“Don’t you like my big boobs?”, said my client to her husband with a playful smile as they sat on my couch in couples therapy. “When I look at your breasts now, I think of the baby breastfeeding. That is not a turn-on,” he responded flatly to his beautiful wife. Her face looked stung with rejection and then silent tears streamed down her flushed cheeks. She longed for the intimacy they shared prior to their six month-old baby’s birth.
Freud might say her husband was suffering from a “Madonna-whore complex,” a psychological condition where men desire the erotic vixen but cannot desire the respected partner. Dare I say, I think this is a very real phenomenon, and one that does not bode well for women’s sexuality or relationships.
I blame the Madonna-whore complex on our culture. Young women and mothers are often polarized, with younger women being sexualized and mothers seen as wholesome, pure and nurturing. Even in Jungian psychology, the three female archetypes are Maiden, Mother and Crone. This means women are first young and beautiful, then become moms, and then get old. This bothers me.
Can we mothers please have the opportunity to be seen as sexy and desirable after we have given birth? Can women please be afforded the same right as men to remain sexual beings beyond the transition to parenthood?
I dealt with this challenge myself. It started during the third trimester of my pregnancy with our first daughter. I was surprised to find that as my belly grew, my sexual appetite increased almost as much as my appetite for food (okay, not anywhere as much, but nevertheless I was surprised to be feeling frisky). I remember my husband started to feel self-conscious of the baby’s presence. He even worried that he would “bump her head” when we were having intercourse. (I assured him that he really needn’t worry…) Anyway, at this point, the baby had literally come between our sex life.
After giving birth, like many couples, our sex life was impacted by factors such as healing from delivery, hormone changes, breastfeeding, and by my not feeling as confident in my post-pregnancy body. Also, I found it challenging to integrate my new identity as mother into my concept of self, without losing other parts of myself.
Can somebody be a good mother and also have lust? Could somebody behave erotically with their partner knowing a baby in the next room? Honestly, I wasn’t sure. I mean, I don’t recall ever seeing a sexually-empowered mother characterized in a Disney princess movie, do you?
It took about a year of some serious effort to adequately process my new identity as a mother and also reconnect with my healthy sexual self. As a mother of two and a therapist who has counseled hundreds through the transition to family, I recommend the following to integrate the concepts of motherhood and sexuality:
- Understand sexual challenges are a normal part of the transition to family. It takes time to process the new roles and relationships when baby makes three. Personally, I think this is nature’s birth control. This will pass. (Otherwise, we all would be only children!)
- Take care of yourself and don’t throw in the towel on your looks. Make a conscious choice to never wear “mom jeans” and put some effort into becoming a “MILF.” Exercise, eat nutritiously and take a minute to put yourself together. Do this for yourself, as it will increase your self-esteem.
- Talk with your partner. Make connecting sexually a priority. Remind your partner that it takes rest to be in the mood and ask for the help you need. Ask for what you need and be open to listening to your partner non-defensively. You might have to get creative (try mornings instead of nights when you are exhausted, have a quickie in the shower, etc.)
- Understand how birth control (or lack thereof) might be impacting your sex life. For example, some women don’t want to have sex because of fear of pregnancy (I know a woman who got pregnant two months after having triplets…) Other times, a method of birth control might be affecting desire (I had an IUD removed because I suspected it was killing my sex drive and within 24-hours found my husband irresistible.)
- Understand how breastfeeding might be impacting your sex life. For example, it is common for breast milk to discharge during orgasm, which can dampen the mood (no pun intended.) Feed or pump before sex, or wear a sexy bra during sex. Make decisions about breastfeeding that are right for you and your family.
- Identify a hero who is a sexy mom. Pick a real-life example to stop you from feeling like you have to Keep Up with the Kardashians!
Don’t buy into the belief that mothers aren’t sexy. A grown woman knows her body and can rock her curves. Embrace motherhood AND your sensuality.
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