Sometimes the Sexiest Thing You Can Do Is Help With the Dishes

It’s rarely easy to align the stars of love. But with a little planning and awareness, there may be more opportunity than you think.

Ever heard of the term willing suspension of disbelief? In case not, here it is in a nutshell: Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term back in 1817 at a time when supernatural literature had fallen out of fashion in favor of rational, science-backed thought.

Coleridge, however, romantic rogue that he was, wanted to restore fantasy fiction to its rightful place in the canon. His concept of “willing suspension of disbelief” was a way the educated classes could still enjoy dream- and drug-induced mysticism without betraying their enlightened ideas of the world.

I bring this up because the following may require a suspension of disbelief, willing or no. Sometimes even the most pragmatic among us need to “sacrifice realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.”  With practice, I think you’ll find your disbelief suspension muscle tones easily, which is good, because you’re going to need it.

Alright, so let’s say you and your spouse are still hot for each other and you totally love having sex. Let’s also say it’s a Thursday evening and you’re feeling good because you’ve made it over hump day and can see the light of the weekend close on the horizon.

You’ve opened a bottle of wine as you whip up a quick dinner that everyone will eat without complaint. You sing along to the Mayer Hawthorne album playing on the stereo and flirt gamely with your husband in the kitchen while the kids entertain each other in the living room.

You marvel at your sons’ impeccable behavior (neither fighting and breaking things nor insulting each other with potty words) and feel a rush of mom pride swelling in your chest. You eavesdrop on their adorable banter and get to thinking that maybe the world would be a better place if you created more humans like them. At least one, maybe two more.

As you shift between julienning vegetables, stir-frying tofu, and sipping your Cabernet, you feel confident sex will most definitely happen tonight. A glimmer in your husband’s eye reinforces this conviction. The stars are aligned along Orion’s sword, and you’re in the mood to celebrate.

Surely the rest of the evening will go as smoothly as it has gone so far. Surely you will merge your parenting powers to get the kids to sleep earlier than usual, leaving you with hours of uninterrupted adult time together.

Right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. As dead as flattened road-kill wrong. (This is where Coleridge comes off his opium high to realize he’s not in a “stately pleasure-dome” in Xanadu.)

Welcome to one of the inescapable truths of parenthood: What seems is not what ends up being so. What’s more, the distance between flirting and actual sex might as well be a thousand miles of impassable wasteland.

While I do believe that plenty of sex a healthy marriage makes, I also know it’s not as straightforward as simply pledging to have it more often. You need to be strategic, deliberate, even planful. And while planned sex is about as sexy as solitaire (i.e. not so much), think of it more as making a date than scheduling intimacy.

For starters, your spouse doesn’t need to know of your plans. When well-played, the element of surprise can serve as the perfect stimulant and make for a supercharged “Whoa, where did that come from, you sexy beast!?” sort of experience.   

But take care with this approach. You’ve got to tune in to your partner for this to succeed. If you don’t, surprises can backfire in a big way. Extenuating life circumstances tend to be extraordinarily effective anti-aphrodisiacs, so pay attention. Nobody wants to be put in a position where they feel guilty about not being up for it. That’s just plain old bad sex karma.

Likewise, you’ve got to seize opportunities when they do present themselves. Maybe you’re lying there in the pre-dawn darkness, deeply irritated that you can’t sleep now that the kids finally are sleeping. Angrily, you remind yourself that these could be your only golden moments of pseudo-rest for the next 18 to 20 hours.

Or maybe (reengage suspension of disbelief now) an opportunity for early morning delight with your darlin’ has just fallen in your lap like a ripe fig. Maddening insomnia or coitus? You decide.

What’s even more important than the element of surprise and seizing the moment? Freeing yourself from your mental checklist. This proves challenging for anal-retentive fussbudgets like myself. But seriously, folks, it’s just a frickin’ checklist. And it will most certainly not sprout legs and run off should you decide to save some tasks for another day.

When overwhelmed by all the undone things, remember there’s no buzzkill so complete as feeling second to sparkly clean toilets.

Also, it turns out a surefire way to put your lover to sleep is to spend half an hour practicing meticulous dental hygiene (guilty as charged). Fresh breath definitely matters, but so do responsive partners. Time yourself if you have to, and get in there while he’s still conscious.

Finally, when and if your love stars are aligned, give these sex-sapping landmines a very wide berth:

  • Falling dead asleep in your child’s bed
  • Debates about conflicting parenting techniques
  • Any and all discussions about money
  • Exhaustive calendar logistics
  • In-laws

All relationships are a two-way street. So is sex. You may find lingerie the best entrée to an evening of bliss. Meanwhile, your partner may be having flashbacks to that time she had to act out the word “lascivious” when auditioning for a part in a Harold Pinter play in college.

In other words, it can’t be all about you. It needs to be about both of you. Never be afraid to ask yourself, “What actually turns her (or him) on?”

Which brings me to an important Public Service Message! Please listen carefully!! Never underestimate the foreplay power of house chores. Once I gave my husband a t-shirt that said, in slanted “Dukes of Hazard” writing, Good Daddies Are Hot. True. So are daddies who buck up and deal with the dishes and cook, or fix light bulbs and pipe leaks, or basically do anything that shows they are thinking about you and what would really make your day.

(I suddenly feel compelled to design a t-shirt in honor of this idea. It’ll picture a man in an apron and dish gloves, and emblazoned across the pectoral region, “Dish-Doing Dads Are Divine.”)

I’d be willing to bet there are as many variations on the theme of arousal as there are different kinds of people. What does it for you? Are you content with the one-hit-wonder approach, or do all roads lead to Rome? Does your spouse even have the map? Do you live on the same continent?

If you were separated from your lover by a raging river too dangerous to cross on foot, to what lengths would you go to make it to the other side to be with her again?

Marriage is Hard, Sex Makes It Easier

Despite all the requisite challenges of being married with children and jobs and mortgages and debilitating health issues (etc.), we need sex.

When friends new to marriage ask for advice, I often say this: “When in doubt, have sex.”

I believe it, too.

