On a recent Tuesday afternoon at the mothers’ yoga group I frequent in Park Slope, the conversation turned to sex. There we were, a dozen women in stretchy pants and nursing bras, surrounded by sippy cups and teething rings, our cleavage a collective graveyard of stale Cheerio detritus—naturally, we were in the mood.
The general consensus was that no one was having much sex, and no one wanted to, either. Many of the mothers said they could count the number of times they’d had sex postpartum on one hand, and some had 8- and 9-month-old babies. When I came home and reported these stats to my husband, he was elated. We manage to have sex about once a week, which is the new-parent equivalent of constantly.
Not that it’s been easy. No one tells you this, but babies are the world’s biggest cockblock.
The first few times we attempted to rekindle the romance, our son—perhaps sensing the potential biological threat of additional offspring—refused to cooperate. Time after time, we attempted to put him down in his bassinet, only to hear him squeal moments later as we prepared to doff our spit-up-stained sweatpants. Once we finally succeeded, it was a hurried affair, and not as enjoyable for me as I would have liked—not because of any failure on the part of my husband, but because it was impossible for me not to worry that my equipment had been … well, compromised.
The problem is, once you’ve pushed a baby through an orifice you once reserved for recreational purposes, it’s hard to go back, psychologically speaking. That’s not always a bad thing—I recently needed encouragement to finish a stressful project on deadline, and a friend put her hand on mine and told me, with some very meaningful eye contact, “You gave birth. You can do anything”—but when you’re in the throes of passion and suddenly you find yourself thinking, “A head came out of there!” it kind of puts a damper on the proceedings. I remember my 10th-grade health teacher, Ms. Drvostep, gravely informing the class during a discussion of human sexuality that, at least biologically, the anus was designed as an “out hole.” Maybe that’s my problem. My vagina was an in hole, then it was (briefly, but memorably) an out hole, and now it’s supposed to be an in hole again. It’s having an identity crisis, and it doesn’t help that sometimes, when I’m drying off after a shower, my husband will point at my crotch and exclaim gleefully to our child, “There’s your old house!”
There is also the uncomfortable (double entendre intended) truth that it’s hard to go back, physiologically speaking, even if your doctor gives you the go-ahead after six weeks, which is the standard abstinence period gratefully celebrated by the new mom and ascetically endured by the new dad (the wait time is even longer following caesarean sections). No matter how many kegels—pelvic exercises akin to vaginal bicep curls, for the uninitiated—you do, the fact remains that a fully formed human being weighing around eight pounds came out of an opening previously accustomed to visitors of a smaller girth.
An old Lenny Bruce routine once compared a large penis to a baby’s arm, but add a second arm, two legs, a torso and a head that feels, from the inside, like a bowling ball set on fire, and you have something not at all like a penis. So naturally there is going to be some fallout (no pun intended! none!) from the stretching. No one wants to talk about it, of course. I mean, I’m always seeing tabloid covers crowing about some celebrity or other’s post-baby body, which they presumably achieve through a combination of colonic therapy, macrobiotic diet and virgin sacrifice. But I never see an article about, say, Jessica Alba’s post-baby vagina. And if hers isn’t ready for the pages of Us Weekly, then what hope is there for the rest of us?
It’s a slippery slope even under the best of circumstances, and I’m not speaking literally, as anyone who’s experienced the drying effects of plummeting postpartum estrogen can attest. Even if you do get over the libido-robbing hormone fiesta and the colicky coitus interuptus and manage to retain enviable nether regional muscle tone and semi-regular bedpost-notching, there’s one thing that no amount of personal grooming or mood music can change, and that’s the realization that you’re now somebody’s mother. As such, society now gives you two exciting choices, a special procreative variation on the traditional madonna/whore: either succumb to the high-waisted jeans, sensible earlobe-length haircut, and soccer-friendly SUV of the asexual martyr who lives in a Tide commercial, or get a gym membership, hop on the treadmill, and run like hell for MILF Island. (To be clear, not a real place, although I hear East Hampton is getting close.)
The term MILF itself points up the problem. I’ve always disliked it, and not just because it’s icky and sophomoric, but because it suggests that a mother who’s considered sexually desirable is an endangered species on a par with the Tasmanian Devil or the Giant Panda. I like to think I am at least as sexy as a regular-size panda, on days I’ve managed to shower.
Despite all of the awkwardness and body dysmorphia outlined above, however, I’m happy to report that I still very much enjoy sex when conditions are ideal (baby, asleep; me, awake), and that despite what my sense memory occasionally tells me, no part of my anatomy resembles the Holland Tunnel, even in passing. Post-baby sex can even feel sometimes like the carefree sex of my youth, except that it’s faster and more exhausted—not to be confused with exhaustive—and we can’t make any noise for fear of scarring our sleeping child for life. And we never even consider not using protection in the heat of the moment, because, seriously, look where that got us.
But otherwise, it’s good. Plus there’s the added bonus that I might find a stray Cheerio in my bra. Kinky.