You used to do it all the time. When you were a teenager, you were obsessed with doing it. When you were first married, you did it every night and wondered smugly how people could do otherwise. There were times when you couldn’t do it enough. You’ve done it multiple times a night. You did it creatively. Yeah, you’ve been tied down.
Now you can barely summon enough libido to do it once a month. You are that person who only has sex every two weeks, that person you scorned, that person you smugly thought you’d never be. You don’t want to do it all the time.
And mama, that’s okay.
Let’s get one thing straight: You don’t owe anybody sex. Forget the idea of “marital rights” or “marital duties.” You are not obligated to have sex with anyone you don’t want to have sex with, coerced or not. It doesn’t matter if you used to have sex three times a day. It doesn’t matter if you used to use whips, chains, and Catholic school uniforms. When I got married, I still had that mythical teen libido. Now? Not so much. That doesn’t mean I owe my husband the same amount of sex we had when we got hitched.
Basically, rape culture has convinced women that we owe men sex in certain situations. That includes when he buys you dinner, when you’re dating, and especially when you’re married. If we don’t do it, conventional wisdom warns, our husbands will find entertainment elsewhere, probably in the arms of another woman. In extreme cases, he might even leave us high and dry. The language around marital sex gets melodramatic pretty quickly. But in a good marriage, no partner owes the other their body.
It’s hard being a mother. You have these little people clinging to you all the time. They want to be in your lap. They want to be in your arms. They want to be on your breast. They want to be in your bed. They want you, in all your physicality, all the time. So when they finally go to sleep, your body may need a break from all the grabbing and groping and holding. You might be touched out. It’s okay to see sex as one more person grabbing at you. It happens at this stage.
Anyway, your hormones change postpartum. They make you want your baby more and your husband less. You want to love on your brand new bundle of joy, not your old sex buddy. This reflects itself in just not wanting to have sex. And if you’re breastfeeding, the prolactin makes it harder to get in the mood, both mentally and physically. You just aren’t as likely to want sex anymore. Hormonally, you can think of any sex you do have as a bonus.
And it’s hard to have sex with kids in the house. First, the baby’s probably sleeping in your room, or you’re at least listening for him all the time. Then you have these little people running around who might bust in on you at any moment. Sure, there are locks. But that doesn’t stop them from banging on the door and screaming, “Mommy! Mommy! I need you, Mommy!” Even the knowledge that this might happen tends to kill the mood.
It’s also common to feel different after you have a baby. You look different, certainly. I went from a teenage dream body to a saggy paunch, crepey skin, and stretch marks. I settled at 20 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight. The last thing I wanted to do was to get naked in front of someone. I didn’t even want to see myself naked. No matter how much my husband assures me that he finds me as attractive as he did before I had kids, I can’t bring myself to believe him. That’s not unusual.
Also, according to the CDC, 11 to 20% of women who give birth have postpartum depression symptoms. And basically, you don’t want to have sex if you’re depressed. Period. It’s one of the actual symptoms of depression. Meanwhile, medications commonly used to treat it can decrease your libido and make it difficult or impossible to reach orgasm. It’s no fun to do it when everyone doesn’t get their cookie. Normal postpartum hormones can interfere with orgasm as well. And it’s hard to convince yourself to go through all that trouble and stickiness for no payoff other than togetherness.
In the end, your body is your own. It’s okay if you’re not in the mood on one night, on two nights, or on all the nights. It’s nice to have sex. Usually, you’ll enjoy it once you get started. But if you decide not to try, that’s fine. It’s your right. And more than being your right as a mother, it’s your right as a woman. Feel free to just say no. It’s okay.