Here’s a shocker: a woman’s libido and sexual desirability don’t suddenly disappear the moment her first baby’s umbilical cord is cut. We all know that, in many (but not all!) cases, a baby is the direct result of sex, yet for some reason, people don’t like to think about moms having a fulfilling sex life. Sure, new mothers might not be ready to jump right back into penetrative sex immediately after having a kid, but society seems to forget that moms actually do have — and WANT — sex.
The stigma surrounding moms and sex runs so deep that many people — including those moms — don’t talk about it, which can leave mothers feeling isolated. But, we’re here to change that!
To help get the conversation started, Scary Mommy conducted a recent survey on sex and motherhood. The 436 participants of the survey ranged in age from under 30 to over 60, but roughly half (54 percent) were between the ages of 30 and 39. Responses came from people of a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, sexual orientations and identities. The survey featured participants from all parts of North America, including California, Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Ontario, Texas, Utah and Oregon, among others. Though, like the external part of the clitoris, this is just the tip of the iceberg, we hope that by sharing the findings of this survey, we’ll come to a more realistic understanding of mothers and their relationship to sex.
Not all libidos are created equal.
In an ideal world, you and your partner would have perfectly matched libidos. Whenever you wanted to have sex, they’d want it too. Too bad that’s not a reality for many people, including moms. In fact, around three-quarters (76 percent) of respondents said the difference in libido between themselves and their partner causes stress and/or tension in their relationship.
Most of the moms who reported the difference in libido wanted to have more sex than they were having: ideally, two to three times a week, as opposed to the two to three times a month they are actually having sex. However, 40 percent of that same group never initiate sex, 40 percent masturbate at least a few times a month, and 30 percent said that the difference in libido existed even before they had children.
Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sex therapist, tells Scary Mommy these findings are consistent with what she sees in clinical practice. “When sex is going well, it’s a small part of the relationship, but when it’s not going well, the quality of relationship goes down,” she explains. The good news is that mismatched libidos are not a death sentence for a relationship: Fleming says that there are ways couples can proactively manage the difference.
In other words, the caricature of a frazzled mom constantly feigning headaches to get out of sex with her perpetually horny husband is a pop culture myth. If three-quarters of moms report a difference in libido with their partner and that they wanted to be having more sex, that suggests that these women actually have a significantly higher sex drive than their partner. (#momswantsex)
Yes, moms masturbate and watch porn.
As a society, we’re conditioned to assume — and accept — that men masturbate regularly, but women, for whatever reason, aren’t really in touch with ourselves sexually. Newsflash: we definitely are, and having a kid doesn’t change that. In fact, 57 percent of moms say they masturbate alone at least once a month, while only 22 percent say they “almost never” masturbate alone.
Not only do moms masturbate, they also enjoy sex toys: 56 percent report using them at least some of the time. Moms with babies (12 months or younger) use sex toys at a slightly higher rate of 62 percent. Fleming says that it makes sense that new moms use sex toys in higher numbers. “I imagine it’s because they’re so exhausted that it’s a more efficient way to get the release,” she explains. “The thing about an orgasm is that it’s pleasurable, it’s tension relieving, and it helps you get to sleep.”
“When sex is going well, it’s a small part of the relationship, but when it’s not going well, the quality of relationship goes down.”
And moms aren’t just watching Hallmark movies and Paw Patrol reruns: 28 percent say they watch porn at least once a month, while 16 percent watch it a few times a year. Of those who watch porn, 77 percent opt for heterosexual/heteronormative porn, a combined 40 percent prefer watching lesbian and gay porn, and 9 percent prefer porn with BDSM. So what surprised Fleming about these results? She thought there would be more diversity in the types of porn that moms watched. “Another part of me is not so surprised, we’re in a puritanical culture — most people have more traditional vanilla, sexual preferences,” she adds.
Moms’ interest in masturbation, sex toys, and porn further demonstrates that their sex drive doesn’t go away when children enter the picture. It does, however, indicate that they may not always have the time or energy for sex with a partner, and sometimes want to get off on their own.
Sometimes moms just don’t want to be touched.
So much of what a mom does every day is taken for granted, and being constantly touched has to be near the top of that list. Touch is an incredibly powerful thing, and we usually think about it in terms of its positive aspects — like healing or cuddling. But after a while, having your personal space repeatedly violated throughout the day can affect you in a way you may not even realize, and by the end of the day, you just want to have some space — including from your partner.
