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Keeping Your Sex Life Alive While Raising Kids
By Cathy Winks, Anne Semans
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 Cathy Winks and Anne Semans
All rights reserved.
Why Moms Make Better Lovers
Sexy moms. Let's admit it, these two words don't exactly conjure up the same wealth of images as, say, "voluptuous vixens" or "smokin' hotties." Sure, you may have qualified as one of the latter before becoming a parent, but your new identity as somebody's mom trumps every identity you've had before. Why are moms desexualized? The reasons are complex — a cultural view of sex as dirty, a religious tradition that celebrates chaste motherhood, and a social system that demands maternal self-sacrifice. The irony that sex is what makes many women mothers in the first place probably isn't lost on you.
The looks I get if I walk into a store like Victoria's Secret are hysterical! I feel like asking people if they know how my son got here in the first place. I'm no less a sexual being now then I was before my child. In fact, I feel like more of a sexual being now that I'm a mom. I mean, I created a whole other person in my body with the help of the person that I love! How much more sexual can you get?
This mother speaks for countless others — both biological and nonbiological — who have found that becoming parents inspires them with a new sexual confidence and vitality. A renewed respect for their bodies, an increased capacity for love, a powerful connection to humanity: these are the reasons women cite most often for the improved self-image that unites the best of their maternal and sexual selves.
Yet few mothers arrive at sexual independence without having had a bumpy ride en route. You, like many others, may have lost sight of your sexual self as a result of physical changes, logistical challenges, hormonal fluctuations, or negative messages from partners, friends, and strangers. We don't intend to suggest that if motherhood prompts a sabbatical from sex, you've somehow failed to "be all you can be." Everyone goes through natural cycles of sexual activity. But we are arguing that our identity as sexual beings is nonnegotiable, and that no one is ever justified in making you feel that motherhood and sexuality are mutually exclusive. Sexuality is the source of your creativity; it infuses you with love, energy, and a sense of well-being. It improves all your relationships, and makes you more human to your own children. Whether you're carving a new notch in the bedpost every night, or whether you can't remember the last time you got a little action — your erotic nature is your undeniable birthright.
The Challenges We Face
If it were so easy to seamlessly integrate our sexual and maternal selves, you probably wouldn't be reading this book right now. Every woman's self-image gets an overhauling in the transition to motherhood, and sexuality is just one of the aspects of your identity that is temporarily dismantled. It takes a while to complete a transformation that allows you to feel true to yourself; in fact, it's an ongoing process. Here are some of the common challenges to your post-baby sexual identity, which we'll revisit throughout the book.
All moms experience a period when they're too tired to care how they look, and stained clothes dominate the wardrobe. Biological moms have the double-whammy of major physical changes, and some experience a certain disconnect around their dual-purpose bodies. When genitals or breasts are serving a utilitarian purpose, it's not always easy to see them as sexual.
Breastfeeding and taking care of a small infant who lived IN MY BODY for nine months changed my perception of my sexual self. I thought of my body as more of a tool for a while, and so many things hurt physically for so long. I feel that just now, two years after the birth of my daughter, I have come full circle. I am able to separate my sexual self from my parent self, and it feels like a great personal change, so healthy.
Now being the somewhat dumpy stay-at-home mom that I am, it's difficult to reconcile that with the sexy sweet young thang I once was. I'm learning to love myself as a GODDESS with the broad hips, low breasts and the incredible life experience that implies.
It doesn't help that media images of motherhood tend to swing between one extreme — down-and-out welfare moms — to the other — high-powered professional or celebrity moms, who are leading lives that are completely unattainable to the rest of us. The former are blamed for having a sex life, and the latter are praised for having a sex life. When People magazine ran a cover story on "Sexy Moms" several years ago, this quote was typical of the dozens of readers who complained.
How come being sexy means you must look like you never gave birth at all? Why can't round, curvy, real women and moms be considered sexy too?
Since most moms don't see themselves reflected in these images, they find the notion of sexy motherhood almost depressing. If motherhood means keeping a clean house and raising well-adjusted kids while looking like a million bucks, who wouldn't feel like a failure? And we're right to be suspicious of this house-of-wax version of sexy motherhood. With her glamorous, never-a-hair-out-of-place veneer, the twenty-first-century celebrity mom bears a certain suspicious resemblance to the perfect fifties housewife (she just gets a personal trainer and private nutritionist instead of a vacuum and blender).
