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What Really Happens After the Kids Go to Bed

The Real Sex Lives of Parents

Image via MorgueFile

Let’s talk about sex — realistic sex.

A great piece on The Huffington Post talks truthfully about the love life of a husband and wife with kids. In “I Didn’t Have Sex for a Year, and I’m Still Married,” Natalie Singer-Velush takes to task articles like the one The New York Times Magazine ran earlier this month that claimed egalitarian couples have weak sex lives. As her title states, she and her husband took a year off from sex, and today they’re still happily married and very much in love, despite what many might expect:

If you don’t have sex for a year a year! — your marriage must be failing. Both wife and husband must be deeply unhappy, the union not long for this world. Might as well dial up the divorce lawyers or sex therapists right now. If you don’t have sex for a year, the woman must be a certain kind of evil, frigid monster and the guy must be one foot out the door.

It’s difficult for both men and women to write honestly about sex, because so much seems at stake, such as the emotional bond we have with our partner, our virility and vitality, how much fun we’re having in life, and how happy we are. Sex is never just sex, it’s a marker for how manly we are, and how feminine.

Well, I’m a wild and crazy guy, and yet I also abstained from sex for over a year. (Perhaps this will start a new trend: parents trying to outdo one another in abstinence!) My wife didn’t feel at all sexy when pregnant, and I was plagued with those completely irrational fears that I might somehow hurt her or the fetus if we got it on. (Blame the movie Knocked Up for that great idea.) Just trying to talk myself down from this silly anxiety was enough to put me out of the mood! Because here’s the secret guys don’t like to talk about our admit: we need to be in the right headspace to be aroused, just like women. We can’t just throw a switch and be ready for love. We need the right conditions in order to be … fully functional.

Perhaps my wife would’ve been able to help relax me, but pregnancy had her back hurting, and made her overly sensitive to smells, so my breath and sweat turned her off — she had no energy or patience for seduction. When she was willing to give it the ole’ college try, I felt pressure to perform, which of course meant I couldn’t. It seemed best for both of us to skip the intimacy. Ironic, since two weeks of frolicking on honeymoon had gotten us in this situation.

My son’s birth was traumatic, and afterward, my wife needed time to heal both physically and mentally. When she was finally ready to restart our sexual relationship, I struggled with arousal. After so long of feeling unwanted, I had trouble feeling sexy. On top of that, I felt, like many new dads, marginal in the family. My son wanted my wife, and my wife seemed stressed out by balancing work and motherhood. We would talk all the time — we’ve always had a solid bond, emotionally and intellectually — but then it would be late, we’d be exhausted, and sex seemed like more effort than it was worth. Easier just to spend a little quality time by myself, which, in those early days of little personal space, was honestly more of a treat, and a greater turn-on.

Eventually, we rekindled the flame, and while sex as parents requires more effort and having different expectations, it’s no less satisfying. In fact, less really can be more, as we throw ourselves more passionately into the endeavor. It took a little time, is all, for us to reclaim our sexual selves in our new roles as parents. When you’re married, you’re in it for the long haul. A year off of sex while you adjust to a new presence in the family, one that completely changes how you view yourself, your wife, and the world? That doesn’t seem like a big deal if you pull back and look at your life together on a grand scale, as a relationship of decades, not years.

Sex is not a constant. My desire ebbs and flows throughout the day, so it makes sense that in my relationship it would change over time. Life is change, and so having a “sex life” means that there will be cool periods, hot periods, and perhaps even off periods. There’s no shame in that. It’s something to celebrate, in fact, because it means that your love for your partner goes deeper than the physical.

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