Hillary Frank hosts The Longest Shortest Time, a popular podcast about parenthood and childhood described as "a bedside companion for parents who want to hear that they are not alone."
Back in January, the show aired their most controversial episode to date, “The Parents’ Guide to Doing It.” It was first in a series called “Sex and Parenthood,” which takes an honest - and very open - approach to topics ranging from blow jobs to birth injuries.
On October 6th, Frank will host a live version of the show in New York City with sex educator Twanna Hines and OB-GYN Dr. Hilda Hutcherson. (You can submit your questions here.) The event will run as a future episode of the podcast, so if you’re nowhere near New York, fear not.
Parent Co spoke with Frank to find out why it’s important for parents to talk about sex, and what exactly is a birth injury, anyway?
Parent Co: I’m curious to hear what compelled you to produce the Sex and Parenthood series to begin with? Particularly the episode with Dan Savage and Jane Marie wherein you discuss sex very openly, even explicitly at times.
Hillary: For this podcast, we take listener submissions, and we also have a very active Facebook group, which is now over 15,000 strong. I noticed in a lot of the submissions, as well as in the mama's group; people would bring up the topic in a… you know, they felt safe bringing it up in these kinds of private-ish forums.
What they would say is either, "My libido is down. I don't know if it will ever come back." Or, "I've had a birth injury, and it hurts and I can't find a doctor who will take me seriously or I'm embarrassed to even bring it up." Or "We are trying to have a baby and it's not happening and it's really putting a damper on the sex because we have to plan it and then even when we do, it feels like a chore." It seemed like people were bringing this stuff up with me or with the group because they didn't have anyone in their real life to talk about it with or they didn’t feel like they could.
We were talking about doing a series on some topic, and we batted around a bunch of ideas and I was like, “Hey! What if we do a sex series on just sex and parenthood because I think it's very clear that a lot of people are hungry for this topic." Sex is so sensationalized in our society, but it's very rare that we have a real, honest conversation about it.
Do you have any theories as to why we're not talking about sex more openly?
Oh, I don't know, I think I'm going to leave that to the psychologists, but I can talk about why I think it's hard to talk about it as a parent. I think there's this idea that as soon as you become a parent then your sexiness disappears. Like, your breasts become tools for breastfeeding, if that's what you're doing. Your body changes, usually.
So, I think it's sort of taboo to talk about wanting to have an active sex life after you become, especially, a mom. For guys, they don't have those changes, as drastically.
Also, I think it's even hard to find a doctor who will take you seriously. A lot of times the answer I hear that people get when they go to a doctor to say, "It hurts now when I have sex. It didn't used to hurt." The answer will be, "Well you had a baby. Things are different now. You should expect it to hurt for a while."
In the episode with Dan and Jane, you seemed pretty comfortable with the wide range of topics that were being raised. Are you generally pretty comfortable talking about sex?
How have you overcome that, to facilitate the conversation?
That's a good question. I would say I’m not comfortable talking about sex in public or with people that I don't know very well. I am comfortable talking about it with my very close friends. It's a topic that comes up a lot among my very close friends, who are now new or new-ish moms.
I actually had a friend just point blank say to me one day, "You're in a position where I feel like you have to talk about this." I said, "I can't. I don't feel comfortable talking publicly about my situation." She was like, "You don't have to, but who's going to do this? You have to at least give people the opportunity to talk about it and to hear experts talking about it and to just facilitate this conversation. Your project won't be complete unless you can address this topic because it's so important." I was like, "She's right."
I do openly talk about, I had a childbirth injury, and I didn't find the right help for it for three years.
It was a combination of pelvic floor physical therapy and a very specialized doctor who helped me with it. The problem itself wasn't very uncommon. The doctor, in fact, said to me, "I'm so glad that you came to me and found me because most women just give up because they just decide, ‘Well I'm never going to have sex again,’ or ‘I'm never going to have a healthy satisfying sex life again because it's just too hard to find a solution.’”
Right, which is terrible. There's a lot of life after childbirth.
