After giving birth, having sex again following that six-week hiatus can be nerve-racking. You’re not sure what to expect, and you’re maybe not at your most body-positive. Sure, your husband has probably seen you in various states of undress since you bore a child. Mine saw me walking around topless with a super-flattering breastfeeding pillow strapped around my middle like a postpartum inner tube, symbolic of those first weeks with a newborn spent barely keeping my head above water. But things feel different. And you feel different. Is everything going to work the same, feel the same?
Going into that first time post-baby, I had those same fears. And I found that the short answer to the above questions is, “Probably not.” Sex did feel different. I felt different.
The only thing that stayed the same?
I was still faking my orgasms.
I grew up in a home where sex was only discussed in a negative or shameful way. The only exposure I had to anything that might give me an idea of what to expect one day was our television picking up the Playboy channel with heavy static. I watched the women on my snowy TV screen and went through adolescence thinking that sex was simple, noisy, and quick. When I first learned what masturbation was, I attempted it once for a minute or two and came to the conclusion that something was broken. I didn’t try again for years.
When I started running through bases one, two, and three with my first boyfriend in high school, I was disappointed to find that none of that seemed to work for me either. The first time we fooled around, I faked my first orgasm, not knowing what one actually felt like and assuming I was unable to have them because I thought I was taking too long. I didn’t have my first one until I spent one very long and frustrated (but determined) night alone trying to figure out what the hell worked for me.
Did this change my sex life? Of course not, because I was still extremely uncomfortable talking about sex. Even thinking about giving any kind of direction or requesting what I needed made me want to climb out a window. I didn’t want to seem different or weird or difficult. I didn’t want to make the men I had sex with feel like they were bad at it. Not that any of them ever had reservations about having their needs met. Don’t tell me that telling girls to smile and be nice their entire lives doesn’t royally screw them up.
When I was in my very-early-20s, I met my husband. Now, he is nothing short of attentive and thorough in the bedroom, but I wasn’t even giving myself a chance at that point. The first time that I faked it with him, he seemed skeptical, but I insisted I had gotten off. I’d fake an orgasm after a few minutes, once I felt that enough sex had been had. If he kept going, I’d fake another. If he still wasn’t there yet, I’d fake another, and another, and so on until he finished. He’d even comment on how easy it was for me.
And I nodded and smiled.
Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to engage in sex that was mutually satisfying, I continued with what I was used to — again, not wanting to hurt feelings or appear to be high-maintenance even though I knew he would be supportive and appreciate my honesty. I was too embarrassed to need too much attention or time or effort. It had been years since I watched scrambled porn with the volume turned down low, but those depictions of sex, created by men and for men, stuck with me even though I was older and knew better.
We talk about the wage gap and other areas where women are not getting what they deserve or are uncomfortable asking for what they need — whether it be a raise in salary, help with child care or housework, or just a run-of-the-mill orgasm. Asking for anything beyond what we are dealt doesn’t always feel right, and that’s not right.
The problem with lying at the start of a relationship is that the lie only grows and becomes harder to correct over time. As you journey further into the relationship, the window to address the lie gets smaller and smaller until it fades out behind you. I was eventually so far into this relationship — a mortgage, a marriage, and kids into it — that the window was a distant memory. As I became increasingly dissatisfied with our sex life, I searched for a new window — one where I could address my dysfunction without bringing up almost a decade of dishonesty. That was the only discussion that I was even less interested in having.
And when I had our second child, I saw my window.
That first time having sex after giving birth? I didn’t look at it with fear this time. I only saw hope. And that might be a dramatic way of describing it, but you try being afraid to have an orgasm with the man you’ve loved for almost 10 years and let me know how ecstatic you are at the mere possibility. I knew sex was going to feel different for me, and so did he, and I used that to give myself permission to be honest about what sex actually felt like, and how it didn’t feel, and what was working for me, and what wasn’t.
That night, I had honest sex for the first time in my life. I didn’t make the noises. I didn’t rush things along. I let him know when something wasn’t working. I didn’t fake it. And we did some troubleshooting together.
I didn’t have an orgasm on the first try, or the next. But eventually, we figured it out. I have been having sex for roughly half my life, and I am finally starting to enjoy it.
And let me tell you: The feeling of actually getting what you want and need during sex far outweighs the awkwardness of asking for it, by a lot. Like, a lot a lot. The kind of a lot that makes me want to stop women on the street and ask them if they are telling their partners what they need in the bedroom. I don’t actually stop them, but I’m sending a lot of sex-positive vibes out into the world in the hopes that Os are being had.
Don’t be like me. Be honest, speak up, and tell your lover what you want and need in the bedroom.