Sex and the baby years
December 2nd, 2010
10:45 AM ET

Sex and the baby years

It’s my anniversary today and this morning my son woke up, ate breakfast and then proceeded to throw it up all over the living room floor. Somehow I don’t think my romantic date night with my wife later this evening is going to go as planned.  But what else is new? If I’ve learned anything from being a parent it’s that, irrespective of my public persona as a “relationship expert,” I often don’t feel like one in my own relationship.

Like many a new father, life after baby #1 left me confused and conflicted, not to mention sleepless and, well, sexless. And just when I thought life couldn't get any more sleepless or sexless, along came baby #2. There was a point where everything made me think of sex – one time my wife, Lisa, was reading the Dr. Seuss classic Hop on Pop to our then-toddler, Owen, and I found myself thinking, "Hey, how about this pop? Why don’t you hop on this hop?”

Let me tell you: when even Dr. Seuss makes you think of sex, that's when things have to change!

It seems like a foregone conclusion and a sad one at that: when you have a baby, sex goes from being something that used to be spontaneous to something that goes on a to-do list. And as sex falls to the bottom of that list, relationships become increasingly vulnerable: to anger, resentment, indifference, and, yes, infidelity.  No wonder a recent study from the University of Denver reports that 90 percent of new parents experi­ence a significant decline in relationship satisfaction, or that according to a recent survey by the online magazine Baby Talk, just 24 percent of parents say they’re satisfied with their post-baby sex lives, compared with 66 percent who were happy before they had children.

At Good in Bed, we believe that sex matters. It’s the glue that binds couples together. It’s what makes us more than just friends. Without sex, lovers become roommates, and a bedroom becomes just a place to sleep in (often with a kid or two in it as well). To help new parents “babyproof” their relationships, we just published a new book, “Sex and the Baby Years,” by Dr. Hilda Hutcherson OBGYN, which (thanks to the support of K-Y Brand), we’re able to offer for free to readers through the end of the month.

I may be a sex and relationships counselor, but I’m first and foremost a guy and I know how challenging it can be to navigate the issue of sex after baby.  Meanwhile my wife didn't seem to miss sex at all. Once our sons were born, I quickly became persona non grata, or at least persona non sexual.  What happened to the woman who couldn't keep her hands off of me? In her book “Confessions of a Naughty Mommy,” my friend Heidi Raykeil writes,

"No one warned me that having a baby was like the excitement of falling in love all over again, except with someone much younger and better smelling than my husband. No one told me that for all intents and purposes, having a baby was dangerously similar to having an affair."

Calling it an affair isn't far off. As Freud defined it, "eros" is a life-force that motivates us to create and to love, and for many mothers, the energy that goes into doting-on, dressing, feeding, fawning and coddling a baby is a powerful expression of an intimacy that knows no bounds. Meanwhile, Dad often feels likes a third-wheel.

That’s why my No. 1 advice to dads is: DON’T GIVE UP ON SEX. It’s too easy to nurse the wounds of rejection and settle for being tuned out and turned off when you should be tuned in and turned-on. With the fight for sex, new dads actually perform a vital rela­tionship function, which is to bring their partner back into the relationship and restore the primacy of their couple-hood: a crucial necessity if they’re to flour­ish and succeed as a family. As couples therapist Esther Perel says, “When the father reaches out to the mother, and the mother acknowl­edges him, redirecting her attention, this serves to rebalance the entire family. Time, resources, playfulness and fun are redistributed, and libido is rescued from forced retirement.”

Not too long ago I was on a plane with my kids, so I thought I better take some time to really listen to those pre-flight instructions about safety exits and flotation cushions that I normally ignore. And I was profoundly struck by a simple instruction: “In the event an oxygen masks drop down, put it on yourself first, then your children.” They instruct you to do this because you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your kids. Well, in our marriages we’re constantly putting our children first, to the point where we allow our relationships to suffocate and ultimately impair our ability to parent well.