That's right. The other thing is that these things impact your relationship with your partner, and if you don't have a healthy relationship with your partner, it makes it really hard to be an effective parent. It is very relevant, and I hear people talking about this as if it's extracurricular. Sex is an extracurricular thing. It's a shame if it goes down the tubes after you become a parent, but it should be expected. I think it's vital. I think it's vital to people being effective parents.
Yeah. It's true. It's the punch line. And it's usually blamed on the woman in heterosexual relationships.
I'm interested in the topic of birth injuries. I think that that’s, like you said and like your doctor was saying, it's not something people are super aware of. Can you talk a little bit more about what types of birth injuries you’re referring to?
Sure. Even in the smoothest pregnancy, bodies shift and don't necessarily go back because your weight is shifting forward in some spots and shifting back in other spots. You're bearing a lot of weight. The bones in your pelvis can get misaligned, and that can make sex uncomfortable after having a child.
Then during childbirth you can tear. Some people get an episiotomy. I had both - tears and episiotomy. In a c-section, because so much of your abdomen is cut, and there are so many different layers of the abdomen, it effects the muscles in your pelvis as well. There are people who think that you would avoid having vaginal pain if you have a c-section, but that's not necessarily true.
What I've found, in my life and through talking to other people, is that pelvic floor physical therapy is a great first place to go. There are also chiropractors who will work on you and on realigning your pelvic bones. These things can originate in the pelvis and then can effect the rest of your body. I had pelvic floor issues, but because I was compensating in order to breast feed - I had to sit in a really uncomfortable, strange position so that I wouldn't agitate my pelvic floor issues - I was constantly in this side bent position and it wound up effecting my leg. It was even hard to sit cross-legged.
What I would say to do is go to your OBGYN. See if there's a pelvic floor physical therapist that they work with because usually those therapists will have suggestions of specialists to work with if they think you need extra care.
Listening to you, I’m thinking of the number of friends I've had who've off-handedly said, "I just have this pain when I have sex." It's amazing that we don't pay more attention to those things.
So many people that I've talked to are like, "It hurts, but it's tolerable.” I'm like, “Well, what if you didn't have to tolerate it?"
This all makes so much sense when you think about the process of childbirth and pregnancy and the changes that your body will go through. It shouldn't be the assumption that we all come out unscathed.
Oh my God, no! It's life altering and body altering. The crazy thing to me is, I had to see six doctors before I saw someone who was like, "Oh, I know what you need to do.”
I was clearly chasing this down, and I don't think that's how everyone operates. I think it's really easy to be like, “Oh, my doctor, who delivered my baby, who I've trusted, doesn't have an answer for this so there must not be an answer."
And that gets into a larger issue, which is the challenge of advocating for yourself within the medical system. You went to six doctors. Clearly you had to really believe, first, that there was an issue and that it was fixable. I’d argue that most women aren't there naturally. We have to arrive at that point through encouragement or learning about the problem through something like your podcast, by someone putting the information out there. So, yay for you!
I'm curious to know if there have been any questions or maybe a line of questioning that really surprised you?
Not really. I know last time (Dan and Jane) were both anti co-sleeping. That proved to be controversial, which I guess would be expected. And all three of us only had one child each. I think there were people, in the end, who felt that their situation wasn't addressed, and we're hoping to address those this time.
…Everyone’s got their own lives and experience, and they’re going to answer questions based on those experiences. That’s why we plan on doing this as a recurring segment with different guests because then you can get a wide range.
I did appreciate Dan Savage's point of view and his insistence that we'd be better served, especially heterosexual couples, if we could broaden our definition of sex to include more than just vaginal intercourse.
I think that's why ... I was surprised. I don't know if you were aware how controversial this episode was in our mama's group. We've never gotten so much anger about an episode before. People were angry about a lot of things. I think some people walked away feeling like the guests were telling them that they had to shape up and start having sex within a year of having a baby. Before the episode came out, I felt like I was giving moms a gift with a bow around it.
What I walked away from the conversation feeling like was, we got a different side of Dan Savage. We introduced him to the concept of the six-week check up when you're supposed to get the thumbs up or thumbs down to go ahead to have sex, and he was like, "Oh no. That's too soon. Everyone gets a year if they need it. No questions asked.” I felt like it was a very feminist episode and point of view. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is to this one.