Navigating your pregnant and postpartum body is a unique experience for everyone, and while there’s plenty of medical advice on how to physically reconnect with your sexuality during and after giving birth, mentally this can be challenging for many people.
During pregnancy and the postpartum period, it’s essential to take note of any sensations, emotions, and urges and not to feel guilty for experiencing any of them. Your brain and body have changed during the process, and — since you are in a new mental and physical state — this will feel uncomfortable at times. It will probably take some adjustment and an open mind. After giving birth, for example, your body goes through a series of changes known as “matrescence,” a similar state to puberty.
“Feeding can also negatively impact sexual desire due to the rise in prolactin levels [the hormone that encourages milk production],” Dr. Lorna Hobbs, a clinical psychologist, tells Flo.
“Increased prolactin is linked to decreased sexual desire. It’s also well known that sleep deprivation and the resulting tiredness also negatively impacts sexual desire. Getting a good night’s sleep can increase the likelihood of having sex the following day by as much as 14 percent.”
During this time, you might not feel up to sex or masturbation at all; you might feel aroused at strange times; or you might feel as though your old sexual self is an iteration of the past — someone you’ve waved goodbye to and are now grieving. These feelings are completely normal. Postpartum is a strange time, and it’s accompanied by a range of emotions, as well as a physical healing process.
“Our sex education system has failed us [when it comes] to what to expect after pregnancy and has further failed the LGBTQ+ community in this respect,” Casey Tanner, a licensed sex therapist at The Expansive Group, tells Flo. “This leads to feelings of isolation and embarrassment around experiences that are perfectly normal and healthy.”
Experts say that sex begins and ends in the brain, and this applies to both partnered and solo sex. Often, the arousal we feel exists in a separate realm than our physical sensations. Being touched is great, but our imaginations are limitless. Pregnancy and the months and years postpartum are a great time to remember this.
After a vaginal birth, you will feel sore and may have stitches to contend with. The same goes for a caesarean birth. This means that touching the areas that need to heal will be a no-go for at least a few weeks. Avoiding the vaginal opening, anus, and perineum, or your caesarean scar, is a must while you recover. Your health care professional can advise on what’s best for you.
Remember, too, that women and people with ovaries can start ovulating again as early as 25 days after giving birth, so condoms or a similar barrier method of contraception are a must to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
But sex doesn’t just mean penetrative sex, and penetrative sex doesn’t just mean penises. “The good news here is that there are a number of [other] highly sensual and erotic activities in which you can engage solo or with a partner,” Tanner says. “After all, the clitoris is accessible externally, and if you feel up for it, clitoral orgasms are possible and safe.”
It’s easier to develop an infection if anything is inserted into the vagina during this time — this goes for toys and fingers, too. Your perineum and your anus, next door, will also feel tender, and according to Dr. Gunvor Ekman Ordeberg, OB-GYN, the risk of bacterial transmission around these areas is at an all-time high after birth. Of course, everyone heals at different rates, and it’s important to listen to your body.
But definitions of queer sex are myriad, and sex can include many acts and ideas. “Reconnecting with your sexuality after childbirth must be done at a pace you feel comfortable with,” says Dr. Hobbs. “It can also provide an opportunity to explore and re-define aspects of your sexuality and sexual relationship(s), and to try out something new.
“But because LGBTQ+ sex doesn’t have to happen in a particular way, open communication about what you like and dislike becomes really important. Talking openly about sex can be a turn-on in and of itself, but many of us have been raised in environments where talking about sex openly is a bit taboo and can carry with it some shame. Acknowledging this can be a good place to start.”
Gently easing yourself back into things after having a baby is important, so let your body guide you and stop if a position is uncomfortable. You shouldn’t feel pressured to do anything that doesn’t feel good.
Here are a few ways you can reconnect with your sexual self: