Welcome to ‘Sex After Kids,’ a column where parents frankly talk about how their sex lives shifted after they had children and what steps they took to recalibrate their relationship. A baby raises the stakes. Couples have less time to devote to one another, emotional intimacy can dwindle, date nights – at least for the first months – are nearly non-existent, and sex is often a non-starter. Couples must adapt. Here’s how they do it.
Britney and Philip Young had to constantly check in with each other after their baby was born. The Southern California couple have been together for 11 years and married for five. Like many soon-to-be parents, they talked a lot about “life after baby” but were still shocked by what they found on the other side. The dealt with mismatched sex-drives and issues of intimacy and basically had to rediscover how to make one another feel appreciated again. Slowly but surely, however, they worked their way through it. Now, their baby is 14 months old and they say their relationship has never been better. We spoke to Britney and Philip together about how their marriage shifted after their baby was born, how their sex lives changed post-baby, and what they did to create a stronger relationship and more intimacy than ever before.
When you knew you were having a baby, did you guys talk a lot about how becoming parents would change your relationship and sex life?
Britney: When we were pregnant, everything was amazing. We were so excited for our baby. We knew having a baby would be stressful, but you literally have no concept until you’re in it. We underestimated how much of an impact our baby would have on that.
How was your relationship effected?
Phillip As far as our sex life, it was fairly easy and straightforward before she got pregnant and throughout her pregnancy. But once the baby came I kind of set the expectation low, with breastfeeding – and I knew it would be three-to-six months or so before we got back to our regular sex life based on information I had.
Recovery from birth has a lot to do with intimacy after the baby. How was your recovery?
B: No one talks about it.
Not really, no. And it’s not just physical, either.
B: Yeah. Recovery, for me, physically, I’d say it was at least two months before I kind of felt like I could physically do anything I had done before I had my baby. I was fortunately able to take time off and be home and slow down and connect with my daughter. I feel really fortunate, because I know my sister did not have that opportunity. She was back to work within three weeks of her baby being born. I was able to recover physically, and mentally, in a much more healthy way and much faster than most American moms do.
But, in some respects, I’m still recovering. It’s still just a huge transition. Our baby is developing and there are new demands, and as soon as you think you have figured it out, something is different.
So, after your baby arrived, were you guys even thinking about sex?
B: I know I was not. I do not even know. I do not remember when we actually had sex after the baby. I was not aware of if it was three or nine months. I just know that I had negative sex drive, and Philip had a very high sex drive.
B: That dynamic was challenging, and then there’s a lot of pressure, and expectations, and doubt, and shame. All of these things were creeping in because of this one area of our lives. I do not even know when we actually started trying again.
P: I would say two-to-three months.
B: No way.
I spoke to a father recently and he swore that your brain makes you forget what it’s like to have a newborn so you think you can have sex again.
P: One thing to add was that we saw that period to really focus on our relationship in general. One value we really love is being outside. We’re lucky – we live in Southern California. So we made a deal with each other, and for our baby, to go to a different national park site every month. So, just being out in nature, being out on the trail, with a small, really young infant, really allowed us to have great conversations and connect with each other, in a different aspect than our everyday lives.
B: Those were very intimate experiences that were not about sex – but, they were very vital to our relationship health and connecting as a couple and with our baby.
Looking back, what was the sex-less period like for you?
B: It was challenging. There was a lot of pressure, doubt, shame.
Philip: My mindset was to be patient. Every once in a while, we would try. But with her sex drive being so low, it was not the experience that I would imagine in my mind. She did have to go see an endocrinologist. When she got her thyroid levels checked, he mentioned that she had a biological impact on her sex drive as well, being a breastfeeding mother. To have that data shown to us really helped me be patient.
I take it you guys spoke a lot about these issues with one another. What helped?
P: The biggest breakthrough for me – as the person with the higher sex drive – was the realization that intimacy is really two things: physical and emotional. When I learned that really, you need emotional intimacy that really flows into physical intimacy, is when breakthroughs happen. I would take more time to hear Britney out, to make eye contact.
