‘Since Having My Son Almost Three Years Ago, Sex Gives Me The Ick’

Since becoming a mother two years ago, journalist and author Yousra Samir Imran just can’t be bothered with sex. Should she be worried about it?

Yousra Samir Imran

by Grazia Contributor |
Published on

While out on a shopping trip with my husband and toddler, we pass an Ann Summers store. 'Let’s go inside,' my husband suggests. 'Come on, I’ll buy you whatever you want.' Internally I groan. As generous as this offer is, wanting to buy me lingerie and toys from Ann Summers can only mean one thing: he wants to have more sex.

There was once a time in our marriage where we could not get enough of the act and a bag full of goodies from a shop like Ann Summers would have been a real treat. But since having my son two and a half years ago, the thought of having sex often gives me the ick. I rarely find myself feeling ‘in the mood’ and if my husband was to ask me whether I would like to have sex or eat a bar of chocolate, I would opt for the latter.

It won’t come as a shock to anyone that since becoming a mother my libido has decreased. Like most, I've been exhausted from juggling work and childcare and I get no respite at night as my toddler still wakes up at odd hours. And when my husband wants to do it, I feel grossed out knowing my son is in the next room.

Women’s health expert Dr Nighat Arif and author of The Knowledge: Your Guide to Female Health tells me that as a new mother, my lowered libido is a common complaint.

'There are mental reasons such as postpartum depression and anxiety, which are the most common,' Dr Arif explains. 'And there are hormonal changes, sleep deprivation and the overwhelming nature of new parenthood or looking after other children, which can significantly lower libido. There is also the stress of having to manage with your own body recovering from childbirth and looking after a baby. The demands of motherhood, lack of sleep and reduced energy impact how much sex you want to have.'

Dr Arif adds that lowered libido can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying medical issue, and to make an appointment with your GP if you are worried about it. In my case, I did make a GP appointment. Sex has been physically painful since I gave birth and it took a year to get to the bottom of it: a PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) diagnosis. I also had severe postnatal anxiety and depression following my son’s birth and it turns out that one of the side effects of my medication is lowered libido.

In general, it does not bother me that I have a lower libido. I do feel bad for my husband and initiate sex once or twice a month because I don’t want him to miss out. I feel there is an unnecessary amount of societal pressure placed on mothers to bounce back in all areas of their lives within a year of giving birth and that includes the pressure to be as sexually active as they were pre-pregnancy.

There's always pressure on mothers to bounce back in all areas of their lives, including being as sexually active as they were before.

Sarah*, 40, a writer and mother of two from London, agrees with me that there is an aspect of societal pressure on women to revert back to the vixens they once were pre-motherhood. She recalls having a spontaneous and fun sex life with her husband before she had her children, but after she was not only physically and mentally exhausted, her priorities simply changed and sex got pushed to the bottom of her list.

She thought things would improve once her first child started school, but it hasn’t. 'I don’t feel the need anymore,' Sarah says. 'I’m too tired, my body isn’t the same and so that affects my confidence. When I get down to it, it’s very much going through the motions and I just want to get it over and done with so I can sleep. My heart sinks when my husband says, "Let’s take our time" or wants to try something new. I’d much rather just curl up with a juicy book.'

Rumena, 40, a personal assistant and mother of two from London, says that having her sons not only erased her sex drive, but also made her body feel desexualised. A painful experience with breastfeeding and being touched constantly by her young children left her feeling touched-out. 'After breastfeeding for two years I couldn’t bear anyone going near my breasts,' she shares.

Rumena also felt more of a cultural pressure than a societal one to bounce back sexually.

'My husband made me feel as if there was something wrong with me. I don’t know if it’s because he comes from a culture where men are not open about their private lives and there’s no way they would talk about their sex lives. Because of that he was under the impression that women give birth and then bounce back right into sex. There is a cultural pressure that if you reject your husband sexually, that you are committing a sin, and that is drilled into you. You’re made to feel as if you are not fulfilling your duties as a wife.'

Psychosexologist Dr Karen Gurney, also known as The Sex Doctor, explains in her new book How to Not Let Having Kids Ruin Your Sex Life that sexual desire and satisfaction are at their lowest when you have young children. Offering a compassionate guide on how to navigate this, Gurney tells me that one of the societal issues is that we view sex as though it's an on/off switch – either you’re having sex or not having it at all. 'This is particularly difficult after birth as it reduces our sex life to types of sex that may feel completely inaccessible to many,' she says.

To combat this, Dr Gurney says that we need to widen our definition of sex, to include non-penetrative acts. 'For example, for many people, still feeling desired by a partner, a brief, but passionate kiss is still accessible and can feel more intimate in those moments than other types of sex, but we have to open up our definitions of what sex is to see that this counts.'

But if there is nothing medically wrong with you, is it okay to just not want to have sex as much post-children?

Frequency matters much less for sexual satisfaction than people think it does, the key is to navigate the difference in desire between you and your partner.

'It absolutely is okay,' says Dr Gurney. 'It's really common as a new parent and a large proportion of people choose not to return to sex to the frequency with which they were before until after a year post-birth. For some people they never returned to sex to the frequency that they were before and this is okay also. Frequency matters much less for sexual satisfaction than people think it does. The key thing about frequency is about how you navigate that difference in wanting with a partner.'

My husband and I have accepted that this is our new reality because at this moment in time my mental health is more important than my libido. And like Dr Gurney suggests, we focus on the quality of the one or two sessions we have a month rather than the fact that we are doing it less. And who knows, maybe one day soon my Ann Summers lingerie will see the light of day.

*Names changed upon request

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