That’s not to say sex solves everything, or is easy every time, or feels fabulous regardless. Sex can be loaded and heavy, empty and uneventful, disingenuous, confusing, hurtful.

It can also be an astonishingly beautiful and sensually resplendent act of deeply connecting with another person. In this manifestation, sex may be the best way to keep your marriage healthy and, consequently, happy.

In 2004, Tom W. Smith conducted a study for the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. In a New York Times article on the topic, Smith said, “There’s a strong relationship between rating your marriage as happy and frequency of intercourse.” So, my hunch has some scientific backing.

“What we can’t tell you,” continued Smith, “is…whether people who are happy in their marriage have sex more, or whether people who have sex more become happy in their marriages, or a combination of those two.”

I vote a combination of the two. Happiness inspires sex. Sex inspires happiness. Okay now, hold that thought…

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a parent. And all parents know that sex has a way of becoming conspicuously absent from our lives for a whole host of reasons that you should feel free to outline for yourself later on if you like playing the masochist.

Point being, we all go without it – willingly or not – more than we’d care to admit, and sometimes for painfully long stints. In the above New York Times article, reporter Ralph Gardner, Jr. writes, “To many spouses, ‘married sex’ may sound like an oxymoron. And ‘married-with-children sex’ may sound like that elusive antimatter.”

That’s what I’m going to call it from now on: “Hey honey! How about some hot elusive antimatter tonight?”

Sadly, Ralph is not completely off base. I’ll be the first to admit that the exhaustion of parenthood has the power to invade every cell in my body. It seeps into the marrow of my middle-aged bones and tries to convince me I am no longer young, no longer beautiful, and far, far away from my formerly sexy – or at least sex-inclined – self.

(P.S. If you have given birth to actual children, are currently raising them, and you cannot relate to the paragraph above, please first confirm you are not a robot, and then email me immediately so I can beg you to FedEx me your immortal mojo elixir.)

Gardner’s article features two couples who pledged to have sex every night for as long as they could possibly stand it. Doug and Annie Brown made it 101 days before Doug started equating their scheduled trysts with a “long-forgotten appointment to hear some tax attorney talk about estate planning.” (Oof.) Brad and Charla Muller “hit a wall” around 40 weeks in, but nonetheless managed to copulate an average of 27 times a month for AN ENTIRE YEAR.

Considering Smith’s study found that married couples have sex 66 times per year on average, I’d say the Browns and the Mullers are worthy of a spot in the Sex Hall of Fame.

A 2014 Huffington Post article paints a more optimistic picture of our nation’s sexual health. It refers to a Reddit poll that asked couples of every vintage how often they get it on. My favorite responses come from the “Married Seven-15 Years” set:

Married seven years and now with one child. We went from one to three times a day, to one to three times a week. But we are both okay with this; because if you “save up for it,” the sex is AWESOME.

Oldish. Married 15 years. On average, we have sex three times a week, but sometimes it’s every day. What’s more important is we talk and cuddle every day.

Late 30s. Married 15. Five kids. Our quota is four times a week. Although “quota” sounds weird…it’s a way for us to remember that although we’re busy with life, we still need to have some romantic time with each other to stay sane.

The sex is AWESOME? Talk and cuddle every day? Need romantic time with each other to stay sane? Yes, yes, and yes. As Otis Redding knew so well, a little tenderness goes a long way. Maybe all the way to a more sexually charged marriage.

Annie Brown claims what started as “a way to banish suburban boredom” resulted in a newfound “intense closeness,” which was new to her marriage of many years. Likewise, the Muller’s 365-day sex marathon “required a daily kindness and forgiveness…that I don’t think either of us had experienced before.”

See that? Sex reconnects us, and regular sex keeps us connected. Therefore, despite all the requisite challenges of being married with children and jobs and mortgages and debilitating health issues (etc.), we need sex. Full stop.

We probably need sex even more now than we ever did. We may have wanted it more way back when, but now we actually need it. Why? Because it feels good! And we deserve to feel good, dammit!

Also, because sex gives you superpowers. I’m not joking. It literally transforms people.

Sex makes us look and feel younger. Sex can surprise and embolden us, energize and rejuvenate us. Sex has the power to soften and heal. It teaches us new things about ourselves and reveals the hidden loveliness within someone you thought you already knew. Sex is that magical language only understood by you and your partner. It keeps you alert, rapt, enthralled, alive.

In short, it keeps us well.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to believe this. Instead of an act of concession or indulgence or, at worst, violation, I decided to believe that sex could make me stronger. It could help me be more trusting, more patient and forgiving. It also ironically helped me come to terms with the weird, untenable shame that comes along with being a girl in the eyes of men.

What I didn’t expect is that sex would help me overcome fears, and confess flaws, and let go of a bundle of emotional hang-ups I’d been lugging around since adolescence.

Here’s something else I didn’t expect – or probably couldn’t even imagine before having children: A healthy sex life makes me a better parent. This has evolved into a sort of kinetic truth for me. My child-rearing gene simply functions better when I exercise the biological necessity that made those kids in the first place.

So there you have it. Sex: YAY! No sex: BOO!

Why not get after it today, folks? Get crazy with your bad, sexy selves! What have you got to lose? (And DON’T say pounds. I won’t stand for it because you’re a god-damned dreamboat and that’s final. Hell, if you’re doing it right, you’ll probably even lose a few.)

Maybe it’s been a little while. Maybe you’re feeling rusty. Don’t worry about that! Just remember as you rifle through your barely worn leatherette lingerie that Mr. Brad “28-times-a-month” Muller promises the sex will get better. And Delicious Doug, who yelled, “Uncle!” on day 101, nonetheless entitled his book about the experience “Just Do It.”

It’s time, people. It’s time to dig out that dusty box of dildos you purchased on a whim at your girlfriend’s Passion Party a few years back and call in a nooner. Ask the g-rents to have the kids overnight. Maybe take off to Montreal for the weekend. Because it’s high time we restore “that illusive antimatter” to its rightful, primal place in our lives.

What Scheduling Sex for the Next Five Days Could Do For Your Relationship

Parenting can put sex at the bottom of the to do list. Add it to the top for five days and see what happens.

