Most of us think everyone else has a better sex life.
We may be doctors or patients, stay-at-home moms or utilizers of daycare, firefighters or librarians. Whether we've been married for decades or are single moms, moms for days or for decades, most of us think everyone else is enjoying a more erotic, pleasurable, intimate you fill in the blank sex life.
If we're moms, we're convinced of it.
We imagine that our best friend, our sister, the nurse down the block, the lady at the supermarket checkout, and our partner's last girlfriend know no woe when it comes to libido.
In the absence of information, we buy into the myths. We believe that most women climax during conventional intercourse.
We believe that most married couples make love three times a week.
We believe that sex drive should come back when you stop breast-feeding.
We believe that our partners obsess about our bodies as much as we do.
Thank goodness, they don't.
We believe that sexuality is instinctual, and that if the thrill is gone, it won't come back.
It most certainly can.
Along with our mistaken beliefs about everyone else's sex life, we assume that we are powerless to change our sexual relationship. We are often afraid that the only solutions will involve a sex therapist with a secret treasure chest in the back office, filled with studded black leather collars, French maid costumes, plastic purple things that require batteries, and videos you can't find at Blockbuster.
Most likely, you remember when sex was great: before kids. You may even look forward again to great sex, in the very distant future. As far as the present goes, though, chances are that you've given up. You are convinced that restoring passion to your sex life means becoming Scandinavian, igniting an affair, or learning Houdini-like contortions.
I hope to change your mind.
You can have a good sex life and raise children. You may believe that you're simply too tired or too busy for sex, but even exhausted moms can have energy tucked away for sex. I will show you how. And if you think you're too shy to improve your sexual relationship, I'll give you a cure for self-consciousness.
How can I help? What makes me someone you should trust? I can tell you this: I never intended to be a doctor who specializes in sex. In fact, I'm still hoping my mother doesn't find out. But in the years I've been practicing psychotherapy, and in the years I've been a mom, I've come to understand how easily passion withers, how guilty and alone so many women feel about their sexual indifference, and how quickly emotional disconnection can follow sexual disconnection in a marriage. I've also learned that ignoring the problem tempting as that is doesn't make it go away.
As a psychiatrist, I focus on treating women with reproductive-related problems, such as postpartum depression, panic disorder in pregnancy, and PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Considering where babies come from, I have more than my share of patients who recently have had sex, and many more who plan to have, or at least enjoy, sex once the kids leave for college.
I hear my postpartum patients wish they'd never have to have sex again. I hear women feeling guilty, certain their husbands got cheated in the karma lottery when they got stuck with them, instead of all those other women who climax at the mere thought of intercourse. I hear how love and romance fade into the background of carpools, laundry, and bake sales. I hear about how years of Doing It the same way gets old. I hear about kids who barge into the parental bedroom, and kids who drain all energy, sexual and otherwise. I hear about husbands who don't ever help with the housework but expect sex on demand. I hear about the intricacies of sexual life as a single parent. I hear about how teenagers never go to sleep, and how teenagers who cannot hear the alarm clock when it's time to get up for school have an uncanny radar for the hushed sounds behind closed doors that just might indicate parental romance.
I also hear about the imagined great sex life of others: the sister who went on a second honeymoon to the Caribbean and claimed she had sex 24-7, the friend who went to New Orleans with her husband for a weekend without the kids and never left the hotel, the neighbor who accidentally on purpose keeps her window open so that everyone knows what a stud her husband is.
But I hear all this only when I ask.
It puzzled me at first that moms would talk about sex only when pressed, even in therapy. Why were moms holding back? The lightbulb went off when a patient told me that I couldn't understand her sexual problem with her husband because my own sex life was, undoubtedly, fantastic. Patients' idealization is nothing new to a therapist, but this one seemed especially poignant. A patient who understood that as a fellow mom, I know as well she does the truth behind the Hallmark version of motherhood, simply couldn't imagine that I knew this dark little secret of motherhood, too. She believed that compared to others, her bedroom was uniquely awkward, tense and boring.
While we laugh about men anxiously comparing penis size, it turns out that we women make comparisons, too. Trained since about fifth grade to notice who's prettier, smarter, thinner, or more popular, as adults we women often have deep imagined sexual shortcomings, too. We think our bedroom credentials are so woefully inadequate that we're hopeless. By comparison to the "in-crowd," we feel deficient.
There is great news here: You aren't the only one. Even better news: You can have great sex again, even as a great mom. It isn't one or the other. Indeed, you must address the sexual blahs. Great sex is an important aspect of a happy relationship, and happy parents are the cornerstones of happy families.
The solutions I've discovered in the years I've practiced medicine are simple steps that real-world moms can do. But not so fast. Before tackling the Ten Steps to Nurturing Passion, I want you to get clear about the things standing in the way. Think of it this way: When you take your car to the shop for a tune-up, your mechanic runs some tests to see how the engine is running, even if you think you already know what needs attention. Likewise, a careful and honest exploration of the sexual issues in your life will get you headed in the right direction.
