Issue: ugh! negative body image
I'm saggy on top, mushy in the middle, and jiggly all over. I can't imagine who in their right mind would want to get naked with me.
Well, your partner, for one. But we get it: The most important sex organ is between your ears, so if you think you're no longer attractive and you're too self-conscious in bed to enjoy yourself, then your sex life is going to suffer. So here's what you do:
Take it off. Take it all off. Seriously. Strip down, stand in front of the mirror, and check yourself out -- everywhere, advises Lonnie Barbach, Ph.D., author of Turn Ons: Pleasing Yourself While You Please Your Lover. Bend, stretch, run your hands over every angle and curve. Those areas that seem squishy to you? Believe it or not, they're probably the ones that feel softest and most sensual under your husband's fingertips. He won't see them as "problem areas" unless you point them out, adds Laura Berman, Ph.D., author of Real Women, Real Sex.
Then dress the part of a sexy woman. Not in thigh-high boots or skimpy thongs (unless you're into that), but in clothes that don't hide your body. Kick those oversize tees and baggy sweats to the back of the closet, and find a pair of jeans that fit and a flattering top or two. A lacy pair of undies won't hurt either. And if you just can't bear to bare it all in bed, invest in some sexy lingerie that you can leave on -- at least up until the last minute. (You won't care by then, we promise!)
Finally, get physical. Studies show that exercise alone can improve body image, whether or not it results in pounds or inches lost. A walk with the kids, a sweat-inducing spring cleaning -- anything that gets you moving -- is practically guaranteed to budge the needle on a skewed body image.
Issue: eek! no time
My husband and I are like two ships passing in the night -- every night. We want to get together, but we can't figure out how.
If you're waiting around for a free moment to magically appear so the two of you can be alone, forget that. It's about as likely to happen as your kid is likely to potty-train herself -- which is why the following advice gets repeated again and again: In order to have time together, you're going to have to schedule it. "The rest of your life is planned practically down to the hour," says Barbach. "Sex shouldn't be any different." Pick a day and time together, and then write it down on your calendar (or tap it into your BlackBerry or iPhone and set the alarm). Whatever you do, try not to cancel. And if you absolutely have to, reschedule right away! Even better, keep a standing date for sex -- like Friday nights or even Saturday mornings while the kids are at soccer practice.
If timing isn't the problem so much as logistics (you can't "let go" with the kids in the house, for example), then get out. "Find another couple in the same boat, and take turns babysitting," suggests psychologist Laurie Mintz, Ph.D. Enjoy having an empty house to yourselves, or book a room in a nearby hotel (even if you can only manage to stay a few hours). "For about the same amount of money a fancy dinner would cost," says Mintz, "you can get a bargain hotel room, a cheap bottle of wine, and some bubble bath." Bonus: You won't have to make the bed afterward.
Issue: yawn... I'm too tired for sex
And it's not just me. My partner is as wiped out as I am much of the time.
Sheer exhaustion is a huge sex-drive deflator for anyone -- and that goes for the parents of older kids as well as newborns. Even after your baby is sleeping through the night, you may not get enough rest. Maybe your preschooler is going through a bed-wetting or bad-dream stage, or you're sacrificing zzz's for after-hours laundry or catch-up e-mails. Do what you can to log as much shut-eye as you need, whether that means snoozing when your kid naps during the day or divvying up chores more equitably so that you and your partner are both better able to get a decent amount of sleep. And if you're not convinced you'll be able to get your husband to pitch in more? Just explain that you need time to relax and recharge in order to feel like making love. You'll be amazed at how fast the dishwasher gets unloaded.
Issue: ouch! sex hurts
It's been three years since I had my kid, but I hurt down there -- lately, anything beyond second base practically kills.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that two thirds of women will have painful sex at some point in their lives. Obviously, any number of physical issues can crop up during the childbearing years -- post-delivery soreness, dryness caused by breastfeeding or birth-control products -- all of which can be dealt with straightforwardly (with lubricants and more foreplay).
A less specific source of discomfort is a condition called vulvodynia, which results in burning, itching, stinging, or a raw feeling around the opening of the vagina, says Lynne Shuster, M.D., director of the Women's Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. It's not always clear what causes this, but a vulvar-pain specialist (ask your ob-gyn for a referral) can usually pinpoint what's going on and prescribe treatment. Some women find relief in topical creams, for example.
Issue: help! my sex drive has gone AWOL
Not only is my libido lost, I don't know where to look for it! I love my husband, but sometimes I think I could live without sex for the rest of my life and be perfectly fine.
If you can relate, you're not alone. As many as 33 million women in the U.S. report being uninterested in sex. The good news: This absolutely doesn't have to be a permanent state. "A person's libido is made up of two parts: sex drive and desire," says Dr. Shuster. Sex drive is the physical urge to be, well, sexual, the part that's fueled by hormones and easily affected by many of the things we've already touched on -- like fatigue and discomfort.
Desire, on the other hand, is the craving to be close to your mate. That doesn't usually go away on its own, but it can certainly get buried. Couples with kids frequently allow the demands of parenting and work and outside activities to get in the way of intimacy. "And if you're not connecting, chances are you won't feel like making love," says Barbach. Face time with your partner should be a priority; it's just as important as spending time with the kids.
Some other ways to jump-start your libido -- for you both:
Get in touch, literally. "Make physical contact with each other in loving, nonsexual ways throughout the day," says Mintz. Gentle hugs and quick shoulder rubs are essential to staying close.
Flirt. Sit on your husband's lap during family movie night or engage him in a quick lip-lock while you cook dinner. Suggestive, nondemanding encounters like these will send the message to your partner that you find him attractive, and they'll likely stir up your own desires.
Be on the lookout for inspiration. Did something on TV turn you on? Did you notice how cute your husband's butt looked this morning when he came out of the shower? Jump on those passing thoughts (and him, if possible!).
Just do it. "Adopt a Nike-like attitude toward sex," says Michele Weiner-Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Wife. Sometimes it's a good idea to make love even if you feel blasé about it at that moment. You'll be surprised at how quickly you go from lukewarm to hot.
Amy Beal is an assistant editor at Parenting.