The scene was not alluring. I did not feel alluring. But I was there, which counts for a lot – and I had a proposition for him. “We could have sex every day for five days straight.”

Our son was six months old. I had not slept for more than four hours a night that entire time. I lived in yoga pants and had never done yoga. My breasts, which were now on active duty feeding my son (and eating being a job he took disturbingly seriously) ranged from “porn star huge” in the morning and settled to merely “alarming” by midday.

Our recent quality time together had included my husband looking at me blankly while I communicated in expressive grunts and swishy hand movements. I could smell baby vomit and was pretty sure some of it was in my hair. Still.

“Want to have sex?” 

He said yes. Then he did the dishes while I napped. Bless. Our five-day challenge had begun.

What is it and why would I do that to myself?

The five-day challenge is a concept based on other challenges such as the 30 day sex challenge but, you know, achievable. (*Crosses legs.*) It’s simple: Have a conversation with your partner about the challenge, get their agreement, and then together, engage in some type of sexual activity for five days in a row.

The benefits of sex are many – ranging from lowering blood pressure, increasing capacity for critical thinking, improving immune system function, and boosting bonding in relationships (Palmer, 2015). These are all good things, and we all want them, so why do we stop having sex once we become parents?

Tiredness is often cited as a reason for lack of sex, with many parents reporting that sleep is a higher priority. One study captured this concept with: “Often both parties wanted to have sex, but they did not always have the strength to do it” (Olssen, Robertson, Bjorkland & Nissen, 2010). Also, adapting to parenthood can be complex. Fathers can struggle with taking on a housekeeping role and mothers report stress from time constraints as well as the emotional toll of nurturing (Reynolds & Knudson-Martin, 2015).

Women may also find navigating sexuality as a mother to be quite different to how they expressed sexuality pre-children (Montemurro & Seifken, 2012). Parenting can be intensely joyful, it can also chew you up and spit you out again. If you want to work as a team with your partner then you need to maintain a connection, you need to be soul mates, friends, and lovers. Sex can be a way to achieve that.

So, lets talk about sex. 

It had been a few years since I’d completed the challenge, and for an additional point of view I asked friends to participate, too. This made for better research and more interesting conversations at playgroup. Responses ranged from a shrug as my friend flicked her hair over her shoulder and gave me what may be the definition of a satisfied smile as she said, “No problem,” to another’s clarification on the “five days … do they have to be in a row? Not like, over a year?” Discussions were had with partners and agreements put into place. It was on.

Tell me what you want. But quietly, so the children don’t wake up.

Intimacy. Romance. Passion. Everything raising children is not. It’s easy to let parts of a relationship stagnate; we might want connection but not quite know how to get it. Often parents want more romance in their lives, but they don’t know how to prioritize it.

Everyone involved in the challenge expressed the same wants and the same fears – they wanted to feel more connected to their partner, and they were worried about time restrictions. One participant summed this up with wanting “sex like we were 21 and childless.”

Having a child takes its toll on people’s relationships, no matter how prepared you think you are. Once that baby arrives it will take more time, more care, and more of everything than you could possible anticipate. Research overwhelmingly reports that sex is not a priority during the first year postpartum. This is not a surprise. No one is surprised by this. However once you’ve surfaced from the fog that is a baby’s first year, you might want to reconnect with that other person who lives in your house and uses all the hot water – you know, your partner.

All the participants in my limited study had concerns about they could fit sexual intimacy into their schedule. They have young children with the ability to open doors and an unerring sense of timing. They were exhausted and touched-out. But before they became parents these couples were lovers, and they wanted some of that action back. So how can the challenge help?

Not just by shagging (a bit by shagging), but by talking. Communication is a key part of any relationship. The interesting thing about fathers and sexuality is that just talking about having sex makes men happier and more involved (Olssen et al., 2010). Through increased communication, couples can begin to explore their own – and each other’s – needs and wants. I don’t know how people can create time, but I do know that when both partners prioritize time together, everyone is more contented. At the end of the challenge everyone involved said they felt more connected and in tune. Happier. Being intimate is energizing for a relationship. Science and my friends who I made have sex both agree on that. 

But, I’m really tired and the house is messy.

Many studies have found a link between men completing household chores and sex. As in, if you do it then you get it. Excellent foreplay skills may get you somewhere, but it’s the men engaging in chore-play that are really getting the action.

At the end of the challenge I asked the male participants if they’d helped out more around the house – they said no. I also asked the women if the men had helped out more – they said yes, their partners had been more involved. Women reported less conflict in their relationship, less bickering, and they’d noticed more proactive fathering. Men reported more happiness and more sex. Maybe the men were helping out more and just not realizing? Maybe the women were blinded by love and post-orgasm bliss?

One thing is for sure though; dads who participate in childcare (the messy stuff, not just the fun stuff) have more sex and describe a more fulfilling emotional relationship with their partner. Mothers may expect their sexuality to take a back seat after having children, but fathers are often taken aback by this change in circumstance.

A study regarding a father’s expectations of sex once children had arrived found that they were ill-prepared for the impact having children would have on their sexual relationship (Olssen et al., 2010). The fathers often focused on their relationship with their children – the fun stuff, leaving the bulk of household duties to their partner in addition to the boring daily care of children. The study reported that having a lot of chores left undone and sole care of children “seemed to diminish the women’s sexual desire.”

The solution? Men needed to be more involved (Olssen et al., 2010). There are fathers who want to be included in running the household but don’t feel invited to participate, and there are father’s who are unwilling; both of these situations result in parents having less sex (Olssen et al., 2010). A father’s involvement in childcare is invaluable. Relationship satisfaction and amount of sex both increase when Dad is changing nappies and vacuuming (Borreson, 2016). The take home message here is: Get involved. Your relationship and your sex life will improve. Or have such amazing sex that your partner will think you’re involved anyway.

I’m a mother now, oh wait, and a goddess.

While men might look forward to resuming a sexual relationship, women’s feelings regarding sexuality tend to be more complicated. There may be pain or discomfort during sex, a loss of libido, and a confabulation of identity that often occurs when a woman becomes a mother. All of these factors can have an effect leading to a general questioning of sexuality (Woolhouse, McDonald & Brown, 2012).

