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Postpartum Pleasure

by Dr. Jessie Ford, PhD

Have fun in your lovin’ with a bun in the oven!

Who enjoys sex after having a baby? Good question. To answer it, I’ve teamed up with Emily Sauer, founder of Ohnut– a Femtech startup that creates friendly, modular buffers that help you customize penetration depth when sex feels too deep (without sacrificing sexual pleasure!)

We’ll start with some back story here. Pregnancy, motherhood, and sexual pleasure have often been odd bedfellows. Some argue that it wasn’t until Demi Moore’s 1991 photoshoot when she was 7 months pregnant that pregnancy was actually seen as “sexy and glamourous.” Historically, many maternity clothes infantilized women by placing little bows or cutesy animals onto otherwise shapeless frocks. This is all despite the fact that sex is what created a baby in the first place. Not to mention the reality that many pregnant women enjoy sex (especially in the second trimester after the morning sickness has worn off), having sex is a widely accepted natural labor induction method, and some women even report orgasmic birth experiences.

Fast forward to after the birth when sexual pleasure is once again an afterthought. When pleasure does come up it is often in relation to the question of when to resume sex. How long should you wait before resuming sex after birth? The standard answer for a woman/person who’s given birth is 6 weeks postpartum, after you’ve had a checkup with your doctor. Emily Oster writes about this commonly accepted rule in her book Crib Sheet, pointing out that there’s not really a factual reason for it. Instead, it seems to be a protocol created by doctors to keep husbands from asking for sex right away. Biologically speaking, there is no set waiting period for having sex again. When Oster has her first postpartum checkup, she recalls her doctor “told me I was fine, and then asked if I wanted him to write me a note to tell my husband I was not.” Her experience hints at the historical gender inequality surrounding reproduction that made it difficult for women to control the timing of sex and pregnancy. It also points to a legacy of discomfort and pain during sex following birth.

In fact, studies find that the majority of women (up to 86%) report experiencing some degree of sexual problems after birth, including decreased interest in sex, lower libido, or difficulty orgasming. What is often overlooked is the postpartum pain during intercourse. Such pain may be connected to hormonal changes like lower levels of estrogen, tearing, or other trauma that occurred during delivery. Postpartum depression is also common, not just for moms but for dads too, and can greatly impact sex drive and lubrication.

Here, we share some results from Ohnut’s preliminary survey into this uncharted territory of postpartum pleasure. In a survey of 81 postpartum people (self-identified as 77 women, 1 man, 3 gender non-binary people), findings show that when it comes to getting back to sex after birth people are all over the map. The vast majority (86.4%) said their doctor cleared them to have sex at their 6-8 week appointment but 81.8% said they didn’t feel ready to have sex at 6-8 weeks. Only 4.3% said their first time having sex after a baby was not painful or uncomfortable.

Interestingly, postpartum pleasure was often achieved more quickly through masturbation than through intercourse. That is, 62.5% waited 2-6 months to have sex whereas only 45.6% waited 2-6 months to masturbate. What this tells us is that certain types of sexual activities may be more appealing than others after giving birth.

When Ohnut’s survey asked about sex specifics in the year after birth, they find that 38.5% of respondents always/almost always experienced pain during sex and that only 10.3% always/almost always became “wet” during sex. Additionally, 36.6% reported that their sexual desire was very low or nonexistent and 46.5% said reaching orgasm was difficult, extremely difficult, or impossible. Given all this pain and discomfort, it is no wonder that couples report having less sex in the year following the birth of a child.

In recent months, Ohnut has taken their research even further, doing interviews with moms. What they’re finding out is that the recommended 6-8 week postpartum doctor’s appointment is proving to be disappointing and ineffective. It’s as if the doctor’s only job is to make sure the birthing parent isn’t bleeding, infected, or dying and then sends folks off to resume normal activity with minimal referrals/resources, in a general state of fear toward their own body.

We can do better than this. It is time for something to change regarding postpartum pleasure. Ohnut may be one way to think about pursuing pleasure after birth with its easy adjustment when penetration feels too deep. Foreplay and communication are also clutch as people try to get back on the horse. The bottom line, however, is that moms and birthing parents need guidance, support, and awareness that having a baby is not the end of sexual pleasure but a moment in time that requires talking, learning, practice and patience.

Originally published on PornHub Sexual Wellness Center

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