Desire Discrepancy in the Early Parenting Years

Sep 06, 2023
Desire Discrepancy in the Early Parenting Years

The lower-desire partner’s side

Kids change everything. For the most part, that’s wonderful – but it is also true that having a child is a big transition involving quite a bit of work, exhaustion, deep love, changes in focus, personal life change, physiological effects, and of course a reorganization of the family. For many, this happens concurrently with recovering and recalibrating physically and emotionally from the complicated experiences around childbirth. 

Not surprisingly, all of this can be tough on a relationship. Often, new parents find themselves dealing with a brand-new desire discrepancy, or an existing one that’s being dramatically widened. So, what’s a new parent to do? 

I’ll start by discussing things from the lower-desire partner’s side, and tackle the higher-desire partner’s side in part 2. 

A quick note before I continue: kids join families in any number of ways, including birth, adoption, surrogacy, fostering, and more. Each has its own particular challenges, and no matter how your kids join your family, it’s a big life change that can potentially impact desire. In addition, giving birth can have some pretty intense effects on desire; I’ll address some of those impacts more specifically in the next section. 

Be gentle with yourself. Having reduced desire in the early days of parenting is completely normal and understandable. If you’re postpartum, you are experiencing a number of physiological changes that can affect desire, including hormone fluctuations. Many people experience changes in desire as a result of anemia, postpartum depression or anxiety, and shifts in pelvic sensation to name just a few causes. On top of that, the birth experience itself can be traumatic in any number of ways, and might result in difficult feelings about your body. That’s on top of all the other new stresses, increased responsibilities, and big changes you’ll be experiencing. Give yourself some grace. 

Double down on anxiety management skills. Anxiety does not play well with arousal, and having a new child is likely to put your limbic system on hyper-alert. There’s a brand-new, helpless, precious little human in the world, and you’re responsible for keeping them safe! It makes perfect sense that parents experience a certain kind of vigilance in the first few years of parenting–and that will definitely affect arousal and desire. Guarding a life takes precedence over having sex, from a physiological perspective. 

Get clear on what you want. Are you missing the sexual connection with your partner? Quiet moments of relaxed intimacy? Or does getting time to yourself to recharge feel most pressing? Life has many seasons, and in a season involving such big life transitions, there is not one right answer or “correct” way of being. As you ask yourself what you want, be open to whatever emerges, and be prepared to honor multiple aspects to the best of your ability. 

Fill your cup. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s hard to want much of anything, besides a break! Are you still connected with the things that make you feel vibrant, joyful, and alive? Building a little more joy into your life doesn’t have to eat up a lot of time. There’s a small exercise I like to do to attune myself to the pleasurable aspects of my life, no matter how small. It’s easy, and you can do it in 5 minutes or less, and even while holding a baby or playing with a child: 

  • Very often, when something pleasurable happens, we experience it for a split second, and then move right on. So, as an experiment, when something pleasurable happens, intentionally and consciously notice it. This could be a delicious smell, a lovely texture, a sweet moment with a loved one, a warm bath, cozy slippers, a sip of coffee–anything that makes you go “ahhhh.”
  • Pause. Your job now is to let the moment of enjoyment expand a little longer than you would usually allow it to.
  • Take a deep breath. Perhaps close your eyes–whatever helps you to gently rest your awareness on the pleasurable sensation. Don’t chase it, just let it in.
  • Spend a little while here, receiving this experience and allowing it to expand inside of you until you feel a sense of satisfaction.
  • Give yourself a little appreciation; you just improved your own day.

If you would like to be having more sex… reevaluate your sexual routine. One reason new parents stop having sex regularly is because the sexual routines they’ve had up to this point don’t match the current limitations and realities of a busy life with a child. Do your sexual routines require either an amount or quality of time or energy that is hard to access right now? 

Ask yourself: how would you generate pleasure and connection? What kind of energy do you have available? If you think outside of the box about what sex is supposed to look like, what might you enjoy that takes the exact kind of energy you have, and doesn’t require something you can’t quite reach? 

Be creative! If you’re having trouble getting out of “parent mode” and concentrating on your experience of pleasure, maybe you can incorporate a little intentional self-soothing practice to switch over your mindset. If you’re feeling “touched out” from having a child clinging to you all day, maybe some steamy talk and side-by-side self-pleasure would relax you more than something that involves a lot of physical closeness. The more flexible you can be, the more likely you will find ways to fit meaningful sexual and intimate connection into your busy life. 

Originally published on Psychology Today.

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