Sex

Couples, Parenthood and Sex: Reigniting Your Erotic Spark

What's to be done when lovers become parents and stop reaching out and touching?

Posted Dec 05, 2019

Jared Sluyter/Unsplash
It's not just you. After having kids, many couples wonder what's happened to their once hot, erotic connection.
Source: Jared Sluyter/Unsplash

Have you noticed that committed couples who have good, or even great sex sometimes end up having children? The shift from partners to parents can be seismic for couples.

Parenthood can put more than a damper on the eroticism that led to the child in the first place; it sometimes suffocates it. One-on-one time can go right out the window.

Here is the case of Finn and Angela. 

In their early years of dating and while engaged, this couple’s sexual desire, and their wish to kiss, bite, and grope one another was an intense and daily experience. After they were married, sexual activity was a little less frequent but still ardent and regular; for example, Angela reports they had sex throughout the first pregnancy. But their drive and activity level dropped off precipitously when their first child arrived. By the time child number two showed up a few years later, their love life became sporadic at best. Everything was child-centered, and all activities were family-focused. The so-called "couple time" was virtually nonexistent. 

Deeply fearing that the child molestation stories that friends and colleagues had shared over the years would visit their newfound family, Finn and Angela hired a babysitter (fully vetted) only once in 18 years, and it was so that they could attend a charity function (it was not a hot date all to themselves that could have led to something hotter). The dyadic nucleus of the family was not nurtured or attended to, and the result was a lot of suppressed or unexpressed libido, mutual other-blaming, and resentment that no action was happening. 

Today, Angela says Finn isn’t initiating very often, but also admits she’s not initiating at all. He complains that she’s become a mother and professional first, second, and last — and a spouse and lover almost never.  

Recently, on rare occasions, they go out of town for a professional meeting or to deliver a talk, and grab some couple time that way. But even then there is no sexual combustion. If a partner stays up late working on a laptop (as he described it, clickety-clackety, frequently punctuated with a hard trackpad thud), they might not even sleep in the same bed, much like a TV couple from the 1950s. 

Can their erotic life together be saved?

On the one hand, this case may sound a bit extreme; once avid, enthusiastic lovers losing their way completely? On the other hand, their story is all too familiar. Couples who have been together two, three or four decades frequently voice the same complaints: They used to do it, and it was great for both of them when it happened, but will they ever do it again? The question of whether there is sex after marriage, or parenthood, comes up often and is addressed in popular books. I’d recommend Esther Perel’s book Mating in Captivity for persons wanting to explore this issue further (see her TED talk here).

My recommendations? While having couples talk about “intimacy,” and lack thereof, is a standard issue, I’m less bullish about this one-size-fits-all solution for every couple who walks through the door. Couples may have talked to death (and bitterly fought) about their crappy sex life by the time they arrive at the office for services. 

Ayo Ogunseinde/Unsplash
Talked out? Move to other forms of communication.
Source: Ayo Ogunseinde/Unsplash

My advice is to be sexy without trying too hard, and without a direct, all-or-nothing demand for sex. If Angela wanted to take the initiative, that’d be dandy, but she might have legitimate reasons why she doesn’t initiate (e.g., Finn rebuffed her in the past, she still feels the gendered sexual socialization about being gatekeeper and not initiator of intimate acts, it always had to be his idea anyway for it to happen, etc.).

He can give her neck and back rubs, a spontaneous lingering kiss on the lips or nape of the neck (Angela really likes these things), or suggest they watch a show that they both enjoy a lot, and she, instead of flatly saying no, or feeling imposed on (“I have to meet our kids’ needs, and here he comes again?”), can turn that dynamic around by being open to gentle, playful persuasion to get together a little later on (that night, the next day, etc.).

Finn sometimes won’t initiate, even when horny as heck, for fear of rejection; he takes a rebuff very personally; historically he has not seen it as the sexual overture being turned down, but his entire personhood being rejected. Therapy has helped him shrug off the occasional turndown and not take it quite so personally.

Non-demanding, non-genital touch helps couples to get in synchrony and experience “being so inclined” or in the neighborhood of “being in the mood” more often. Of course, if a distancing partner was already in the mood, and really wanted to be sexual, getting right to it and off to the races when their partner seems interested would break up the established pattern as well.

An important consideration is that the stages of the sexual response cycle are not always sequential and linear (i.e., desire, arousal, excitement, orgasm). Sometimes partners are tired as can be, and aren’t even thinking about sex, and can be surprised by sudden arousal even before desire has registered for them. Sometimes unhurried touching can create desire, and eventual arousal, when lovers are not time-pressured or worried about needing to be somewhere else in short order, or are not worried about sexual performance, or aren’t experiencing cognitive distraction about their appearance, hotness, ability to stay hard, etc.

In sum, my advice is for partners to face toward one another, make (i.e., schedule) time for just the two of them, and communicate through their bodies and non-demand touch. Tongues are not just for talking.

References

Perel, E. (2007).  Mating in captivity: Unlocking erotic intelligence.  New York: Harper.