Written by Emilie Lavinia
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:
Therapists call this “sensate focus.” Massage, light tapping, scratching, stroking, and kissing will fire up the body’s nerve endings and encourage feelings of arousal. Of course, these feelings don’t have to lead anywhere, and it’s important to take your time or have your partner move slowly and purposefully.
“Sensual touch without the assumption that it will end in penetrative sex, or even orgasm, can be incredibly freeing and connective,” Tanner explains.
This might be a new practice for you if you’re used to getting right down to it, but it’s worth doing in order to focus on parts of your body that may have changed during pregnancy and birth. Set your own pace and spend time lightly touching your whole body. You can use toys like a glass or crystal massage wand or silicone probe to touch yourself or have your partner touch you. Spend time on your neck, belly, ears, and inner thighs and return the favor, gently touching your partner while kissing and talking.
Hone in on the clitoris, a pleasure center that bypasses the spinal column and sends signals straight to the brain. This means that every sensation can be felt, so start slowly by pressing it, having your partner blow on it or maybe kiss it, gently rub it, and then progress to suction and vibration tools.
“The clitoris has a plethora of nerve endings, and clitoral stimulation is the type of touch most likely to lead to orgasm for [women and] people with vulvas,” Tanner explains. “If you find that direct touch with a vibrator or finger feels overstimulating, try massaging the clitoris through the folds of the labia for a less intense sensation.”
Using a clitoral pinpoint toy can be particularly effective here. You can take turns with your partner using this technique. Just make sure you’re both comfortable.
Indulge in speaking to yourself and to your partner as a sexual being. Sex talk can feel foreign after having a baby, especially if you don’t feel like the sexiest version of yourself. But in their 2002 book Sex Talk, Aline P. Zolbrod, PhD, and Lauren Dockett suggest that telling your partner they turn you on — or what you find sexy about them — can help you reconnect with your potential for arousal.
“Many people have what’s called ‘responsive desire,’ meaning that they become aroused only in highly sexy contexts,” Tanner explains. “Sexy talk can be part of creating a context that coaxes out desire and arousal.”
Ask them to do the same for you. Talk through fantasies and discuss the best sex you ever had with each other out loud. Tell each other sexy stories or use a mirror to tell yourself things that turn you on. Getting used to seeing yourself as the same sexy storyteller with the same imagination in a new body can be reassuring and thrilling in equal measure. It can also be gender affirming and help with feelings of dysphoria.
“Many people can feel a little shy or self-conscious when attempting sex talk for the first time,” says Dr. Hobbs. “A great place to start can be as simple as commenting on what your partner is doing to you in the moment (e.g. I love it when you do X); commenting on what your partner did (e.g. I love it when you did X); and commenting on what you look forward to your partner doing (e.g. I can’t wait until you do X).”
You might not feel comfortable allowing your partner to touch you. It’s perfectly normal to feel protective of your body after giving birth and to feel anxious about anyone but you putting their hands on you. If this is the case, start by exploring what turns you on through masturbation.
“One of the best ways to explore your sexuality and find out what turns you on is through exploration of your own body,” says Dr. Hobbs. “Once you know what you like, it’s much easier to communicate this to a partner.
“Your body will have gone through all sorts of changes throughout pregnancy and childbirth, and you may feel that what turns you on and how you like to be touched has changed. If you find you’re not quite ready to be sexual with your partner, reconnecting with your own body through self-touch/masturbation is another, potentially less-pressured way, to notice any changes and start the process of becoming sexual again.”
Mutual masturbation is a great way to play as partners too. This means having your partner watch you engage in solo play. They can watch you touch your own body and erogenous zones in a way that feels comfortable for you. This doesn’t have to mean being naked or going straight for the clitoris, it can be as simple as running your hands over your body while making eye contact with your partner.
Watch each other, mirror each other, and take visual cues without actually touching each other. You may find that watching your partner touch themselves while you do the same makes you feel more comfortable with them and helps you to step back into your sexual power. Feeling admired and desired releases serotonin and oxytocin in the brain.
