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.

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