Personally, I joined with a lot of other women in feeling that the changes/ravages that had occurred in my body during pregnancy and birth had left me less desirable. Research has found that women are aware that their physical appearance is valued at least as highly as their achievements, perhaps even more so (Montemurro & Seifken, 2012). To my own detriment I ignored the wonders that were occurring daily – I was feeding my son, I had made him and brought him into the world. Those ridiculously long eyelashes he had? I’d jolly well grown them. Me. That had to be worth something.

I was so concerned with society’s expectations of women being gorgeous, well-slept, and overwhelmingly Not Mothers that it was difficult to reconcile this new role of nurturing my son with being sexy and having sex. Even the term MILF is still expressing surprise that there is a mother who is desirable, as opposed to all those other mothers in minivans shouting at their children (Montemurro & Seifken, 2012).

Mothers are sexy though; they are grounded and beautiful. The sex challenge helped me accept my new identity as a woman who was capable of nurturing her children as well as herself; it helped me figure out what made my heart race in this new chapter of my life. I recaptured a bit of myself and dragged it into the light, and it was fun.

This was also the experience of my friends who participated in the challenge – it was fun. There were reports of learning new things, trying new things, and a renewed interest in flirting throughout the day. That mother smiling at her phone in the park? She’s probably not playing Candy Crush. If you’re willing to give it a shot then you really can find passion everywhere. In short: Mothers stop having sex because society tells them that their role is not meant to be sexy, a clear untruth. The challenge opens up a space to remember that sex is fun and to discover that you can have sex as someone who is nurturing, loving, and incredibly sexy – a goddess.

I’m convinced! Now what?

While the five-day challenge can be fun, once it’s over it’s important to find your own way forward with sex. The last thing parents need is another job to tick off the list. Sex is meant to foster connection and feel rejuvenating. And enjoyable. If it’s not, don’t do it.

The challenge is about adding something back into your life, not a means of control or discomfort. You might be in the right zone to hurl yourself into five days of groundbreaking sex, or you might realize that once a week is just perfect and anything more than that feels like work. Or you might feel like you’d rather stick forks in your eyes than shag someone. That’s cool.

Please don’t do anything you’d rather not do, I’m not advocating swapping a blow job for cleaning the bathroom (cleaning the bathroom takes way longer) but more working out how both of those things can happen in a way that makes everyone happy. The point is to open up space for you – as a couple – to remember the part of yourselves that thought sex was amazing and to figure out how to get that feeling back again.

If you’re up for it then:

  1. Have the conversation.
  2. Get the agreement.
  3. Start the five days.

The challenge might teach you that sex every day is a ridiculous amount and cuddling and watching a movie will do just fine, thank you very much. Or you might find yourself investing in some satin bed sheets and getting on board with sexting. Whichever way it goes, I hope you take the time to find out. Remember that once upon a time you and your partner were lovers, not just parents. Parents deserve good sex, you deserve good sex, and you deserve a strong relationship. Good luck.

Sneaking Around to Have Sex With My Spouse: A Cautionary Tale

Like the teenage years version 2.0, sneaking around after kids can be equally as exciting and primed for getting caught.

It’s all about trying not to get caught. Seizing the right moment and being discreet — these were important life lessons I learned when my high school boyfriend and I wanted to make-out.

With our lips locked and the door cracked, I was a master multitasker. I could listen for the tiniest of coughs or the lightest of steps on the staircase up to my room. And then one day, I lost it. I lost my edge. I figured as a married adult I wouldn’t need to worry about being caught while being intimate ever again. But I was wrong.

“I feel like a teenager,” I told my husband as I was pulling up my elastic pants.

“Because we’re so much in love?” he quipped.

Really it had more to do with all the sneaking around. For the last two years we’ve been sneaking around our house trying to find the right moment to have all the sex. This time around, I’m not trying to avoid my parents. It’s my toddler. The thought of him catching me naked in the middle of “exercising” with my husband is almost enough to make me stop sneaking all together. Almost.

Sneaking feels inherently naughty, and that wreaks havoc with my Catholic school girl conscience. Even sneaking around playing hide-and-seek makes me nervous enough to pee my pants. I was the girl who made her curfew and never smoked in the girl’s bathroom. My fear of being caught kept me in line. Plus, I’m not all that great at being sneaky. I’d assumed all those days were behind me, but then we had a baby, and I’m sneaking around all over again.

Now that my husband and I must steal our private time from our parental time, it requires some sly moves on our part and some keen hearing on my part. This is why I’ve learned to hone my listening skills and keep one ear attuned to my child at all times. No matter what I’m doing (the dishes or my husband), I can always check-in with the toddler. I must make sure he isn’t trying to disassemble the table lamp or stir-fry his cheese crackers.

Hubby and I must be creative in our escapades because we never know exactly when the right moment will strike — when I’m awake is a good start. The best time for us has been in the morning when the kid is happily playing in his gated play area. My husband shuts the dogs away in his office (I love our dogs, but I don’t need an audience), and off we sneak to our bedroom.

While alone in our bedroom my husband concentrates on his task at hand (thinking about baseball), and I’m multitasking. I’m trying to enjoy myself and listen for my kid. I can hear him rustling around safely in his play place, so that’s usually when I divide my focus concentrating on my kid and my task at hand (thinking about baseball).

So, imagine my surprise when one morning while my husband and I had snuck away, I looked down to see our dog happily panting in my face. At first this didn’t register much. She’s always taken a keen interest in our love-making. (I’m sure her interest is purely anthropological.) But then it hits me, Why is she out of the office?!

My mind was playing catch-up with thoughts like, Did my husband forget to close the door all the way? Has my dog figured out how to open doors? Cool! Will the Sox win the Pennant? And then just as the reason for her escape hits me, I hear a tiny voice from downstairs call, “Mom! What are you doing up there?”

Caught.

I’m out of the bed and in my T-shirt before my husband can figure out what’s happened. I race down the stairs before we are totally busted by my two-year-old.

“What are you and my Dad doing?” he asks assessing my unusual outfit choice.

“Exercising.”

