No sex please, we're mothers

As sex surveys go, this was a shocker. But the papers buried the biggest surprise. "Sex less frequent after a baby," screeched one headline (you don't say?). "New mums have less sex," said another. But the truly amazing nugget they missed - according to the research by Prima Baby magazine - was that new mothers are apparently having an astonishing four sex sessions a month. Never mind that they had been doing it 10 times a month before they got pregnant, or even that they had done it five times while expecting.

It's not so much the drop in frequency of intercourse that's surprising so much as the fact that they're still doing it at all, never mind once a week.

This is the unpalatable truth about having a baby: when you've just had one, you don't want sex again. Not for a long time, anyway. OK, we have all heard about the friend of a friend who came home from hospital feeling so horny she couldn't wait for the baby to settle down so she could jump into the sack, but for the majority - the vast majority - of us, childbirth is not a valid form of foreplay.

The most immediate reason is also the most obvious: having a baby hurts like hell, and even if you are in the increasingly small minority who have a straightforward, intervention-free delivery, your vagina and perineum are sore for weeks afterwards. After an instrumental delivery and/or an episiotomy or cut, the trauma to your vaginal tissues is much worse and the discomfort can persist for longer (there is some evidence, for example, that episiotomies take longer to heal than natural tears).

Despite hospital ads in the US that encourage mothers-to-be to "keep yourself honeymoon fresh with a caesarean", you are kidding yourself if you think you will quickly return to your normal sexual form after a surgical delivery. After my caesarean I felt as though I would split in half if I sneezed, laughed or coughed: when the only thing that isn't agony is lying absolutely still, sex is a bit of a no-no.

It isn't, of course, just the physical fallout of giving birth that makes sex so unappealing. Few new mothers actually feel like making love, whether or not it involves intercourse, because when you have got a small baby your every instinct is directed towards cuddling, loving and caring for this new little person. The big old person who was instrumental in her conception might still be fairly important, but your baby has taken centre stage big-time. No wonder some people argue that the most perfect human couple is a mother and her newborn: your relationship with your baby reaches new depths of intimacy. Having sex, for a while at least, seems irrelevant. As one respondent in the Prima Baby survey wrote, sex is quite simply "the last thing on your mind".

For some couples, too, there is an additional psychological complication caused by an overload of medical intervention in the process of pregnancy and childbirth. Couples who have had to resort to assisted conception methods, for example, often report feeling as though sex has become a "medicalised" process in which they are monitored, injected, tested and prodded. Even those who have been trying to have a baby for a few months say that having sex in order to conceive can quickly seem like a chore rather than a pleasure, and there may be a knock-on effect even after the birth.

Last year another survey on relationships after childbirth, carried out by the website Mumsnet, asked new parents why they were having sex less often than before. Only 1% said it was because sex was painful, suggesting that childbirth injuries are usually short-term, while 22% put it down to "lack of libido" and 62% said it was because of tiredness and exhaustion. "I find it hard to respond to bedtime advances when we have hardly had time to speak together or when a few minutes' extra sleep would be so much more beneficial," said one.

According to psychosexual therapist Julia Cole, the mistake a lot of couples make after the birth of a baby is to try to return to having "normal' intercourse as quickly as possible. She suggests to clients that they go back to the kind of physical relationship they had when they were first going out together, before they started having sex, and let things develop from there. "What you find is that couples stop touching because they're afraid they're inviting sex and that isn't what they necessarily want," she says. "But it's important to keep being affectionate to one another because that keeps you close and keeps your relationship warm. Over a few months that affirmation of touch often starts to restore a couple's sex drive, and they can rebuild from there.

"Don't think solely in terms of intercourse - there are a lot of other ways to have a fun and enjoyable sex life. Often the most difficult thing is to organise a bit of uninterrupted time when you know you won't be disturbed by the baby crying or needing you. I know that's very hard to find, but if you can it will stand you in good stead as far as your sex life is concerned." Too often, she says, couples wait until bedtime, when they are both exhausted, to turn their thoughts to sex. Other times of the day, perhaps during the baby's afternoon nap, can be a more sensible time to have an intimate half-hour together.

Cole agrees that one of the issues that this research raises is how men's sexual urges still tend to be taken as the "norm". After all, if it was left to women to decide when to resume a sex life after childbirth, would we be doing it four times a month, despite being exhausted with the demands of a small infant, and still sore after giving birth?

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.