Tell Me About It: Childbirth killed our sex life

It’s one of life’s cruel tricks that, after having given birth to more than two children, sexual intercourse does not provide the same level of stimulation for the man as before

Illustration: Getty Images

Illustration: Getty Images

Tue, Apr 22, 2014, 01:00

Q I am male, now in my 60 s, and have been separated for many years. The chief marital problems that developed had little to do with sex, but naturally our sex-life together suffered as we gradually became estranged, and eventually it became non-existent.

One problem that loomed large in my love-making relates to something most feminists would probably lynch me for raising and that many women may be unaware of, namely the fact that after having given birth to more than two children, sexual intercourse does not provide the same level of stimulation for the man as before, or none at all. I did not feel right about saying this to my wife.

I recall reading about 10 years ago that some French women frequently do exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles after having given birth. I believe this is an important matter for all couples. I would like to make it absolutely clear that I do not in any way blame my ex for the sad consequences of one of the most beautiful occurrences in nature, childbirth. We were both victims of one of life’s cruel tricks.

A The sadness and regret in your letter is salutary for couples who are having sexual proble ms and are afraid to discuss them. Perhaps you wish you could go back and approach the matter differently. I also wonder whether one of your unspoken motivations in writing is that you would like to make love again with a special woman you may meet and feel insecure, since your past experience of sexuality was so disappointing, even though, as you acknowledge, it was “one of life’s cruel tricks” and no one’s fault.

“Though there are physical changes after childbirth, most women say that with a little time, their bodies and their sexual functioning return to normal,” says Teresa Bergin, a psychotherapist specialising in sexuality. The exercises you mention are Kegels, designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles to avoid post-pregnancy uterine and bladder problems, with the added benefit of improving sexual arousal and sexual functioning. “Quick and easy to do, they are an excellent habit for young women to develop before they are ever even planning a pregnancy,” says Bergin.

Your marital relationship is on your mind still, and it sounds as though the focus may have been on intercourse alone, which can be very limiting. If you are contemplating a new relationship, this would be a good time to broaden your view of sex.

“Viewing sexual activity as intercourse alone can be problematic, as it puts the focus on optimum sexual functioning. If problems develop with sexual functioning, as they do with the natural process of ageing, then anxiety about performance sets in and sex becomes a pass/fail test. If intercourse is the only sexual activity and an erectile difficulty, for example, develops, then panic sets in and the sexual relationship hits a road block,” says Bergin.

“Rather than focusing solely on intercourse, think about intimacy, which can be about closeness and pleasuring, about sharing sensual time together in a ‘non-demand’ way. Sensual, playful or erotic touch is all sexual – it might lead to intercourse but doesn’t necessarily have to,” she says. “Many couples experience very satisfying sexual encounters where intercourse is only one element of their sexual repertoire but not the main event. Approaching sex in this way makes it possible to enjoy a sexual relationship across a whole lifespan.”

The key is communication. If you start a new relationship, talk about about what you both like and need, and this will help open up options that will allow you to enjoy sensual and sexual intimacy in a more holistic way.

Age gives us wisdom, and sometimes the insights are painful. You probably grew up with little sex education, and in a time when these matters were not openly discussed. It has taken courage and kindness for you to write to me, because you want to pass on your experience to other men and women in the hope that they will not suffer as you have.

Live in today. Your sexuality does not have to be locked in the past, in the attic of regrets. Many people in their 60s and older form intimate relationships in which they can enjoy sensual pleasure.

Email your questions to tellmeaboutit@irishtimes.com or contact Kate on Twitter, @kateholmquist. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into

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