I start trying to prepare answers about my lack of underwear in this exercise routine, but there are no more questions. He bought it. Leading him back to his play place, I now understand how he escaped: this kid has masterfully figured out how the hinges work and manipulated them in such a way that they failed. After finding his new freedom, he toddled over to the office, and in looking for us, inadvertently let the dogs out. I hadn’t heard a thing. I’ve definitely lost my edge.

One day I will have to explain sex to my child, but hopefully that explanation won’t ever be accompanied by a visual aid.

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The Surprising Benefit of Co-Sleeping: A Better Sex Life

A co-sleeping arrangement does not have to be the end of exciting times. In many ways, the constraints can be the beginning of something even better.

When I decided to co-sleep with my child, it wasn’t because I subscribed to any particular parenting approach or dogma, but just because it felt right. I didn’t anticipate the outcry my choice provoked from well-meaning friends and family members.

Their first concern was that my husband and I might suffocate my son during the night, a fear that I dispelled for myself through research and through accommodations in our sleeping arrangements (no fluffy bedding or pillows, a well-fitted mattress with no gaps between it and the bed frame).

The second issue that troubled several of my friends was the impact that co-sleeping might have on my relationship with my husband. Time and again I heard the same sentiment echoed by women I considered strong, confident women, feminists even. “You have to put your relationship with your husband first.”

I shrugged this one off with a bit of annoyance. The suggestion that I should live in constant anxiety about losing a man rankled me. Plus, my husband and I had been through enough in the decade before we had a child that I felt completely confident in his commitment to me and our new family.

I also found the comment insulting to my husband. The warnings seemed to suggest not only that he was not an equal parent, equally involved in the choice to bring our son into our bed, and equally invested in the benefits we all reaped from it, but that he was himself a large child whose needs I must prioritize. In reality, since he was away from the house all day, he welcomed the chance to cuddle and bond with our son each night.

Beyond these rebuttals, I admit that we felt a crimp in our sex life after our son was born, but it had less to do with who sleeps where than with the general demands of parenting. On the other hand, here are some of the unexpected ways that co-sleeping has benefitted our sex life:

1 | Location, location, location.

My husband and I have been liberated from the bedroom. A sofa, a comfy armchair, or a padded rug will do. It’s a moveable feast.

2 | Anytime is the right time.

I was never much in the mood at bedtime anyway, and these days it’s all over for me by 9 P.M. Early in the morning, just after a run, but before the kid wakes up? Perfect. A little afternoon delight with the shades drawn while he naps? Oh yeah. We catch it while we can.

3 | We have become co-conspirators.

Nudging napping schedules, looking ahead at the week’s workload, my husband and I plan ahead. You’ll be home early on Friday? We both know what that means. We have learned to speak in code, so the whole endeavor takes on the aura of something covert. We have a shared purpose.

4 | Anticipation.

We have to wait. A lot. But not too much. When we finally get our moment alone, it’s like that chocolate sundae you’ve been dreaming about all day. It’s just that much better.

5 | We flirt with each other more.

We talk. We tease. We slip into the next room to make out for a minute before dinner. Don’t we always want what is denied us? The constraints on our sex life have kept us from taking each other for granted.

My son continues to sleep in our bed even as he approaches his fifth birthday. He shows no sign of migrating toward his new “big boy bed” anytime soon, and we are not pushing him. I see him growing up and away from us in every moment, and with each burst of pride at he steps toward independence, I feel a pang of grief.

Raising a child is a constant process of letting go, and I know that the day will come when I will no longer be able to curl around his small body, nestle my face into his hair, and cuddle him to sleep. When the idea of that loss seems too hard to bear, I remember that my husband will still be there, and imagine the ways we will reclaim the space of our bed together.

Here’s How to Talk to Your Teens About Sex

It’s a talk we need to have in various ways, shapes and forms from early on. If you haven’t yet talked to your teen about sex, these tips can help.

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If you are a parent of a teenager, you’ve probably already had THE Talk. By now, your child understands where babies come from and the potential consequences of having sex.

In addition, most public schools provide some level of sex education as part of the health curriculum. In our area high school, each student was assigned an STD to research, so each of my kids came home one day announcing what they “had.” For the most part, you know that they’re informed, but is that enough? If they are going away to college, for instance, are they really ready for the reality of independent living and making responsible decisions?

Moving out of your childhood home, whether it’s temporary (a semester at school) or permanent (getting one’s own place) is one of those things in life for which you really can’t fully prepare. There are some aspects (having a roommate, for example) that may be familiar, but there will certainly be something unexpected too.

Some teens have grown up sharing a room with a sibling, or have spent a week or summer at camp, but moving into a small space and sharing it with a complete stranger for most of a year is something very different. There are going to be things about this new person, and this new situation, that’ll be surprising and unfamiliar.

I was unprepared for much of college life and I worried about my children going to college unprepared as well. I knew that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to prepare them. Before they left for school, I suggested problems they might encounter if, for no other reason than simply so that they could think about how they might approach various situations.  I wanted them to be better prepared than I’d been for communal life as a young adult. 

Sex is everywhere. It’s implied or explicitly addressed in entertainment and advertising. Even children’s movies have a level of innuendo. Companies and schools have been forced to set up guidelines and rules addressing sexual behavior. Reports of sexual assault on college campuses are getting increased media attention and schools are responding with prevention and awareness programs.

While it’s true that today many have their first sexual encounter in high school, that number jumps quickly in college. According to the CDC, 47% of high school students reported they’ve had sexual intercourse, and the Guttmacher Institute reports that by age 20, 75% of individuals are reporting they have had sex. 

Studies indicate that the perception of sexual activity is actually higher than the reality, and some worry that this may encourage teens to engage in sexual activity earlier than they might otherwise. In study after study, individuals underestimate the number of people in the study group who are not having sex.

Despite the appearance that everyone is doing it, not everyone’s happy about it. There’s been much discussion and study on “hookup culture” common today. This idea tends to reinforce stereotypes: All men want sex all the time. Men are praised for their exploits, women are reviled. Casual sex is devoid of emotion, it’s simply an act. The implication is that relationships are superficial, and that old-fashioned “dating” is dead and gone. This is true, to a degree, but people still want relationships.

