Intimacy and Body Image – A Male and Female Perspective on the Postpartum Experience


Six weeks. This is the ‘commonly recommended’ wait time for sexual intimacy post-baby (because – didn’t you know!? At six weeks postpartum, e v e r y t h i n g snaps back into place. For everyone). My darling midwife tossed this ‘truth’ out the window when, at our five week appointment, she asked us if we were ‘back in the saddle’ yet. She assured us that this ‘six week guideline’ was merely a number and whenever I felt healed enough/into it enough – we should be good to go (advising to take things gently and stop at any discomfort). After weeks of dealing with sensitivity, stitches, haemorrhoids (nothing screams LET’S DO IT like anal cream in granny panties), boulder boobs and constipation – this Momma was ready – granny panties or not (definitely granny panties).

Although I tend to be very accepting of my physical form – I found myself in very unchartered territories immediately postpartum. This body was a stranger to me. The idea of re-entering into a physical relationship with something so foreign was perplexing. I had boobs that needed taming at all times (not really in a hot way… more like a ‘I’ll shoot your eye out with breast milk’ kinda way), a stomach that was doughy and would sag with any/all movement and of course – a crotch/nether region that had undergone/recovered from a series of unfortunate events. Would all my bits work!? Would I die of insecurity? Would my partner be into it? Will we both be scarred for life if it sucks!? So. Many. Questions.

Needless to say, the potential for an uncomfortable, awkward and disappointing experience was extremely high. I quickly realized that I could a) very easily sail through intimate moments, pretending nothing had changed, carrying myself a certain way, forever sucking in my gut and PRAYING my partner doesn’t catch glimpses of me at certain angles (blindfolding or gouging out his eyes would probably be best) b) practice celibacy… or c) I could grab the bull by it’s horns and remove any/all mystery that is the postpartum bod. After running option a) and b) by my husband – option c) proved to be the healthiest choice (turns out he’s one of those weirdos who isn’t into eye maiming and forced celibacy – who knew?). When the big day arrived (read: when the baby was napping) – I confidently strutted up to my husband, pushed him onto the bed and announced that before I rock his world, I would need him to run his hands over my entire body – maintaining eye contact at all times (total power move). He was a wee bit perplexed but gamely complied, exploring every new fold, bulge and stretch mark. Ladies and gents, this was the best thing I ever could have done (have him do?). There was no shirking, no hiding, no avoiding, no pretending. There was just me and him and a very vulnerable and honest assessment of where pregnancy and birth had left us. This made being intimate a freeing and wonderful experience – one that has only got better with time.

Now – the pregnancy, birth and postpartum period is obviously a huge adjustment for the woman – but I was wildly curious about the effect it had on the partner. Having said partner to interrogate proved to be most handy. I ambushed my husband over morning coffee and picked his brain regarding postpartum intimacy.

Me: Do you feel you had high (or any) expectations for intimacy after baby?

K: No – I was definitely expectation-less, or at least I tried my best to be. I’m assuming it might be different with a second kid as we will have had this experience, but for this time around, my only expectation was that you would be physically healthy/healed before anything happened.

Me: How did you adjust to the pregnancy/postpartum body changes – because they ‘cray.

K: I honestly can’t remember what your body USED to be like (if I’m having to compare pre to post baby body)… it’s been so gradual. I haven’t had a crisis about your body shape – if that’s what you’re asking – again, the lack of freak out has to do with the gradual change. You had a really great pregnancy, birth, postpartum (for the most part) and adjusting to all of that has been fairly smooth. The same goes for intimacy – really good and not noticeably different.

Me :So all my extra bits and bobs the first time around – that didn’t throw you?

K: You may know this – but I’m very compartmentalized. My emotional and cognitive thinking are very compartmentalized. My emotional side may register ‘Oh, loose skin?’ and my cognitive side kicks in ‘Yeah Bucko – she’s just had a baby. Be cool.’

… But I honestly don’t have the brain space to think about all that stuff. So no… they didn’t throw me.

Me: I wonder how much of body image insecurities postpartum come from the woman vs the reaction of her partner…

K: Yeah, I wonder. I definitely had a lot of faith in the human body. The woman’s body does a lot of crazy things… and a lot of comfort regarding those crazy things came from very frank conversations with midwives. The body is miraculous and can often almost go back to ‘normal’ post-baby. It definitely helped that the midwives brought up sex several times postpartum and were very open and encouraging about it.

Me: What would you do if we never resumed sex post-baby?

K: I know I would think about it… but knowing our relationship, you would come to me first about it. And we would work on our relationship. I don’t see the issue building over time. I would internalize and think about it longer… and you would act far quicker. I’m better for having you around because you don’t let anything sit there. Like, anything. All the awkward stuff. Dealt with.

Me: Would you recommend exploring new bodies prior to sex? 

K: In regards to the touching – I think that could be really beneficially to a person who is very sensitive about the physical changes that have happened and sensitive to how their partner feels about their body. Honestly, I really wasn’t – so this was more an exercise for you.

Me: Is there ANY piece of advice you feel you could pass on regarding intimacy postpartum?

K: In regards to advice, the only thing I cared about was hurting you (possible tearing). It’s so personal though, so I don’t want to speak into someone’s relationship with their partner. I would say talk everything through/open up a dialogue and ensure you are physically ready. I definitely needed to understand that. So yeah… talk it out… then bang it out *blushes*.

 

Thank you, dear husband, for being open and candid with your wee wifey.

For those who are struggling with sexual intimacy (pre, post, or no baby) or those who are into bettering/learning more about your sex life (#lifelearner) – I absolutely recommend the book ‘Come As You Are’ by Emily Nagoski, Ph. D. It’s a gooder.

 

Cheers!

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