Babyproof Your Sex Life
No one talks about it, but everyone goes through it: Most couples experience a radical decline in the frequency and quality of their sex life during their first few years with kids. But, where there is no sex, or where there is sex that is desperately asked for and grudgingly given, a marriage can be reduced to a dull domestic partnership. Without sex and real intimacy, you can feel, as Ethan Hawke put it in the movie Before Sunset, "like you are running a small nursery with someone you used to date."
The three of us are average women with normal, healthy sexual appetites. Before we became moms, we enjoyed sex. We were earnest students of the "how to drive your man wild" type articles in Cosmopolitan. We wanted sex almost as much as our husbands did, and were usually happy to oblige even when we didn't. But as mothers of small children, sex became less and less of a priority for us. Even after we had celebrated our babies' first birthdays, sex, once a weekly affair, felt like a monthly chore, right up there with rearranging our sock drawers. We gave so much to our kids that there was nothing left to give to our husbands. It wasn't deliberate. It just happened. We still think our husbands are damned attractive men, but we don't want to rip their clothes off at the end of a long day. Since becoming mothers, not one of us has ever said to our husband: "Darling, the kids wore me out today. What I really need is for you to shag me senseless this evening..."
Our husbands were left behind, still wanting that emotional and physical connection with us and feeling deeply hurt by our repeated rejections. Only as we began working on our book [Babyproofing Your Marriage, out February 2007] and talking to other guys who weren't our husbands (i.e., those without a stake in the outcome of the discussion), did we realize that this festering lack of intimacy was at the root of much of the discord in our marriages.
Two of our friends pretty much summed up the different male and female points of view on sex in separate conversations with us. George, married 12 years with two kids, had this to say: "Since we had kids, my wife and I have sex about once every three months, and even then it feels like she's doing me a favor. I've tried to tell her so many times how much this is hurting me, but she always turns it around and makes it sound like I'm some kind of hound dog. I'm not a dog! I'm a normal guy. I do want and need sex with her. Why is that so terrible? I've pretty much given up.
I don't want to cheat on her, but I sometimes wonder, if I had the chance, what would I do?"
Our friend Alicia, married eight years with two kids, shared her take: "The truth is, I couldn't care less about sex these days. I don't feel sexy, I feel fat. I don't want sex -- I'm too damn tired. Spending the day with young children is about the least sexy thing there can be. I know deep down I should pay more attention to it, but I am physically and emotionally depleted at the end of the day. His demands for it feel almost childlike because he doesn't seem to care about my needs. I wish there was a female Viagra -- a pill I could pop that would just get me in the mood."
So how do you start to get back on the same page? Here's what we learned after talking to hundreds of couples, and to each other, about postbaby sex (or the lack thereof):
When sex diminishes, small gestures of intimacy (SGIs) like hugging and kissing do, too. Why? As a woman begins to lose interest in sex, she becomes very reluctant to kiss and hug her husband in case those gestures are interpreted as a sign that she wants to have sex. To her, a kiss and hug hello at the end of the workday may give him the impression that they are "on" for later. Many women also commented that being touched by their children satisfied their basic need for contact, so physical attention from their husbands was not something they craved. When your kids are mauling you at every opportunity, you want your husband to keep his hands to himself at night.
For men, when sex diminishes, they get more desperate for physical affection, so they jump into action at the slightest show of interest. When the hugs and kisses don't lead them to their goal, over time, they resent the rejection and cut back on these small physical intimacies as well.
And so starts a dangerous cycle. Men feel close and connected to their wives after they have sex, but for women, the connection has to precede the act. If there are no SGIs throughout the day, you're not likely to be up for making love at night. The longer you go without sex, the less likely your husband is to initiate those SGIs.
Once they understood the reasons SGIs -- and therefore, affection -- had dissipated in their own relationship, our own Stacie and her husband, Ross, simply decided to hug and kiss every day. These hugs and kisses are given and received without any expectation for sex later on. We've all now adopted this strategy with great results. It's a simple, no-cost thing you can both do to demonstrate your affection for each other, and possibly help you get your groove back.
From the forthcoming book Babyproofing Your Marriage (2007) by Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O'Neill, and Julia Stone. Published by arrangement with Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.