The New York Magazine’s 2015 Sex on Campus Survey reveals a more conservative attitude about sex than one might expect. While reports of the hookup culture imply an epidemic of one-night stands, an overwhelming majority responded with the longest period of time offered on the survey (longer than a month) when asked, “How long do you think you need to know someone before you have sex with them?”

The majority of college students are also finding romantic partners through friends, rather than at bars or parties. The question, “How many sex partners do you think you should have before marriage?” also reveals a more conservative tendency, with the overwhelming majority of people answering 1-5.

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While most young people – 91% in the New York Magazine survey – want a relationship, and someday marriage, many are afraid that doing so at this point in their lives will complicate things, that they will not have time necessary to devote to studies or that they will no longer have time for friends and social activities.

To understand hook up culture, it’s important to look at how relationships are defined. As was true with prior generations, the meaning of words is constantly, if subtly, changing. In order to have meaningful dialogue, we need to make sure we understand the terminology.

Hookups are defined as anything from kissing to intercourse, without the expectation of commitment. It’s interesting to note that a hookup does not necessarily lead to a relationship, but that most relationships evolve from a hookup. Although this may sound alarming, according to a 2010 report published by the American Sociological Association –  Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?  – when looking at college students’ most recent hookup, only about one third involved sexual intercourse, while another third involved other sexual acts, and the final third engaged in “kissing and non-genital touching.”

The report goes on,

[su_quote ]“Hookups may be the most explicit example of a calculating approach to sexual exploration. They make it possible to be sexually active while avoiding behaviors with the highest physical and emotional risks (e.g., intercourse, intense relationships). Media panic over hooking up may be at least in part a result of adult confusion about youth sexual culture—that is, not understanding that oral sex and sexual experimentation with friends are actually some young people’s ways of balancing fun and risk.”[/su_quote]

The Media Education Foundation Study Guide indicates that despite this, many traditional roles remain. Men initiate more dates and sexual activity than do women, and report greater pleasure from sexual activity than the women reported. Women still worry that they’ll no longer be respected after a hookup. More than 75% of men contact the woman afterwards. Sex is more common within a relationship than with a hookup. In a curious flip of stereotypical gender roles, today’s women are slightly more likely than men to no longer be interested in a relationship after a hookup and it’s men, not women, who more often initiate the, “define the relationship” talk.

Leah Fessler, a recent graduate of Middlebury College questioned the value of the hookup culture on campus, making it the topic of her senior thesis. In it, she makes the assertion that, in some ways, the hookup can be seen as a feminist statement. It’s a way to avoid commitment, to dedicate one’s self to studies and/or a career.

After completing her study, however, she concluded that, “Despite diverse initial perceptions of, and experiences with, hookup culture, 100% of female interviewees stated a clear preference for committed relationships, and 74% of female survey respondents say that ideally, they’d be in a “committed relationship with one person.” Perhaps more surprising is the male view on relationships – only 6% responding that they desire casual hookups devoid of commitment.

So, why do college students engage in hookups? Fessler says, “In hooking up we see a glimmer of hope, we see potential, we see the only, if not the most accessible (remember: we’ve got almost no free time), means of taking a step toward what we really want: something more, commitment.”

In an article she wrote for Quartz, Fessler further asserts that, “sex is inextricably linked to emotions, trust, curiosity, and above all, self-awareness. To attempt to separate emotions from sex is not only illogical, given that emotion intensely augments pleasure, but also impossible for almost all women.”

She goes on to say that, “…men’s experiences with hookup culture are equally complex. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of males I interviewed and surveyed also ideally preferred committed relationships. But they felt strong social pressure to have casual sex. Culturally, men have been socially primed to believe they ought to “drive” hookup culture, and that a crucial part of the college experience is sleeping with many women and then discussing these “escapades” with their male friends. So despite what men might truly want, pervasive hookup culture prompts them to predicate their public identity as heterosexual men on the number and physical attractiveness of the women they’ve slept with. Needless to say, the detrimental effects of this performance pressure are countless and severe.” 

This all points to a disillusionment with the status quo. There is evidence that young people yearn for emotional connection, yet their actions indicate otherwise. 

What is perhaps news to some is the casual acceptance of the various sexual acts between kissing and intercourse. We need to define sex. For many, sex is exclusively intercourse. Oral sex or other sexual acts are seen as something “other.” Many with considerable sexual experience are technically considered virgins, perhaps because the perception is that oral sex is “safe.” 

And STIs remain a huge concern. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 20 million new STI cases each year, half of which occur among youth ages 15-24 years. Though some STIs have obvious symptoms, many have no, or only mild, symptoms. A test from a healthcare provider is the only sure way to confirm infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 4 new STI cases occur in teenagers. It’s a little known fact that, “for some STDs, such as chlamydia, adolescent females may have increased susceptibility to infection.” In 2014, people aged 15-24 accounted for 66% of all cases of chlamydia, 63% of all cases of gonorrhea, and 28% of syphilis cases reported in the U.S.

Some STIs can be spread through any contact between the penis, vagina, mouth or anus – even if there is no penetration. For example, genital herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. Though many think that oral sex is safer, it’s not. STIs transmitted through oral sex include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HPV and HIV.

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How to talk to your kids

Even though, or perhaps because, sex is everywhere today, we need to have conversations with our children. According to Dr. Michael A. Carrera, of The Children’s Aid Society,

[su_quote ]“Young people inevitably learn about sex and sexuality from their environment anyway, and it’s evident that the environment is not always very safe or reliable, so it is up to caring adults to influence their sons’ and daughters’ moral development, healthy decision making abilities, self-esteem, and knowledge of, and comfort with, their own sexuality. A parent really has no choice in this matter. The only choice is whether the job will be done well or poorly.”[/su_quote]

Sex education classes tend to be clinical, and portrayals in the media tend to be unrealistic. Neither of these convey our values, and opinions which carry more weight than many parents think. Barbara Huberman of Outreach for Advocates for Youth, points out that, “parents who act on the belief that young people have the right to accurate sexuality information are parents whose teens will delay the initiation of intimacy and use contraceptives when they choose to become sexually active.”

