What to talk about
That there's love behind your lovemaking
If you state explicitly, right up front, that you love and respect each other, and that in talking about this you're only talking about the way you show your love, you're both likely to feel more comfortable expressing your feelings. And keep reminding each other of your love and your mutual desire for each other's happiness -- that should be the backdrop to your conversation.
The meaning of sex
You can't figure out how to fix your love life if you don't know what you want it to be. So discuss what physical intimacy represents to yourselves and in your relationship. Women, for instance, often misunderstand the ways in which sex is important for many men. It's not just a matter of stereotypical gotta-have-it male urges but can be a critical form of emotional expression. For whatever combination of reasons, many men feel and express love physically, so they may experience a lack of sex as rejecting not only them but their offering of love as well.
The definition of sex
It's a good idea to talk openly about what actually constitutes "sex" to each of you. Is it only intercourse, or does it include other kinds of touching? A husband whose sex drive is at low ebb may be delighted to find that his wife will think him no less a man if he gives her a massage -- with or without "extras" -- instead of a more "demanding" service.
For Cook and her husband, sharing an understanding that she no longer felt sexual about her breasts was a breakthrough. "I felt like they were just for my kids, not him," she says. With that off the table, they were able to talk about what did still work for both of them.
That it's not him. Or you
Many factors mess with parents' love life, only rarely sexual skills or prowess. The list includes exhaustion, a light-sleeping child, hormones, embarrassment about weight gain, lack of time, difficulty shifting gears from parent to lover.
When Heidi Johnecheck, of Petosky, Michigan, mother of Max, 4, and Jaxon, 2, found a magazine article that listed ten reasons it's physically hard for moms to have sex -- everything from vaginal dryness to sheer exhaustion -- she tore it out and gave it to her husband. "As much as I'd tried to tell him, he just couldn't comprehend what 'I don't feel like it' meant," she says, and he took it personally. "But the article showed that it wasn't just me or just him."
Specific ways to make things better
Johnecheck and her husband decided to tackle one simple problem head-on: They made a kid-free visit to a local sex shop to buy some lubricants. "We actually made a date together," Johnecheck says, "and decided to just be silly and have fun with it."
Brainstorming about what might help you get back in the swing of things is a great way to move things forward. At the top of the list for most couples? "More private time," says Dr. Raskin. And while scheduling "date night" can help, think about it broadly. If nights out are expensive and infrequent, what about finding time in the mornings (when women's testosterone levels are highest, resulting in higher libido)? What about Saturday-afternoon naptime (when you'll both be less tired than at night)?
This is not the time to be shy or coy. Be specific about yourself ("I'm finding that it takes me a lot longer to get excited lately"). If you want more mood setting than "Okay, the baby's asleep. Let's do this," ask for it: "First I'd like you to sit through a chick flick with me and hold my hand."
Your body and your life have changed since you had a child. Maybe there's something in particular that you do want that you never did before. Just say it: harder, softer, faster, slower, touch me here. And if you say what you do want your husband to do instead of just what you don't, he'll likely be turned on, too.
For me and J.B., when I finally could say "Not tonight" without worrying it would turn into a fight, a funny thing happened. It became easier for me to say yes. Because once I knew he understood my feelings, we started to address some of the underlying issues: I needed more time for myself, more romance, and more help with our daughter.
Those first years after the birth of Ramona were tough. But four years later I now see talking about sex as just another opportunity for expanding our intimacy -- in and out of the bedroom.