Marriage manuals from the nineteen-thirties through the fifties emphasized that husbands and wives needed to prioritize their sex lives for the health and stability of the family. A wife's way of contributing to this otherwise laudable goal was to stay sexy and feminine and not to "let herself go," for fear that her neglected husband might be driven to stray. This was the same time period during which Freudian theories were widespread, and most middle-class American women knew that they were supposed to divest themselves of their immature attachment to clitoral stimulation and adopt a "mature" sexuality focused on vaginal intercourse; gynecologists of the day advised wives of "the advantage of innocent simulation of sex responsiveness," in other words, the advantage of faking orgasm!
Your parents may not have read these marriage manuals, but chances are good that they absorbed the philosophy that a good wife takes responsibility for her husband's sexual satisfaction — and that you inherited some version of this idea. Numerous retro parenting guides are still printed every year urging wives to sustain some kind of partner sex life come hell or high water. But who wants to sustain a sex life if her own sexual pleasure is secondary? Many mothers find that it takes some time after becoming a parent to get back in touch with their sex drive, and you'll be a lot more motivated to do so if the goal is exploring how your sexual responses may have changed — instead of focusing on "losing the baby weight" and greeting your hubby at the front door wearing nothing but Saran Wrap! Sure, we all want to retain our sexual attractiveness — for ourselves as well as our partners — but setting the bar unreasonably high can lead to a vicious cycle of self-loathing: we end up feeling undesirable, which inhibits our ability to project a sexual confidence that others might find attractive. The experience ends up confirming our suspicions that we've lost our sex appeal.
I feel so gross and emotionally drained. I no longer appeal to men on the street, nobody takes a second look anymore. I feel old and haggard, like I am no fun anymore.
The challenges to your self-image won't all revolve around physical appearance. If your initial experience of motherhood isn't one of instinctive, effortless love and bonding, you may feel like a terrible fraud — but you should know that you're not alone. Communicating with other mothers — particularly in the anonymous, candid environment of on-line forums — can be hugely reassuring.
I felt as though I had lost myself, and it was such an awful and scary feeling. I've only recently began to locate me again. I remember feeling as though the light that I had, which was so bright, was losing its strength. I felt like I was the only woman who wasn't absolutely ecstatic and in love with her baby. Oh yes, I love him dearly, but these feelings were real and weighed very heavily on my conscience.
Everyone wants a piece of Mom
It's easy to be so overwhelmed by the very real demands of motherhood that your sexuality is the last thing on your mind. For some, it's the sheer increase in responsibility that saps their sexual energy.
I have a lot more insecurities now than I did before I was a mother — body issues, single mother issues, time and privacy issues, potential stepfather issues. It's hard to even view myself as a sexual being sometimes.
My sense of self changed the day he was born. I was given tons more responsibility. I took on this "role" right from the beginning. I saw myself as a mother and a housekeeper. Sexual being was not on my list.
Other women are overwhelmed by the pressure to become the ultimate self-sacrificing mom, striving for an unrealistic and unhealthy ideal that society tends to shove down our throats.
I had to struggle to hang on to the me who was me — as opposed to the MOM me. It is always a struggle for women, I think. So many demands, expectations, etc. So many perfectly coifed PTA moms wearing holiday theme sweaters and bright smiles.
Unless you actually are a celebrity mom (in which case we apologize for our snotty comments above) with a bevy of personal trainers, chefs, drivers, nannies, and assistants who can manage the mundane details of your life, you're bound to run into what we've dubbed "scarcity" issues. If you don't have enough time or energy to make sexual expression a possibility, let alone a priority, in your life, check out the Having It All chapter.
We all inherit the same double standard around female sexuality. You and your partner may struggle with a fear that sex has the power to transform a sainted mother like you into a selfish, slutty whore. Even if your fears don't take such extreme forms, you've probably experienced at least a fleeting anxiety that the sexual activities you enjoyed before becoming a mother just aren't quite "appropriate" any more.
I felt that mothers couldn't be sexual — that the roles were pretty specific: mothers took care of the kids, mistresses took care of the fathers.
Mothering is not traditionally seen as a sexual role and I felt castrated! My hormones changed and I just didn't feel like a sexual person anymore. Moms are not sexy. They lactate. They make lunches. They clean the house and then they are supposed to transform at evening into this sexy thing for the husband's pleasure. I didn't transform at all. I just mothered.
