If we are to believe every movie and sitcom ever made, women want nothing to do with sex in the period after they give birth—and possibly for the rest of their lives after that. But, and this may make you blush because technically moms + sex = eww, it turns out that in fact many postpartum women are totally DTF. True, the new study that discovered this phrased it in slightly less crude terms, but the basic point is that despite the total chaos, lack of sleep, and physical recovery that comes with having a newborn, women seem to make it through the process with sex drive intact and often want to start getting down and dirty with their partners before the doctor-imposed six-week waiting period is even up. Well shut the nursery door and cue the sexy music.
Obviously there are some serious impediments to sex when you have a small baby constantly clinging to you and screaming like some sort of programmed torture device every time you start to drift off to sleep. It has previously been found that sexual desire usually returns to pre-pregnancy levels within about a month, but often people don't have sex until seven or eight weeks after a birth. This new study, which was done by researchers at the University of Michigan, found that for many women the psychological factors—like bonding with one's partner and their partner's interest in sex—overrode what are considered the physical impediments to postpartum sex drive like vaginal trauma, breastfeeding, and complete exhaustion.
Previous research has focused on the role of physical traumas and hormones in postpartum sex drive, but this new study, led by behavioral endocrinologist Sari van Anders, looked at both the physical and emotional side of things. They asked about 300 women who'd given birth within the last seven years to answer an online questionnaire about their postpartum sexual activities and desires, about the role their partner played (they all had partners at the time of the birth), their own birth experience, and physical factors like breastfeeding. What they found was that women didn't just start having sex again to please their partners—they often did it because they really wanted too. Someone alert the writers of those hilarious family sitcoms that like to crack jokes about how mommy wants daddy to leave her alone!
It turned out feelings of intimacy and closeness were the biggest reason women were driven back into the marital bed, so to speak. The second biggest reason was their partner's interest in gettin' it on, and that was followed by their own horniness (aka "sexual feelings," as science calls it) and the amount of support they got from their partner. In terms of why people DIDN'T want to have sex, they were the obvious reasons: fatigue, the baby's sleep schedule, and not having any time.
The researchers found that by the end of the first three months, 85 percent of women had had intercourse, and 65 percent of them had had oral sex. Masturbation was also a factor, with 61 percent of women lending themselves a helping hand. It seems that women got back into giving oral sex and masturbation first, and then progressed to receiving oral sex and having penetrative sex a bit down the line—which can probably be explained by the fact that doctors usually tell people to wait six weeks before having sex.
The thing that most affected the timing of when a couple started having sex again was how a woman perceived her partner's sexual needs, which does mean that a lot of women probably start having sex sooner then they'd be naturally inclined for the sake of their partners. But they also found that the amount of social support and what a woman's experience had been in giving birth were also factors in how soon she was ready. The one thing that didn't affect timing? The physical factors like tiredness, breast-feeding, and a woman's body image. Presumably because those things are just as likely to affect a woman four weeks after giving birth as they are four months. And even though there is the six-week restriction from most doctors, the study found that 26 percent of women had sex before then. Tsk tsk? As soon as they hit the seven week mark, however, 61 percent of women were having sex—so many did appear to be following doctors orders.
What's especially interesting is that the within the first few postpartum weeks 40 percent of women had masturbated. Lead researcher van Anders explains what this means,
People have frequently assumed that women just aren't interested in sexuality early in the postpartum period and that the sexual activity they do engage in is for the sake of their partners, but the rates of masturbation suggests that many women are feeling sexual.
Well, watch as the specialty postpartum vibrartor market explodes and they become the next big baby shower gift… But seriously, what does this actually mean for how we talk about postpartum sexuality. According to van Anders,
Health-care providers often don't discuss too much about sexuality before that six-week period except to express that women shouldn't be doing anything penetrative until after that timeframe. But our data suggest that women are engaging in a host of behaviors and that they have desire.
That means doctors could probably do a better job of talking to their patients about what they may feel and what is safe. Obviously, that may not be at the top of a new mother's mind at her doctors appointment, but it could help women feel more comfortable embracing that part of the experience of returning back to their "normal" selves after a pregnancy.
New Moms Reveal the Truth About Postpartum Sex [LiveScience]