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Yummy Mummies

October 13th, 2005

Dr Petra

New research from Prima magazine and the National Childbirth Trust suggests that having a baby can be an ‘aphrodisiac’. Several newspapers have run stories reporting that having a baby may improve women’s sex lives.

The survey of nearly 900 women found that 40% claimed they didn’t have as much sex as before they became a mother; they experienced higher levels of intimacy. 1/3 said they had sex more frequently, whilst 28% said their sex lives had got worse. The survey found that 60% of women had started having sex again within two months of the birth, and 1:3 were having sex again one month later.

Existing evidence suggests most women don’t enjoy sex much immediately after birth. Exhaustion, healing caesarean and episiotomy scars, fear of pain, lack of lubrication and concern by a woman or her partner about the perceived conflicting role of mother and sex siren can lead to either a lack of desire or a lack of pleasure or both.

That’s not to say women can’t enjoy sex after birth, but many women do find that waiting for a few months is normal, and some are happily not having sex up to a year after having a baby.

Additional evidence suggests women often feel under pressure to resume sexual relations before they really want to, and may not enjoy them when they start. Many feel that to be a ‘yummy mummy’ they have to lose weight, look glamorous, keep a fabulous home (complete with their cute and well-behaved baby) and offer sex on tap to keep their husband happy.

This survey didn’t include the views of fathers, but it would be interesting to see how many of them were actually happy to postpone sex until both parties were ready.

I’m not saying women shouldn’t enjoy sex after having a baby, just that the majority of evidence is not pointing towards early motherhood as an ‘aphrodisiac’.

Let’s think about the 900 women who responded to the survey. Were they new mothers (say someone who’d given birth within a matter of days, weeks or months at the time of answering the survey)? If so, let’s picture that woman. She’s able to sit down and answer a survey. Your average new mum is going to be sleep deprived, overworked, up to her eyes in washing, cleaning and managing her new baby. Most are not going to be in the luxurious position of putting their feet up and answering a survey, and if they are they’ll be a particularly well supported woman who is much more likely to say she’s enjoying sex.

If these were first time mums they’d answer differently than if they’d had a couple of kids already and were more confident and less stressed. If they were mums of children who were a year old or more they’d be answering retrospectively and perhaps may not report accurately their experiences. And finally we can’t forget peer pressure. New mums nowadays face the endless parade of celebrity mummies who seem to drop their baby pounds in a matter of days, look gorgeous in their designer clothes, and have nannies, PAs and other ‘help’ behind the scenes. It’s impossible (and undesirable) to match those standards, but that doesn’t stop women feeling they ought to try. So who’s going to say when questioned on a survey that their sex lives are anything but perfect?

There were some women (nearly 1/3 to be precise) who said their sex lives had worsened (which temporarily we’d expect to see). Others said they had sex less. This doesn’t quite equate with the overall conclusion of sex post-childbirth being an aphrodisiac.

There’s enough pressure on new mums already without convincing them they not only have to be having sex within a month of having a baby, but that it has to be so fantastic that it’s actually improved their sex lives.

Here’s the real answer. Some women have sex early after a birth; some women and their partners wait for many months. Either is fine so long as you and your partner are happy, that women aren’t pressured into sex before they’re ready, and that you’ve sorted out both your contraception and plenty of lubricant. Intimacy – hand holding, cuddles and kind words are welcome – but again the couple must decide when and how this suits them. Masturbation for women post birth can be a means of reconnecting with the body, feeling more womanly, and giving the self-pleasure. That may be something women forget they’re entitled to.

We really need clear advice to new parents, not aspirational nonsense that could cause psychological or physical harm.

It’s predictable that a magazine like Prima would release their research under such a heading – after all they want publicity. But the NCT that’s supposed to base its work on evidence and support new parents should know better.

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