My husband wants me to be more conservative now. He feels some of the things I wear are not suitable. I want to feel sexy again — it was always such a big part of me.
Then again, violating a taboo does have some erotic potential.
A lot of men find me more desirable — it's that whole "perfect mommy" by day, slut by night syndrome.
Many moms internalize the Madonna/whore double-bind so thoroughly that they begin to censor, not only their sexual activities, but their sexual fantasies, according to some unwritten rules regarding how to be a "good mom."
I no longer enjoy reading porn as I did occasionally before we became parents, and wish he wouldn't even bring it into the house, ditto with X-rated videos, they actually make me sick now.
I have heard many girlfriends say that they felt sex was too "dirty" after their children were born.
I sometimes feel guilty for thinking sexual thoughts, like as a mom I shouldn't feel that way.
By repressing your sexuality — and all its colorful kinkiness — you lose access to an important part of yourself. While you can't very well avoid experiencing anxieties that have been drummed into our collective consciousness for millennia, you can cultivate awareness of your self-censoring moments, and thereby open yourself up to a world of sexual self-discovery.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking that, because I'm a mom, I shouldn't be having the thoughts I have sometimes! Then I remind myself what BS that is.
Andrea O'Reilly, the founder of the Association of Research on Motherhood, theorizes that the source of our collective cultural uneasiness over sexually expressive mothers is that they are simply too powerful for men to deal with:
Women have power two ways, sexually and as mothers. Under the old tradition, women's sexuality could lead men astray — women, as with Helen of Troy, could cause the ruin of civilization because of beauty and sex appeal. Women also have power as mothers, in their ability to create life. I think there's an unconscious fear of women's power as sexual beings and mothers, and if you put both of them together it's too much for men to handle.
We like to hope that men are evolving toward an ever-increasing comfort level with powerful women, but this can't happen unless women become comfortable with their own power first. Perhaps envisioning yourself as an extraordinarily potent being is just the inspiration you've been waiting for to assert your maternal sexuality.
When it comes to self-image, we've got more than enough internal demons to deal with. Morphing bodies, shifting priorities, unprecedented demands — our ability to weather these tumultuous changes directly affects our sexual self-confidence. But even if we successfully navigate our way through a maze of self-doubt, there's no predicting what obstacles those around us have stored up to throw in our paths. Approach the subjects of sex and motherhood separately, and there are already plenty of people lined up on their soap boxes ready to pass judgment. But combine the two topics into one real-live human called a "sexual mom" and you'll open a Pandora's box of criticisms.
If the history of attitudes toward women's sexuality has taught us nothing else, it should have taught us not to believe everything we read or hear. Society, science, religion, and your nosy neighbors may seek to define what's "appropriate," but only you know what sex is and should be in your own life. If you can identify the illogic, inconsistency, or misinformation fueling every attack on your sexual expression, you reveal the attack for what it is: not a personal indictment of your motherhood — but a mask for someone else's hang-ups. Each time you deflect a poison arrow aimed at your sex life, your self-esteem gets stronger, and your self-image more clearly defined.
Our survey respondents were not at a loss to identify the myths they encountered when they became mothers:
Myth #1: Sex is for procreation
The "sexual revolution," the invention of birth control, and the self-help movement all trumpet the fact that sex can be engaged in solely for the sheer, body-arching pleasure of it. Yet some people continue to assume that parents are only having sex to reproduce — or alternately, that once you become parents, you forget how to have sex for any other reason!
Some of my partners seemed really surprised that I was interested in sex at all — one girlfriend told me, "You'd think you'd have learned your lesson after three kids, wouldn't you?"
Some people that I knew just assumed that I would never have that "normal" young-people sex life again, like, "Too bad you're parents now — no more sex for you guys."
Myth #2: Moms aren't sex objects
One of the biggest shocks to our self-image comes from the realization that many people can't conceive of a woman with a child as a sex object. We become objects for pity, reverence, or dismissal in the eyes of those we used to count on for a little simple sexual validation.
I was more grounded and sexually confident than ever before, but other people saw me as a "mom." Men quit looking at me in the grocery store when I had the baby with me. They looked at me like they look at my mother. I felt a little disappointed.
I felt like I was invisible while I was pregnant, and this is true even now when I'm in public with my son. Oddly enough, I still find men flirting with me when my son is NOT with me.
Excerpted from Sexy Mamas by Cathy Winks, Anne Semans. Copyright © 2004 Cathy Winks and Anne Semans. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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