We asked the participants of the survey if they agree with this statement: “At the end of a long day of getting poked and prodded by my kids, I’ve just had my fill of being touched and would really prefer not to engage sexually with my partner or even by myself.” As it turns out, the feeling of being “touched out” is very real: 71 percent of moms said that they feel that way at least some of the time. Of those who felt touched out, 26 percent are stay-at-home moms and 52 percent are employed full time.
But perhaps the most telling part of these results is that 40 percent of moms who say they’re “touched out” masturbate alone at least once a month. This means that their libido hasn’t gone anywhere. They’re still interested in sexual pleasure and gratification — they’d just prefer to take matters into their own hands — maybe literally — rather than engage sexually with their partner.
The first year of motherhood can be rough on your sex life, but it gets better.
We didn’t really need a survey to tell us that having a baby significantly affects your sex life, but it did provide interesting insight into the postpartum sexual recovery process. Of the moms with babies (12 months or younger), 83 percent report that having a child significantly affects their sex life, but that goes down to 70 percent for moms with kids older than one year.
Having said that, new moms still are having sex. In fact, 78 percent of moms with babies report having sex at least once a month. Of course, like most things, quantity doesn’t always mean quality when it comes to sex, but this is a good reminder that motherhood doesn’t mean an end to your sex life.
So let’s talk about how having a baby can impact the quality of your sex life. In a culture that expects and glamorizes the postpartum “snap-back”, it can be hard to know what’s “normal” when it comes to your vagina, libido, and emotional state after giving birth. The survey found that 83 percent of moms with babies said that they still have lingering postpartum body image issues that have had negative consequences for their sex life, while two-thirds (66 percent) report having lingering postpartum or pregnancy symptoms that negatively impacted their sex life.
“The thing about an orgasm is that it’s pleasurable, it’s tension relieving, and it helps you get to sleep.”
Since many OB-GYNs give the green light for getting back to having penetrative sex around six weeks after giving birth, some new moms can be left feeling as though they’re falling behind sexually if they aren’t ready and able to jump right back in the sack a few weeks postpartum. In reality, this can be a much longer process that differs from person-to-person, and may include giving yourself time to heal physically from childbirth. Don’t worry if you fall into this category, Mama, because you’re definitely not alone.
AND — it does get better: things start looking up (at least a little) after making it through your baby’s first year. Moms with kids older than a year report fewer postpartum setbacks, with just over half (56 percent) having lingering body image issues, and 39 percent having lingering symptoms.
The bottom line is that if you don’t feel ready for sex after giving birth, you’re not the only one. And if you’re interested in sex as soon as your doctor gives you the all-clear, that’s cool too. The key is to be patient with yourself and know that every body heals and reacts differently.
Money doesn’t mean a more vibrant sex life.
Think moms are done with sex after they change their first diaper? Think again. Of the mothers surveyed, 43 percent said they have sex at least once a week, while 71 percent said they wanted to have sex at least once a week. In fact, 38 percent would like to have sex two to three times a week, while 10 percent would prefer having sex once or more each day.
And as it turns out, income may have something to do with the parents who are having sex — but probably not in the way you think. The less than 2 percent of those surveyed who actually had sex once or more each day (!!), actually have a lower annual total household income before taxes. Of those surveyed whose total household was $50,000 or less, 27 percent reported having as much sex as they wanted to, about two to three times per week. That frequency drops down for those in the $50,001 to $100,000 income bracket, with 25 percent reporting they were having sex two to three times a month. Twenty three percent of moms in the $100,001 and $200,000 bracket had sex two to three times a week, while 22 percent of those above $200,001 had sex once a month.
Fleming says that one possible reason for this income-based sex gap is that those couples with dual incomes who work full time may be under more stress than those with lower household incomes. “In the pursuit of giving kids nice things, what’s happening to parents’ quality of life? They’re getting less pleasure in their relationship,” she explains.
It may seem like the grass is always greener — or the sex more frequent — on the other side, but as we found out, more money doesn’t necessarily equal more action in the bedroom.
The survey is just the beginning.
So what we have learned from this? If nothing else, we hope that the survey prompts a wider conversation on sex and motherhood, and reinforces the idea that “moms” are not a homogenous group that thinks and acts alike solely based on the fact that they are mothers. The more open, honest discussions we have about how motherhood impacts your sex life, the better.
Click here for the full Sex and Motherhood Survey Results.
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer specializing in reproductive ethics and sexual health.
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