Puttanesca sauce actually meant “whore” sauce with the idea that it was all the leftovers thrown in because your Italian mama was too busy with sex to make a real meal. I remember thinking, “Mothers having sex like whores?!” It was unfathomable. But mothers have always used sexual power to feed their children- whether it was by sex work or by landing a solvent partner.  And I may lose followers for putting the W word in a positive light, but our history also includes the fact that prostitution was for centuries the absolute only way for women to have sexual power or freedom, and the only way to have economic power and freedom.

We might add Beyoncé to this list and we loved her photo shoot with the twins- but the whore image was all mothered-up with spring flowers and a veil even while she was scantily clad with a lusty expression. Bey owns both mothering and sexuality simultaneously. She has been vocal about this, including saying that the entire self-titled album from 2013 was about finding her sexual self after baby. Yet the belly is heavily computer-edited in this photo after the twins came. We cannot have our whore look like an actual mother, even when we are trying to glorify her motherhood. Still, I’m keeping her as a role model. (Mother-Whore dichotomy is a little different in communities of color but that’s a whole other article.) 

Who are your real-life role models for embodied, sensual, sexual motherhood**? This is likely hard to answer for most of us. 

In our society’s eyes, you leave both your Maiden and your Whore selves behind when you become only a Mother. The mom blogs and podcasts are not talking about sex, they are assuming that we don’t want it because they know we aren’t getting it.  If you are single, you get a very special disgust thrown at you for having sex. I was a single mom of a preschooler for 3 years, and even as a lesbian, you can’t imagine the amount of times folks said, “You don’t really want to be dating at this time in your life, do you?”  They meant, “Eww gross, moms aren’t supposed to go looking for sex.” 

Society tells us,  “Your vagina belongs to your child and your husband.” 

So I am here to encourage you to take back your own bits, to take back your power.

Did you give up your sexual prowess because your body was different or sexual connection felt harder to access?  Did nobody encourage you go after it? 

If I may inspire, this is how we rekindle our sexuality again: 

  • We need the endorphins and self-esteem boost of regular-old exercise before we can sexercize. Exercise can also help balance out-of-whack hormones. 
  • We need to feel like our partners, are doing a fair share of kid and home work. 
  • We need to trust our partner/s to be able to handle and honor the physical differences and/or enormity of power in our body. 
  • We need a reframed concept of ourselves having come to terms with our new bodies.  We might need to embark on a journey of loving our stretch marks, sagging boobs, weight gain, birth-traumatized vagina or vulva or belly (yes, I said that) before we can share. I plan to write another article on HOW to do this. 
  • We need to appreciate and know ourselves again through self-love before we can share abundantly and joyfully. Masturbation. (yes, I said that too!) 
  • We need to take the time to go to our doc or naturopath and get all of our hormones, thyroid and adrenals checked out! And we need to take time to feed ourselves and take the supplements* or meds we need. Oxygen masks. You first. 
  • We need to either talk to a perinatal psychotherapist who understand motherhood deeply or be willing to frequently talk to our family and friends about everything. Holding things in kills libido. Sharing is freedom and we need to feel free to feel sexy. 
  • We need to sleep. Maybe you hire a postpartum doula. Maybe you finally say yes to letting a friend hold the baby so you can nap. Maybe you hire a gentle sleep consultant like me (Cry-It-Out isn’t the only way!). Maybe you demand your partner wake up early and give you 3 hours in the morning. Maybe you get a hotel room once a month( and bring your breast pump if lactating.) Maybe you put your mental health ahead of trying to provide perfectly uninterrupted attachment. 
  • We need to take time to be alone with ourselves, to refill our cups, remembering what we love and who we were as well as learn new things about how we have changed and who we are becoming. Breaks. Take a momcation as soon as you can. If you are breastfeeding on demand, take anyone up on the offer to watch baby and get as much alone time as possible. 
  • We need to not be passive. We must ask for what we want, and initiate. 
  • We need to have boundaries. If we are feeling physically over-extended or “touched-out” by our children’s needs and desires, we will feel caged, weighed down, resentful and unable to share touch with a partner. Our kids need our touch, but we also need full possession of our bodies at all times and to be in constant conversations with ourselves about what kind of touch we want or do not want at a given moment. 
I have done each of these at different times. It isn’t one-and-done effort.
 
Which areas are lacking for you and would be easy enough to improve with some effort? If your partner isn’t willing to step up to help make some of this happen, they probably aren’t worth your time. 
 
I challenge you to create a self-care plan toward awakening your sexual power. Can you find your inner whore? It may feel difficult, uncomfortable or far away, but you deserve it. And sexual health is a big part of overall health. Far back in our history, female sexual power was seen as healing for both the “whore” and the recipient of her energy. What if finding that energy again was also healing for the whole family? It isn’t our responsibility to fix a relationship by bringing sex back, but it is our responsibility to show up as our whole selves and to show up for ourselves so that we can be present with others. 
 
*Some hormonal advice from Aviva Romm, MD, midwife and herbalist: 
 
https://avivaromm.com/is-there-sex-after-baby-the-new-mom-dilemma/
 
https://avivaromm.com/adaptogens-beating-stress/
 
And her amazing book/ challenge: The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution
 
A book my friend Madison wrote (I talk about sleep and breastfeeding in it!)
 
**By “Motherhood” I am referring to a social construct and set of expectations. I do not mean that motherhood is only including birth parents, female bodies or female identity.