So what can you do to keep sex alive throughout the baby years and beyond?

1.      Get out and enjoy a regular date-night as soon as possible! I know many couples who have toddlers that are walking and talking, and even reading, and the parents still haven’t gone out together for an evening on their own.

2.      Re-channel non-sexual intimacy outside the bedroom into your relationship with your spouse. Children are intimacy-sponges, but you have to save some for your partners. For example, studies show that a 30-second hug raises oxytocin levels in both men and women. Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle-hormone” and facilitates a sense of trust, so get thee to a huggery!

3.      Don’t let your child sleep in your bed. Boy do I know this one all too well. Not only does it make it difficult logistically to have sex, it’s an intrusion into the much needed intimacy and separation from their kids that parents need.

4.      Ladies, make an effort to rediscover your sense of sexual self-esteem. I know it’s hard to feel like your sexiest self when you’re a mom, but let the guy in your life know what he can do to support you.

5.      Have sex. Seems obvious. But sometimes you just have to put yourself through the motions, and let your mind follow your body. Many new moms say they want to want sex, but they don’t. So try it, you’ll like it. Sex begets sex and if you don’t use it, you could lose it.

In the end, all parents wants their child to be happy. That's why we do our best to give them everything: from setting up college funds to giving up our careers to stay at home with them. But ultimately, a happy child is part of a happy family, and at the heart of that happy family are two parents who are connected, loving and intimate. Becoming a parent doesn't mean becoming selfless; it means becoming selfish about the things that really matter: like your sex life.

And remember, if you’d like more help navigating this life-change years, check out our free download of the Good in Bed Guide to Sex and the Baby Years.

Ian Kerner is a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website,GoodInBed.

soundoff (200 Responses)
  1. Mok

    " I found myself thinking, "Hey, how about this pop? Why don’t you hop on this pop?” lmao

    Im 41, married with no kids (fortunately and YAY) and still get turned on easily. I should ask my wife to read this book to me 😛

    December 3, 2010 at 08:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Phillip

    It strikes me as funny that a married woman with a couple kids cannot find the time a couple times a week for $ex with their husband.... Yet once he leaves her for some affection and attention, the wife works 10x's as hard loosing weight and trying to meet a new man...

    December 3, 2010 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. brent

    Roxanna is gonna die alone, well with her "hot" body and bad grammar.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Consider Me Entertained

    Nothing like the self-righteous comments on both sides of this discussion to get me thru my break at work – thank you all – Im sure you're all right in one way or another, but definitely not in every way.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Carl

      I hate self-righteous people. They're what's wrong with the world, and I'm so glad I'm not like them.

      December 3, 2010 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
  5. NewYorker in NJ

    Wow, so sad. I am a full-time working mother of 4 young children ... and if it weren't for birth control there would probably be a lot more! My husband and I share in most child-care and household chores – and we can't wait for the kids to get to bed at night, so we can have our time together. I think a lot of people just don't understand the concept of balance.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mok

      Say hi to that little alcoholic Snooki for me
      (new yorker in new jersey)

      December 3, 2010 at 11:22 | Report abuse |
  6. Jordan

    My wife basically ignored me for the last 4 months of pregnancy and for the first 6 months after our baby was born. I felt rejected and that the baby had taken all of her affection for me. So I sat her down and told her how I felt. I told her that it was going to change or that she was going to raise the kid on her own. It took a couple weeks for her to break the baby bond, but we are back in the sack and enjoying each other just like before. Man up and don't settle for being second.

    December 3, 2010 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Oleg

      I think she should have took you up on your offer. Surely even if your relationship didn't walk out it should be "we'll still raise the kid together" rather than "you'll have to raise the kid by yourself".

      December 3, 2010 at 19:03 | Report abuse |
  7. Me

    I read almost 3/4 of the posts before writing this...the thoughts repeat. I love the opposing views...lets us know why we vote and not simply follow one method.