Why bother? Why not jump ahead to the solutions? Most important, the proper self-diagnosis almost always makes you feel better about yourself. If you have emotional or sexual issues, it's reassuring to know that your problems are commonplace. It's ever so heartening to know that others have overcome similar challenges. What a relief to discover that no one is to blame, that neither you nor your husband belongs to the Hall of Shame. How encouraging it is to know that Personally and Hopelessly Defective is the wrong diagnosis.
It's not your fault. It's not his fault.
While there are many things that a mother can do to enhance her sexuality, the prerequisite is to stop feeling guilty. Blaming yourself, feeling inadequate, feeling sorry for the poor, unfortunate husband who got stuck with you gets in the way of making changes. Blaming him also puts up roadblocks. Guilt and anger make poor bedfellows. Great sex starts with good self-esteem and mutual regard.
It isn't your fault that you're tired all the time. It isn't his fault that he wants to make love even when you're tired. It isn't your child's fault that her sleeping patterns are wreaking havoc on your sexual relationship. It isn't your husband's fault that he doesn't know how to touch you in ways that are more enjoyable. It isn't your fault that you haven't ever told him how you wish to be touched. It isn't your fault that society tries to tell you that everyone else in the world has mind-blowing sex night after night.
For a society with nearly naked women on billboards, Victoria's Secret at every mall, and MTV videos that would cause our grandmothers to roll over in their graves, we're actually terribly inhibited sexually when it comes to face-to-face conversation about sexuality with a sexual partner. Think of how many couples see R-rated movies together, with explicit images of sexuality, but never, ever talk about their own sexual relationship. We're frozen by our sense of inadequacy, afraid that speaking up will only point out the ways we fail to measure up. Your male partner likely has the same worry, and perhaps you are afraid to speak up for fear that he'll feel criticized or emasculated.
Throughout this book, I'll be encouraging you to find your voice sexually. I understand that this seems impossible, but I also know that you can do it. I know that if it were easy for you, you'd have done so ages ago. I promise to help, to give you specific tools and specific words to use.
I believe that if you want a better sexual relationship, so does your partner. I also believe that books that make extravagant promises about quick fixes and cosmic orgasms aren't for you. In fact, these outrageous myths ("Earth-shattering climaxes in ten seconds a day") actually make you feel worse. It's like picking up a book that tells you how to be the perfect mother: It only makes you feel more deficient to be told that you ought to be able to charm your two-year-old out of a temper tantrum, or that perfect moms don't ever raise their voices at their teenagers.
I believe that any woman can experience an orgasm, if she's comfortable with what it takes to get there. I do believe that any woman can learn to talk more openly about her body and her sexual needs with her husband. I believe that boring sex can be made interesting. I don't believe in perfect sex, any more than I believe in perfect mothers.
I do believe in good-enough mothers and great sex.
This book will tell you about the realities, about what sex in other people's bedrooms is really like. It will help you see yourself more realistically, and take courage from the fact that you are not alone in the sexual rut of motherhood. It will give you practical words to use with your partner. It will give you simple ideas that can enhance the romance and intimacy of sexuality, without pushing you beyond the limits of your own comfort.
The Ten Steps to Nurturing Passion While Raising Kids are much like those you would use to develop any new skill or revisit a neglected one. If you used to knit but no longer do, if you always meant to learn a new language but haven't gotten around to it, if you think you might take up tae kwon do one of these days when you find the time, you know what it's going to take. You have to make the decision, commit the necessary time and space, get the right tools, persevere, and tolerate the first few awkward attempts.
So too with overcoming the sexual blahs. First, you have to establish priorities that support the values of sexuality, self-care, and self-regard. I will steer you toward making better choices for yourself. I will teach you to quiet the inner voice that constantly murmurs "You can't." Next, you will need to acquire new skills. I'll facilitate your journey, as you cultivate your sensual mind, attention, confidence, and knowledge. Finally, I'll ask you to set these skills in motion, expanding just beyond the too-comfortable zone.
The major human sex organ is above the neck. That's a blessing and a curse. Sexual boredom, inertia, fatigue, fear, alienation, and negative cultural scripts are in the mind. It usually isn't anything physiologically related to motherhood. Because the obstacles to great sex are often mental, the good news is that you can infuse your sexuality with excitement, spirit, energy, confidence, connection, and self-affirmation. Indeed, this book is about making small changes with substantial benefits. It's about everyday women enhancing their sex lives. It's about ordinary mothers overcoming ordinary sexual problems.
I'll suggest that what goes on in your mind, what goes on in your romantic relationship, what goes on in your daily life affects your sexuality as a mother. Loving mothers pay attention to their sex lives. Families are more threatened by sexual blahs than by parents who sneak off for a weekend alone. I'll encourage you to keep an open mind. After all, you already have all that you need to enjoy an honest, loving, safe, mature, pleasurable, and emotionally gratifying sexual relationship.
Copyright © 2002 by Valerie Davis Raskin