Preparation for this conversation is crucial. If you expect to talk to your child about sex, then you can’t be surprised by questions. You don’t always have to have the answers, but being open and willing to talk will set the tone for a positive (and hopefully ongoing) dialogue.

Be an “askable” parent.

Be willing and available to talk. Encourage questions and conversations. Be honest. Be prepared to answer questions that may make you uncomfortable.

Initiate the conversation.

Research shows that teens are reluctant to bring up the topic. They may be embarrassed or worry about their parents’ reaction. They’re afraid their parents may assume they are already having sex, or simply are unsure about how to bring up the topic.

Show that you’ve done your research. Share statistics and anecdotes like those above that illustrate how people view sex differently.

Be specific.

Deborah Roffman, the author of Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex points out, “Parents have to stop talking in code. Children need accurate definitions, facts, and guidance. If we don’t teach our children, someone else may teach them what we don’t want them to learn.” 

Admit to your mistakes.

It’s easier to talk to people who aren’t perfect. You don’t have to know everything or have all the answers. If you made poor choices, own up to them – simply, and without detail. Too many teens feel pressure to live up to expectations of perfection.

Listen, don’t react.

Don’t jump to conclusions. Often, questions are simply that. Just because a child is asking questions about sex, doesn’t mean that he or she is already sexually active.

Don’t laugh or ridicule.

There is a place for humor, but never at your child’s expense.

Acknowledge your feelings.

It’s okay to be embarrassed or uncomfortable. Sex is a complicated subject. Everyone talks about it and no one talks about it.

Teach safe sex.

Don’t assume that talking about contraception gives your child your blessing to be sexually active. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, talking about both abstinence and birth control results in a fewer teen pregnanciesWe should talk about both abstinence and contraception; they are not mutually exclusive.

Talk about more than avoiding pregnancy and STIs. Educate your kids about sexual assault. It’s an unfortunate truth that women, especially, need to be wary of assault. The Department of Justice reports that nearly 1 in 5 undergraduate women experience an attempted or actual sexual assault and it’s understood that many more cases go unreported due to the prevalence of victim-shaming.

Remind them to watch out for others.

The Department of Justice report also indicates that bystander intervention helps prevent assault.

Teach that sex can have consequences other than STIs and pregnancy.

Though it’s downplayed, there are emotional aspects to sexual relationships. It’s important to talk about sex with a partner before having sex. Things to address include birth control, the possibility of STIs, each person’s expectations.

Consider who else can provide accurate information.

No matter how good your relationship with your child is, there are things they may not want to discuss with you. Where else can your child turn for accurate, helpful information? The doctor?A counselor? 

Address ways to manage stress. 

Simple things like exercise and meditation can relieve some of the intense pressure many young adults feel. It can be deeply tempting to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Substance use impacts the ability to make good decisions about intimacy, consent, and self care.

Talk about your values.

According to the American Social Health Association (ASHA), “Research shows that teens are less likely to have sex at an early age if they feel close to their parents and if their parents clearly communicate their values.”

The Awkward Superhero Sex Story

When a book being read aloud turns surprisingly sexual, a mom ends up having a hilarious conversation with her two sons.

One rare evening my boys and I were all sitting quietly reading. A small voice interrupted my paragraph asking “How do you spell fat?”

I considered asking my son how he thought it was spelled, or what he was reading, but instead answered F-A-T, wanting to get right back to my book.

“I thought they made a mistake- they spelled it P-H-A-T.” At least I understood his confusion.

“That’s a joke.”  (Do I introduce jam bands this early?) “It’s the other way to make the F sound. Do you know how to spell phone?” “Yes, P-H-O-N-E, and also

“Yes, P-H-O-N-E, and also philosopher. P-H-I-L-O-S-O-P-H-E-R.”

Beside us, my older son Oliver is reading the second “Sidekicks” book that my mother sent him. The first was a graphic novel. As Leo phinished his book, Oliver suggested that we read Sidekicks together. Leo proposed the wonderful world of cross sections. Once again superheroes trumped science, so we settled in to read “Sidekicks” beside each other on the bed.

A typical mother might have skipped it, glossed over it, or put the book down. None of these struck me as the right option.

In the first scene of the book, the teenage superhero sidekick rescues an attractive woman and feels something happening “below his belt.” A typical mother might have skipped it, glossed over it, or put the book down. None of these struck me as the right option.

“I’m wondering if this is interesting to 7 and eight-year-olds?” I ask the boys. “Did the first book have all of this sex stuff?”

Four eyes are on me.

It is at this point that I realize any one of the other three options might have been a way to go.

“No.” Oliver says, “The other one didn’t have any sex stuff.” “What sex stuff?” Asks Leo.

“What sex stuff?” asks Leo.

I keep reading. Our sexed up sidekick is trying to calm himself down reciting math facts, and thinking about baseball. But then the woman whispers something to him, and he is “standing at attention.”

I should just barrel forward bravely, but it is really difficult to ignore a vivid accident such as this one. I glance back over my shoulder. Oliver gets it.

I put the book down.

“It can be difficult to talk about.” I tell him.

“What? What is difficult to talk about?” Asks the little filisopher.

“Do you know what the character is thinking about?” I ask.

“I have an idea.” says Oliver.

“I DON’T have an idea” stresses Leo. This may be the very worst thing in the world. A conversation that he can’t follow let alone lead, about S-E-X. This was supposed to be a superhero book, and he is getting left behind.

Here Oliver sighs, squares his blue fleece-clad shoulders (it is a day that ends in Y after all) and says: “You know how your penis practices getting ready to have a baby? Well. His penis is practicing.” Then he continues. “What I don’t understand is why he is embarrassed about his penis practicing, I mean everyone that has a penis has a penis that practices.”

All of a sudden Leo is the expert. “Well, his penis is practicing because of that GIRL that he rescued. He doesn’t want her to find out about his penis.”

Well, handled boys. But I am still here to muck things up. I read on, and the word “puberty” pops up.

“What is puberty?” asks Leo. “Its when your body starts to change from a kid to a grown up. So you start to grow hair in your armpits and your voice changes and your penis practices more.”