    While reading through these comments I constantly kept thinking about South Park (I'm a Little Bit Country – episode 701 & Everybody Farts – episode 302). Every point of view (POV) regarding whether or not to have kids is correct . Some people are great parents and should procreate to ensure the survival of the human race while not endangering/neglecting/abusing their offspring. Others want $ex but do not know how to properly care for a child (i.e. abuse or neglect) and therefore should probably not conceive. If you are a master at mathematics but cannot formulate a coherent sentence to save your life then you should probably stick to numbers. Vice versa for the English mastermind. "My way is the right was" is the theme for most of these comments and were probably written before taking a lot of other POV into account. "You do what you gotta do and I'll do what I gotta do"...just don't hurt anyone in the process.

    As for the $exless lives before and after childbearing...I do not have children just yet but I am to get married next year (when I'm 25) and hopefully start having children shortly after (26-27 years old). We've been living together for just over 5 years and our relationship isn't perfect but we do our thing and keep each other happy. We have fun, I pick up, she cleans, I wash dished and clothes while she puts them away and we both maintain the house...it's a nice balance.

    We bought 2 dogs last year and she fell in love with them...almost as though they are her flesh and blood. Our $ex life took a small dive before I did what Jordan (Dec. 3, 2010 @ 11:29) wrote above, "Man up and don't settle for being second." I told her that it's not right that we can't have $ex because you don't want the dogs to watch and you don't want to kick them out of the room so our $ex dive HAS to come back. Yes, I demanded it. I would not have done such a thing if I were a bum that never helped or always ignored her for friends/video games. It's intimacy and a partner that I'm looking for...not a roommate or a friend. To me (and most men in the U.S.), intimacy is very important.

    I believe women should also "Man up and don't settle for being second". Crack the whip and let your husband know, "You will pick up around the house or one day you'll come home and find me and the kids gone...good luck finding us". Don't make it that extreme at first because he'll most likely call your bluff and you'll most-likely back down and stay but make good on your warnings. When he doesn't help around the house let him know you mean business...don't be scared to challenge him, he obviously isn't afraid of you since he never helps when you ask him to. It’s 2010 not 1910 men and women are supposed to be equal so make things equal. Yes, I am a man who advocates empowering women…I would be greatly upset if my sisters ever let a man walk all over them (“You pick up the house, take care of the kids, make me food, have a job or don’t while I work and come home to a perfect house”)

    Anyway: have $ex, empower women, have children if you’re suited to have children. Oh, and choose your partners wisely because I have too many female friends that don’t have a partner to help them raise a kid…it’s sad but some boys/guys (I don’t consider them “men” because they ran out on their kids) aren’t meant to have children.

    December 3, 2010 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MEG

      Well said!

      December 8, 2010 at 14:56 | Report abuse |
    • Me

      Thanks MEG! It took me a while to read through the other posts and convey my thoughts the way I was thinking them.

      December 8, 2010 at 19:08 | Report abuse |
  8. Oleg

    Going out, hugging or "rediscovering self esteem" do not lead to actual s3x when children are in your face at home. Unfortunately ours do not sleep through the night due to eczema, teething or god know what and run/roll screaming out of the bed before I have a chance to warm up for the act. I wish I could do quickies in the bathroom like some guys are apparently able to, but alas it's not a universal male gift.

