Sex And Parenthood
It's pretty much assumed that kids are sex killers. Internet confessionals are an easy way to gather anecdotes about decreased bedroom activity, and shared, shameful conversations with friends seem to confirm it. It's normal: Kids are exhausting, physically, mentally and emotionally. Who has the energy to have sex after you've spent hours cooking, bathing, dressing and reading bedtime stories, especially if you, as I do, reward yourself with a one-beer minimum for making it through the night?
According to a British study released last summer, 63% of new parents admit their sex lives have deteriorated. The numbers are grim: 28% say they have sex once a month, 5% once a year and 7% at not at all. That's a depressing 40% of new parents whose sexual activity has cratered following the birth of their child. No sex please, we're British indeed.
The news isn't all depressing. The numbers will fluctuate wildly, depending on where you look. The women-oriented news and information website iVillage released its annual married sex survey recently, and, according to its respondents, only about half of men and women say their sex lives were better pre-kids. The National Opinion Research Center in Chicago says married couples have sex an average 66 times a year, or a little bit more than once a week -- that's all married couples, from newlyweds to seniors. Using a more scientific and authoritative approach, the Kinsey Institute has a more detailed breakdown. Around half of married men between ages 25-49 say they have sex a few times per month to weekly. The numbers are similar for married women in the same age group. And for the record, that's married, not partnered.
Also note that those figures are for married couples, not for married couples with shrieking brats interrupting their coitus. But the numbers only tell a part of the story. For more insight, I turned to a half-dozen of my married father friends for their advice and recommendations on how to keep the bed bouncing, but they proved utterly useless, whether out of modesty or shame I can't figure out. So we'll have to turn to a professional.
No matter how often a couple had sex before a child arrived, it's guaranteed that post-birth, their sex life will die off, at least temporarily, says Montreal family therapist Dolores Meade. Getting it back to normal is what counts. "A couple with young children faces a tremendous challenge," she says. "There's often a big shift, and even when the kids get older, there may not be much of an intimate life because they didn't navigate it."
Reestablishing intimacy can be more difficult than it seems for many couples, and the chasm isn't just physical, she says. "Often, one parent gets really involved with the baby, leaving the other parent asking, 'Where do I fit in here?'"
She adds, "A common pattern for couples who are a bit estranged is, one is saying, 'How can we be close if we don't have sex?' while the other is saying, 'How can we have sex if we aren't even close?' It becomes a bit of a standoff." (She laughs when I point out how obvious it is which parent is which.)
One bit of advice I heard again and again when researching ways to reestablish intimacy in parenthood was to schedule a regular date night. I've always hated that term, not only because one of the benefits of getting married is not dating, but also because it implies settling into a routine that's so boring and commonplace as to rob a relationship of whatever dynamism and unpredictability that made it so exciting and arousing in the first place. "Date Night" sounds like "A movie and TGI Friday's." No thanks.
More important, says Meade, is "working on establishing an emotional connection." She often encounters couples in which "one is reaching out, but the other is feeling attacked or criticized. They have to learn how to identify the deeper meaning behind it."
She's keen to recommend John and Julie Gottman's book And Baby Makes Three, considered one of the must-read books on marriage and intimacy, and to not get too hung up on how much sex you are or aren't having. She refuses to say how often married couples should have sex. "I don't want to put a normative type of number on that," she says. "There's no norm there, and averages have nothing to do with normal."