Of all the unexpected boons of my own matrescence — caring less what people thought of me, writing shorter and more declarative emails, and feeling generally happier and better about myself — the improvement of my sex life was perhaps the most shocking.
I don’t mean to sound smug. Many women struggle with logistical, physical, and emotional barriers to sex after babies, through no fault of their own. I’ve struggled, too: I’m exhausted all the time; there have been days when the thought of more touching repulsed me; and I tore so much delivering my nearly nine-pound miracle that I required stitches and blood transfusions. But, despite all this, after I healed, sex was somehow just...better? I have a few theories as to why.
Some of the changes have been physiological; others, cultural. First and foremost, it seems possible that maybe I was too tight to really enjoy penetration before said nine-pound miracle broadened my hot dog hallway. As a culture, we love to fetishise tight, young vaginas, but — watch out, this might astound you — most of our cultural narratives are still written from a male point of view. From my own perspective, hetero sex in my teens and 20s was often painful; little wonder, then, that I sometimes turned to women for pleasure. Women know where the clitoris is located, and they don’t jackhammer.
I cringe now at how I managed to normalise painful penis-in-vagina sex, though. Looking back, I see more clearly how often I just sort of tolerated it as the price of cunnilingus. And because I’d never achieved an orgasm from vaginal penetration alone, part of me just stopped expecting it to happen. Also, most of the twentysomething men I slept with, shall we say, kept it quick — except the unfortunate case of one who was so dulled from antidepressants that he couldn’t come, even though he’d last until I did.
There’s something about my postpartum vagina, though, that’s been more assertive, more attuned to her own nerve endings, and readier to please than ever before. Orgasms during sex have gotten so much easier to achieve that sometimes I get there faster than my partner, which would have seemed ludicrous to both of us a few years ago.
Maybe because of the literal and figurative ways I’ve been opened up, orgasms have also gotten deeper and more intense, like I’m being rammed in places no digit or appendage ever reached before. For the uninitiated, I’m here to testify that vaginal orgasms are not a myth, but I may never have discovered them were it not for the one-time car accident in my birth canal.
Another surprise bonus: Before having a baby, I got UTIs so often that I routinely kept two rounds of antibiotics on hand, but something about the undercarriage decimation I experienced in childbirth made them magically disappear. (My gynaecologist has no idea why this is, and my editor says I can’t claim that childbirth cured my chronic UTIs, so we’ll call this a welcome coincidence. Only my urethra knows the truth.) I’ve even found that I can get away UTI-free when I don't pee right after sex, but I usually do anyway; at this point it just feels like good manners.
I felt like my postpartum body was a new instrument I got to learn how to play, and I was curious what high notes it could hit.
Postpartum sex has also changed in more emotional ways. Some women feel unprecedentedly glowy, sexy, and horny during pregnancy; by contrast, I felt even unsexier than my sixth through eighth grade school pictures. I hate the phrase “getting your body back,” because — for better or worse — this was my body all along, but the deep relief of evacuating a loitering human from my abdomen, learning to exercise, and finally, or at least occasionally, liking what I saw in the mirror again did make me feel like I was returning to a welcome physical state.
I was, frankly, impressed with my body’s resilience after childbirth, and that self-satisfaction made me want to get some. (I know I’m not alone in this feeling. See also: Beyoncé’s entire self-titled album.) Maybe because my vagina felt so different, I felt like my postpartum body was a new instrument I got to learn how to play, and I was curious what high notes it could hit.
And then there’s the logistics of trying to have sex with your co-captain of the family team. Especially in those first few months of motherhood, after the forced celibacy of being an immobile elephant in my third trimester, there was a surprisingly aphrodisiac tinge to the sudden paucity of sexual opportunities. In an unforeseen twist, we’d gone from being childless people whose lust for each other was sometimes muted by constant availability, to exhausted parents who are unexpectedly aroused by the opportunity presented by a kid being asleep, and no one having any other humans growing inside them. Scarcity is its own kind of novelty, and it contained a potential for revitalising a long-term love I never could have seen coming.
From where I stand now, my shorter, more declarative emails and general maternal unfuckwithability feel qualitatively related to the positive transformation of my sex life. Sexy Husband Man has always cared about my satisfaction, even since the earliest sweaty days of our relationship, which is how he attained that title. But as a career-oriented thirtysomething married mother, I’ve got limited time and I’m going to use it for orgasms, goddamnit. There’s been a quality to exiting the phase in which I was most visible to men that’s increased my concern with my own consciousness of myself, which is to say I care less about how men look at me when I walk down the street, and more about how I look at myself when I assess the value of my time.
There’s so much public dialogue about all that children destroy: your time, your sense of self, every electronic device in your house. I hate the tone of doom some people love to use on the pregnant or trying-to-get-pregnant: the "just you wait." The condescending register I'm describing suggests you’re about to destroy all your own freedom and, just moments too late, realize how much you enjoyed it. It buries "I'm so happy for you!" underneath "I know so much more about your future than you do," and it often points to shitty diapers, sleep deprivation, and sexlessness to prove itself.
Sometimes I think that parents dwell on shitty diapers because they’re easy to describe in casual conversation: concrete, relatable, undeniable. Much more difficult and less socially acceptable to describe is the body- and life-altering joy of producing one of your new favorite people. Or the deep attraction that can result from watching your partner excel at something transformative. It can be easier to commiserate over the minor annoyance than it is over the major joy.
Maybe that joy — living close to it, having fought for it — is another part of what has made intimate pleasure more attainable for me. “It’s so utterly bizarre,” Anne Lamott writes in her memoir Traveling Mercies, “to stare into the face of one of these tiny perfect beings and to understand that you (or someone a lot like you) grew them after a sweaty little bout of sex.” It’s crucial to remember the raw carnality that creates children in the first place, and that recollection makes our cultural inability to reconcile the idea of a mother liking sex all the more absurd.
I certainly can’t say that I’m having more sex than I did before having a child. But in this case, I’ll happily take quality over quantity. Sex as parents encloses a bawdy resignation — well, this is what brought us here — and an acknowledgment that we don’t have a lot of time. But now, we know better than ever how to use it.