    December 3, 2010 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. irsh man

    WHY IS EVERYONE SKIRTING THE ISSUE – $EX it is S E X !!!! HAHAHAH cmon people spell right

    December 3, 2010 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. katie

    I am extremely surprised to read some of the above comments. I think there are some people who aren't getting the concept of family. I am 27, married and just had my first child...a little girl that I am absolutely in love with. As a single person with no responsibilities you have the freedom to come and go as you please, however children teach you the true meaning of selflessness. It is, by far, the hardest job I have ever had. I don't eat, sleep or leave the house but when I look at her smile at me it is completely worth it. I look at single people sometimes and wonder if they know what they look like from the outside. Getting drunk and partying all the time without a supposed care in the world. I guess they don't have bills to pay or a job to attend to either. I believe that having children solidified your place in this world, that it teaches you all over again. It's a second chance to learn the lessons that you didn't learn as a child. You grow up with them. Who wants to be a child forever? I mean, being a kid is great and all, but being an adult is even better! I respect those that choose not to have children, and it is probably better that way. They would probably be the parent that everyone is embarrassed for in the grocery store while their child is throwing a tantrum and they just sit there texting on their phones. I have seen it...many times. We all have to grow up sometime. I mean, who wants to be 60 and still looking for a good time? That is, if the STD's haven't caught up to you by then.

    December 3, 2010 at 19:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Smith

      This article was about “s e x during the baby years” and in loving your precious baby girl unconditionally I wonder if you have enough time and energy for the man in your life. You two promised God you would love (how to love (1 Corinthians 7)) and give yourselves to each other (1 Corinthians 7). So, in my mind in not mentioning your husband your priorities is your baby then your marriage, am I right? If so your priorities might be off, look at it this way… You to should be a symbol of love for your little girl and in not giving affection for one another gives the wrong impression, to your little girl, on what a loving marriage looks like. Sorry for being forward, I don’t know you, but I am curious and interested in this subject.

      January 21, 2011 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
  11. GrammarGnatsie

    I just wanna throw in a few pennies for consideration:

    I have next to no family values whatsoever. I have no intention in ever having kids, and would prefer to fall in love happily for the rest of my life, without getting married. Strange, right? A guy who WANTS a wonderful long-term commitment, but not marriage or kids.

    I didn't have good parents. For starters, my mother was certain that I had an Oedipus complex, which was far from true, but still a euphemism. They also divorced before I knew what cooties where. I should be gay and (even more) callous. While that isn't so, I do auto-hate parents and wish newly-weds that kind of even-though-it-won't-help good luck. So not wanting the picket fence, dog, and 2.4 kids isn't always selfishness. There are many applicable foundational flaws that can simply make disdain a reaction instead of a preference. Everyone says "I'm gonna be a good husband/wife/father/mother", yet even the Brady Bunch watched the news. We all know too many who have said that and betrayed every letter of that vow. I don't wanna risk it and scar people I will have loved.

    December 3, 2010 at 19:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Messedup

      Well said

      December 4, 2010 at 20:34 | Report abuse |
  12. TOMG


    December 18, 2010 at 20:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. James

    My wife and I have been married for 14 years, after dating for 6. We have two kids, and we 'get busy' at least every third day. Despite that my wife is a stay-at-home Mom, I help out around the house all the time. I feel sorry for folks who don't have intimacy as a top priority in their relationships. And those childless folks who seem to want to call anyone who procreates 'an idiot', you should call your own parents and label them as idiots, too.

    December 22, 2010 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. faisal

    this is a interesting topic to discuss.
    Savings Account Rate

    January 3, 2011 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. faisal

    this is a interesting topic to discuss.ok
    Savings Account Rate

    January 3, 2011 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Dmoney

    to Anti Self Centerd
    Also, if you don't want kids...I understand that. But how does helping orphans or old people really "Change the World".All that does is allow more "selfish people to consume the raw resources of the earth" according to your logic. If you want to change the world.......invent something that reduces the use of fossil fuels or cold fusion. Your type of thinking ....leads to stuff like the Holocaust.....getting rid of the "bad humans" . You are a nut.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Dmoney

    Also, I really hate the tired excuse. A man could have worked 16 hours on the railroad and if his woman stipped down and got all over him...he would rise to the occasion.

    January 4, 2011 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Nishtoish


    May 2, 2011 at 20:43 | Report abuse | Reply
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