We also – I do not know if you’s familiar with the love languages - but we learned each other’s. I knew that she loved for me to help and to be present and to do dishes, so as a new father, to know that it’s not a task but it’s actually one way to de-stress ourselves, make our homes and lives easier, and it possibly could have an impact in our bedroom, that was a big eye-opener for me. That made our sex better, too.
B: Yeah, we definitely like, tried so many things. We tried calendars. We had tried all of the different things: scheduling sex, date nights, this, that. I think that’s what we needed to go through for our own journey, but none of those things worked for us. It was honestly a realization of – as a woman, too – after having a baby, you see your body differently. I mean, it’s incredible, and it completely changes. A lot of it I feel like was about me just taking time to accept my body and appreciate it and love it as well as realizing that intimacy takes many forms.
I also recognized that because of the demands of being a new mom, I was not experiencing a lot of joy, day to day.
B: I was more stressed. I was not allowing myself to feel appreciated or feel loved. Because I was caught in my head. So, I think what was really helpful. I guess, what I’m saying is that that transferred into the bedroom. I was feeling a deficit of joy and pleasure and connection, with all my senses. I was starting sexual experiences in a deficit and I was needing to recoup and then feel open and connect.
And that really helped?
B: When I made that shift, and started realizing that on a day to day level I have opportunities to really enjoy the music I’m listening to, or take a deep breath, or have a deep conversation with someone, and that if I’m having these intimate, sensual experiences all day, then when it comes down to a moment of sexual experience with my husband, I’m already there. I do not feel that deficit. It was just a matter of understanding each other’s love languages and also just kind of letting go. I was able to surrender once I let myself let go. But that could not have happened if we did not try all of those other things – the scheduling of sex, the date night, all that.
So establishing that emotional intimacy was key?
B: Being a new parent was definitely a factor. The demands of motherhood. I think it’s common for women to be in their head and to try to fix things. And, honestly, I had this pressure of, ‘If he puts his arm around me, does that mean he wants sex?’ I just had to let go of that. I just had to let go of expectations. He can not expect that if I’m into the shoulder rub, that means we’re going to have sex; and I can not expect that he wants more than just a shoulder rub. Like, it lets it go. The ability to surrender was much easier when I was able to take care of myself, and enjoy the day to day moments.
There was definitely a phase where I felt the pressure, and Phillip was like “I’m trying and you’re not.” Our next phase was, “Okay, I’ll just do whatever you want.” You might think that would be great. There’s a person with a super-high sex drive, with someone who will do anything you want. That should work. But the fact is, I was not into it at all and so he was not into it. So that did not work. But we worked through it.
Did anything else really help?
P: Yeah. We did start something called a weekly family meeting. We scheduled it at 5am on Sunday, because we knew that was the only time we could have to ourselves. It really created a situation where we communicated more and made requests from each other where we might not have in another situation. That framework really helped us dig deeper and honestly have a better understanding of what was going on.
Now that your baby is more than a year, how is your marriage now?
P: Things right now are the best they’ve ever been in our whole relationship. We’d try something; if it works, great. If not, we tried something different. We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve found what works for us really well. I wonder if we were maybe in a different situation before where we could not do that.
B: The first thing that had to happen was a conversation about intimacy. We realized that we were coming at the situation with two very different ideas. When we got really clear on what we wanted, what we did not want, and had those honest conversations, it just became easier. We were not wasting our time doing things that were not effective. We spent time doing things that were meaningful.
P: Britney would say that she would be in the mood when ‘these things happen.’ Before, I would see those as a checklist or demands. And now I think: Why would I see that as a checklist? She’s literally telling me that these are things that need to happen for her environment to be set. So, now I feel like I’m contributing towards, literally, the best sex we’ve had in our whole relationship, instead of seeing it as this defiant thing like: Why do I have to check all these boxes? Things are great.