Of all the things I enjoy talking about in my work, sex must be one of my favourites! The sex that people talk about doesn’t seem to represent at all the sex that was talked about at school in sex education lessons. It’s a lot more complicated, messy, troublesome and at times downright painful (physically and emotionally) but it can also be a lot more fun.
It’s also important to note that not everyone wants or needs to have sex and that’s absolutely fine too. Sex should always be a choice and whether we have it or not is completely up to us. For some people, sex is purely about having children and when that’s achieved it is removed from the table.
There are so many things that can impact on our desire to have sex – messages we received as kids, experiences we have had, our health, medication, trauma, hormones, tiredness, relationship issues….the list goes on and on. In this short piece I am going to focus on the area of sex after birth. Although most of these tips are relevant to all of us.
For many people (individuals and couples), the process of giving birth can be a traumatic experience leaving physical and mental scars that can take a long time to heal. It’s not just the person who has given birth who can be affected, being present at a difficult birth can be traumatic for the support crew too! And let’s not forget that adjusting to having a new baby (or adopting a child of any age) in the home can be exhausting and stressful in loads of ways that mean sex and intimacy can go on the backburner!
The Birth Trauma Association (www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk) provide a wealth of information and resources to help. For anyone who has experienced significant trauma I would strongly recommend seeking out support from an appropriate therapist (I am a big advocate of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, EMDR Therapy but other approaches are available). There are also many Psycho-Sexual Therapists working who offer specific support around sexual problems.
However for those who want to have a go at working through these things alone these are my top tips…..Some of these are more relevant to heterosexual couples but hopefully lots will be relevant to all
· Take your time – there is no right time to have sex again, do it when you (and your partner(s) are ready). Do not allow your partner (s) to pressurise you into having sex when you’re not ready / don’t want to (this is a relationship red warning flag!)
· Communicate with your partner! Before, during and after! If this is difficult for you then maybe have think about having a bit of couples therapy either to focus on se specifically or more generally on communication
· If your relationship is a bit dodgy it’s going to be harder to enjoy sex!
· Get your contraception sorted! Anxiety about getting pregnant again is going to be a passion killer
· Focus on feeling good about your body, body hang ups can make it harder to relax and enjoy sex
· Sex does not have to involve inserting things (penises, fingers, toys) into a vagina! There are loads of different ways to have sex / be intimate / have fun. It’s good to experiment
· Sex doesn’t have to happen in the bedroom or at night! You might find you need a new routine!
· Find yourself a good lubricant – look for recommendations on line and shop around for the kind that best suits you.
· The aim of sex doesn’t have to be orgasm! Take the pressure of yourself . Some people rarely or never orgasm, some orgasm really easily. We are all different.
· You might find that the things you used to enjoy no longer float your boat. This is completely normal. Try not to panic! Again, experiment and try and find new things that you enjoy.
· The more pressure you put on yourself the harder it is to relax. The more tense we are the more likely it is that sex will hurt (women) and the harder it is to become aroused and orgasm.
· Anti-depressants and other medications can impact on our desire to have sex and ability to orgasm. Talk to your GP if this is relevant to you.
· It is good to masturbate! When we masturbate we get to know what we like / don’t like and how are bodies are responding. It can be useful to notice if there is a difference in how your body responds to self-pleasure compared to when you are with someone!
· Mindfulness can be a really useful strategy when it comes to sex (either solo or in company). It teaches us to focus purely on the moment and can help us to heighten pleasurable sensations and to stop us from thinking about all the other tasks we have to complete! Download some mindfulness apps (eg Headspace, Calm, Smiling Mind) and learn to be in the moment. We can then translate this to our sex lives. Headspace even has some specific exercises for sex!
· For women this is a great book but I think it’s useful for anyone in a relationship with a woman too – “Come as you are” by Emily Nagoski.
Hopefully some of these tips are useful! Don’t be afraid to talk about sex, read about sex and seek appropriate support if you need it. You don’t have to suffer alone!
Dr Nichola Marchant is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist specialising in all things sex and trauma related. She offers an integrative approach to psychological therapy incorporating EMDR therapy with Schema Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy. Working with individuals and couples / poly relationships she offers a range of options including one off coaching sessions, personal sex plans and long term therapy. Using a variety of online platforms means that you are able to access therapy from the comfort of your own home or any other environment that works for you. If you are looking for a highly experienced trauma informed therapist who can offer sex positive and kink aware therapy then don't hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org