I know there are very good books to give them, and probably good books to prepare me to have this conversation, but I don’t have them on hand. So I go ahead and wing it.

“Its when your body starts to change from a kid to a grown up. So you start to grow hair in your armpits and your voice changes and your penis practices more.”

I continue with the sidekick book thinking about rhymes that might have clued me into the true nature of the book.

“How much does your penis practice?” My husband Steve is at hockey. The three simple words I. Don’t. Know. seem to have left my vocabulary. So I ball park it. 50 times a day? Seems about right. Aren’t teens supposed to think about sex 12 times a minute. Or an hour? Hm. That would be a LOT of times in a school day.

The boys are waiting. Google is right here, but I decide to round down. “Twenty times a day when you’re a teenager.” They both look down at their pajamas, one blue fleece, the other Batman flannel.

Oliver says: “My penis only practices like once a week or so. That will be 139 more times.” He seems impressed.

Leo of the skinny jeans says: “I will wear baggy pants.”

They seem settled and not terrified by my perhaps-off-by-a-factor-of-ten answers. So we turn back to sidekicks. The news crew shows up. From the helicopter, they shine a spotlight on our hero. “Is that a banana in your tights or are you just happy to see us?” asks the object of his affliction. The character looks down where he’s ‘pitched a tent.’

“Maybe we shouldn’t read this,” says Oliver.

“Not baggy pants,” says Leo.

“I didn’t think it was very well written,” I said.

So we turned to cross erections. I mean sections. Cross sections.

Phuck. Just look for the MC Hammer pants. Those’ll be my boys.

The Car Radio is Ruining My (Sex) Drive

Beyoncé was right: I’m not ready for that jelly, and neither is my pre-tween son.

Tuning into the car radio is a big turn off. The relentless hum of racy songs on every station is putting a damper on carpool time with my 11-year-old son. Does he really need to have “Girl all I really want is you down on me, put it down on me” stuck in his noggin all day?

Do I, for that matter?

When I was a kid, my mother would change the dial if any song even remotely hinted at sex. Thunder Island got kicked off thanks to its suggestive line, “In the sun with your dress undone,” long before the blatant refrain, “Making love out on Thunder Island.” Muskrat Love also got the boot because “Muzzle to muzzle, now anything goes” was far too risqué, even for rodents in heat. But mom’s button pushing also increased the odds of hearing Stepping Stone by my harmless fake boyfriends, the Monkees, so I was all for it.

I think a lot of songs got past her, though, thanks to some silly allegory. Neither of us had any idea that My Sharona was anything other than goofy fun as we blithely sang along. There are others we missed, too, thanks to the possibility of multiple interpretations.

Conversely, we swooned at the sweetest and most unassuming love songs, like Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman who crooned, “And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.” Hear it again, here.

Swoon central. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have lifelong amore with the lineman of my dreams. Glen’s song – and perfect pitch – made my mom lovesick, too. Once we arrived at home, she’d put on a nice dress for dinner with my dad. Romance filled the air, joining the wafts of Saturday night’s Hungry-Man Salisbury steak.

Thirty-five years later finds me in the driver’s seat.

Now my car radio is practically on permanent scan to shelter my son from the onslaught of overtly explicit lyrics. Case in point is Maroon 5’s hit Sugar – on heavy rotation on every single station since last summer. On first listen, I allowed myself to be seduced into thinking that Adam Levine was comparing his girlfriend to a piece of cake: “I want that red velvet, I want that sugar sweet, Don’t let nobody touch it, Unless that somebody’s me.” Sadly, his barely there metaphor requires minimal interpretation.

Elsewhere on the dial, my son’s fake girlfriend Meghan Trainor is telling us that her mama said, “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” Okay, missy, it’s one thing to be all about that bass – a much-needed anthem for actual-size females – but it’s another to be all about that sex. Beyoncé was right, I’m not ready for that jelly, and neither is my pre-tween son.

I’m reluctant to admit – especially in this context – that songs like these have an adverse affect on my sex drive as well as my commute. None of them make me want to put on a fancy dress and seduce my husband (of 18 years) out there on Thunder Island. Quite frankly, I’d prefer a muumuu and a nap.

Indeed, the only thing going down is my head on the pillow. I feel bad about my sagging bottom that’s not keeping up with Kanye’s Kardashian. I’m pretty sure I don’t moan melodiously like Taylor Swift does in her Wildest Dreams.

And thanks to menopause, dear Adam, my sugar is more like artificial sweetener.

Maybe I should blame my carnal reluctance on some kind of oppositional disorder because I’m certainly no prude. By the time Chrissy Amphlett of the Divinyls was belting out “I touch myself” in 1991, much of my life was below the belt.

Cut to 2015 and it sounds like pop stars are saying how much cooler their sex lives are than mine – or yours – ever was. As if they invented the act! I feel defeated by the bravado and machismo in their lyrics, not to mention their references to coital calisthenics – some of which make Olivia Newton John’s song “Physical” sound tame. Remember that video?

There’s also the possibility that I’m ready to leave to the table at which these young-pup pop stars have just begun to eat. Or, I suppose, there’s a remote chance that my frigid reaction to their music is a side effect of a medication I take. I can see the new warning label now: These pills may make you intolerant of explicit lyrics which could later manifest as a lowered libido. 

Perhaps I should be listening to CDs in the car, or a hand-picked Spotify playlist. But where’s the mystery in that? I still want to be tuned into the random world – where music and people and places catch us by surprise and stir up emotion. Knowing what’s coming whenever you turn on the stereo would be like having Salisbury Steak for dinner every night. Besides, every so often, Glen Campbell comes on the radio to tell me that the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.

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Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex & Parenthood

A conversation about sex and parenthood with Hillary Frank, host of “The Longest Shortest Time.” Learn about “The Parents’ Guide to Doing It – Live!” in NYC

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.

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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.

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Hillary Frank

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?

No. No!

How have you overcome that, to facilitate the conversation?

The Parent's Guide to Doing It
October 6 2105: The Parents’ Guide to Doing It – Live!

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.

Wow.

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.

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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.

Poll: The Birds & The Bees

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