Sex, it’s a big deal. The general ruling in the monogamous world is that the absence of sex in a romantic relationship indicates a problem. And yet our sex drive fluctuates for a multitude of reasons. For many women pregnancy and childbirth is commonly cited.
Very, very few women feel rampagingly sexy until a long time after they have given birth” for many reasons, vaginal trauma, sheer exhaustion, breastfeeding and hormones. NetdoctorUK.
So how long is ‘a long time’?
Well, in France the social security system pays for physiotherapy for your vagina because “everyone wants you to be able to have sex with your husband again as soon as possible. [Slate, France’s amazing post natal vagina tightening classes]. After all, you’ve gotta get that area back in shape before he gets fed up with your recovery and finds a mistress.”
Breastfeeding is regarded in France as something akin to drinking your own urine (and not in a good way).As a gynecologist reminded a friend of mine the day she confirmed her pregnancy: “Your breasts are for your husband, not your baby.” [Guardian In France, Breast is definitely not best.] In France, the ability to have sex is more important than feeding your child apparently, just in case your partner strays.
In Sweden where I live, if you are capable of breastfeeding, then you must do so for at least 6-8 months or be regarding as an uncaring and selfish mother. Many women breastfeed for over a year. My son and I co-slept for 7 months and my boyfriend wasn’t welcome in the bed. On the rare occasions that the bed was free, spurting my partner with milk during sex wasn’t my idea of fun. And sex, without foreplay (a lot of which previously involved breasts) wasn’t really appealing either.
In fact painful pregnancy, breastfeeding and child rearing meant a death of my sexual desire for some time. Two children within 3 years, one of whom was born in Sweden where children below one year are home with their parents. And so it was all day every day – exclusively for a year – that I had at least one child on me for 14 continuous hours, drool in my hair, sick on my clothes, milk leaking from my breasts, wiping up porridge and no time for myself.
Sex? No bloody way.
But I was told – by society – that something was wrong with me.
I made the excuses. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, hormones. It all seemed perfectly plausible. And yet I was seriously worried. I thought that after the requisite 6 weeks that I was condemned to years of living under the same sexless roof forever. But as we know, forever was designed for Cinderella, and when did she ever get an episiotomy?
All the forums said 2-3 months and once just to test out whether my vagina was still functioning around the 6 week mark didn’t count. I called my friends for advice, worked on my self esteem which was struggling with stretch marked post-pregnancy body issues, and after a few months confronted it head on with him.
‘It’s normal.’ he said. ‘Give yourself some time, you’ve just had a baby.’
‘When is it okay to be worried?’ I said. ‘A year? Two years?’
‘Why don’t we see how things go when you’ve finished breastfeeding?’ he said.
‘I’m afraid you’re going to leave me. I feel the countdown starting. What if we don’t get our mojo back?’
‘I’m not going to leave you’ he said. ‘I love you.’
‘You say that now. It’s only been 4 months without sex.’ I said. Wait til it’s been 3 years.’
His face mirrored my own. Abject fear.
We considered relationship therapy …but our relationship seemed fine. Apart from the fact that my post-pregnancy sex drive was zero. Zilch. Nothing. Then we decided to try tantric exercises in the hope that it might possibly unblock something. It involved screaming ‘no’ and beating a pillow. If you’d have told me 10 years or even 5 years ago what I would be doing, I would have laughed in your face. Chakra was like something you ate at an Indian restaurant as a starter. But I would have done far more than feeling foolish to save our relationship. And yet after the beating, my mind said to me ‘ This is not what you really want.’
The ‘legitimate’ sexless period during pregnancy and after birth coupled with a loss of the self over three child-full years had developed into a vicious circle of paranoia which injected my low self esteem with yet more fuel. We have impossible standards thrown at us every day. Hollywood high achieving women. Sheryl Sandberg role models. Patient saint-like mothers. And the constant battle to get ourselves back in shape and get the sex drive back to make sure our men feel satisfied.
If you suffer from the common demon fear of abandonment (like I do from adoption), it will come coupled with a few other ingredients thrown in for good measure. Fear of intimacy for one – because letting yourself be intimate, will make you too vulnerable, which will hurt if you are abandoned. And fear of intimacy leads to cutting yourself off (less sex) and low self-esteem which leads to fear of abandonment (well you get the picture… and if you don’t, here it is).
And yet, my self esteem was improved enough over the years not to want to force myself to have sex out of fear of abandonment. As bad as the alternative seemed, I knew deep down that I only wanted to have sex when I wanted it…and if that meant that I lost the relationship, it was better than forcing myself to go through the moves of having sex with anyone.
That was what I didn’t want.
For a time I seriously considered having sex without desire. But in the end, I knew that I couldn’t, because forcing myself to do it, would lower my self-esteem even further…tying it irrevocably to my ability to satisfy someone else’s sexual needs whilst overriding my own. How much do you have to despise yourself to do that?
How much do you have to fear solitude to go against your own consent?
But oh, how I cried. It seemed like the devil’s alternative. Either to lose my relationship or lose myself.
Our polyamorous relationship is not just about being open, finding love (and maybe sex) with several partners. It is also about acceptance of the self (and therefore each other). It is acceptance of the truth that you and your partner will change over time. Loving someone is also to accept that they will change in ways which may not suit you. For the moment, I’ve embraced the changing nature of our relationship. And I still love him.
But if both parties don’t or can’t accept that a change in rhythm or in inclination is inevitable because of internal and external forces, then it is not about love… it’s about what the other person can do for you. Maybe they don’t satisfy a fundamental need for you which means your love for yourself might override your need to stay in the relationship. And that’s okay.
Love is not what someone can do for you, it is about who they are – even if who they are changes. But it doesn’t mean you have to stay with them. Indeed beyond a point (which only you can tell) and certainly if it becomes damaging to yourself, your growth and your health, you cannot stay ~ even in polyamory. Nevertheless polyamory provides a platform where you can ride out the storm in love and friendship whilst you work on yourself… in the hope that your loss of desire is only temporary.