You can give and receive oral sex postpartum, but you need to be careful. Take care that you are comfortable when giving and communicate with your partner about how you want to receive. Communicate clearly with your partner about any areas you don’t want them to stimulate.
You may, for example, want to avoid your perineum and vaginal opening and instead have your partner focus on your vulva, giving special attention to your labia and inner thighs, kissing your stomach, or pressing on your clitoris with their tongue. If you’re trying a position like 69 or you’re kneeling above your partner, be clear about what’s off limits before you start and try using pillows or the edge of your bed or couch to support your weight.
“Don’t forget that oral stimulation of other erogenous zones is also available to you; kissing along the inner wrists, nape of the neck, and hips can be highly sensual and connective,” explains Tanner.
Not being able to use toys might be challenging during the postpartum period, especially if you’re experiencing gender dysphoria. Talk to your healthcare professional to find out when’s the best time to start having penetrative sex again. Their recommendation will depend on the type of delivery you’ve had, whether you had complications or not, and how your recovery is going. Everyone is different, so you’ll want to go with what feels right for you.
If you’re using a prosthetic, strap-on, or insertable toy, start slow and instead of rushing to use the larger and more powerful toys you may be used to using, perhaps opt for something soft and flexible that doesn’t vibrate. Depending on how this goes, you can build up to using larger, firmer insertables with more features.
Some positions will naturally feel more comfortable than others after having a child. Your entire pelvic region is supported by a hammock of muscles that stretches as your baby grows. These muscles are under enormous strain and can therefore be pushed to their limits after birth. Your core muscles are also affected by pregnancy and labor, so they might feel sore and tender too.
“During orgasm, the area around the vaginal canal elevates and widens, while the entrance relaxes,” explains Dr. Mafe Peraza Godoy, head of sexual medicine at Healthy Pleasure Group.
Having a balanced tone to the pelvic floor muscles allows for this to take place. Pelvic floor function is also related to the relaxation and vaginal lubrication that can happen when a person with a vagina becomes sexually aroused.
“Hypertonia that has caused either the bladder or rectum to descend through the vaginal canal can affect [a person’s] self-image, which has a knock-on effect on sexual desire,” Dr. Godoy explains. “Urinary incontinence after birth can also affect confidence, and using pads can cause irritation and discomfort during penetration or other genital stimulation.”
You need to be guided by what feels comfortable for you. As a rule though, it’s a good idea to ease yourself back into penetrative sex by opting for supportive positions, like spooning or having sex on your side using pillows to prop you up.
You’re likely to be sore, so avoid scissoring, deep penetration, or anything that puts too much pressure on your pelvic area in those early weeks and months after having a baby.
Watching each other is great, but if you don’t feel able to perform for one another, you can always leave that to the professionals. Queer porn comes in so many amazing formats these days, from low-key audio apps to cinematic feats that are ethically made and beautiful to view.
Indulging in watching sex you might not be ready to have, but nonetheless want to see, can be liberating in the months following birth. It can also help you to stay connected to your sexual self and enjoy being aroused. Watching or listening with a partner can also be a great prelude to mutual masturbation, or sensual cuddling, and can help to bring you closer together.
Sleepless nights, supercharged hormones, and the physical changes your body goes through during and after pregnancy might mean that sex is the last thing on your mind right now. That’s completely normal.
Communication is key here. Talk to your partner about how you feel, and what you need from them, so you can set the pace when it comes to intimacy, make sure they feel included, and take the pressure off.
That might mean modifying your sex life, trying something new (like mutual masturbation), or even taking a break for a while, until your libido comes back or you feel ready. You know your body best.
Remember that intimacy isn’t just about sex. Small acts of affection, such as kissing and holding hands, serve as a reminder that the attraction is still there.
Please note these resources are just for reference and are in no way associated with Flo
If you’ve been affected by anything in this piece or are struggling with your mental health and would like to speak to someone, Flo has gathered links to support services that might be helpful. Please visit this page for helplines in different countries.