For most women, having sex for the first time is a source of anxiety.
There’s fear of the unknown. You’ve heard it hurts. You’re not sure if you’re ready, or what it’s meant to feel like.
From the women I spoke to for this story, it would seem having sex for the first time after childbirth, elicits a similar emotional response.
The first-post-baby-sexy-time is not something your mum (ordinarily) warns you about. If you’re the first among your friends to have a baby, it might be an awkward subject to bring up over dinner. It’s not number one on the agenda at your mother’s group, nor was it on the curriculum at school.
You push a baby the size of a watermelon out of your vagina, or undergo major surgery in the form of a C-Section… and then what?
LISTEN: Bec Judd on bringing her first baby home. Post continues below.
As a woman who has never had a baby, there is so much I don’t understand. How long do you wait? Is it painful? Will sex always feel different?
I surveyed 25 women who gave me some understanding of what sex for the first time post birth is like, and their responses were enlightening to say the least.
How long did you wait to have sex?
According to Sydney-based midwife Krystal Dirkins, most women wait until around the six-week mark.
“I always suggest that women wait until their postnatal check up and until post-partum bleeding has finished (to avoid any risk of infection),” Dirkins told Mamamia.
The overwhelming majority of women interviewed waited six weeks, with the shortest amount of time being 13 days.
One woman said she waited more than six months.
How long they waited very much depended on the kind of birth they had. Women who tore and had stitches seemed far more cautious in the weeks following. But even those who didn’t, said that the perineal area can feel bruised and highly sensitive for quite some time.
Were you nervous, scared or anxious?
Almost every woman I surveyed answered a resolute 'yes'.
There seemed to be a great deal of anxiety from women who had undergone an episiotomy, with one woman saying she was absolutely terrified of "tearing my stitches!"
Another said, "Petrified! I had an episiotomy, so I thought I'd literally bust open."
Most respondents felt anxious because they anticipated pain.
"Medically in that situation you've had the OBs okay," one woman explained. "It gives you a bit of reassurance you aren't, say, going to break things. But it doesn't take the nervousness and concern out of it."
There were three women, however, who weren't too concerned.
"I knew the longer I waited the harder it would be," one said, who was simply keen to get it out of the way.
LISTEN: Does everyone have a maternal instinct? Post continues below.
Another, who had intercourse two weeks after childbirth, said she was "full of love hormones," and, "couldn't keep my hands off my husband."
Of the women surveyed, one said she felt pressured into having sex, and that made her angry.
Was it painful?
Of the 25 women surveyed, 13 said it was painful. I'm not sure whether to feel terrified or relieved.
Dirkins told Mamamia, “It’s also important to tell women that sex for the first few times after childbirth will hurt. I’ve had women come to me in tears thinking things will never improve or that they are somehow damaged from the birth. That’s not true. It takes time but it will get better. Not only are you contending with trauma to the area but estrogen can make the vaginal walls very thin, which can be uncomfortable. It’s normal, almost every woman experiences difficult sex after childbirth.
“Your natural lubricants are also almost non-existent for a lot of women so make sure you use lubricant to prevent friction, which is a common cause of discomfort for women during sex.”
For some of the women who experienced pain, it seemed fear and anxiety had a role to play.
"It was really similar in many respects to the first time you have sex. It hurt a little bit at first but I think that was as much to do with the nerves than the post baby sex... that fear it might hurt means you aren't relaxed as you'd normally hope to be in that situation," one respondent explained.
Another described the pain as, "it actually felt like I was being rammed by a steel picket with nails embedded in the sides...even though he was careful and gentle the pain was bad and unexpected after a c-section."
Women who were healing from tears were the most likely to describe the experience as painful.
For some, certain positions were painful, whereas others were fine.
The women who answered 'no' often followed their response with an admission that it was uncomfortable or "a little different." Many also said it felt significantly drier and/or tighter than before.
There were a handful of women pleasantly surprised at how little it hurt, given what they expected.
What would you like other women to know?
The women surveyed were enormously generous with the advice they offered other women.
The most popular answer by a long shot was; make sure you use lubricant. "Use lots and lots of it!" one respondent insisted.
Most women also made a point of reassuring expectant mums that things will go back to normal, and be sure to relax.
"Take it easy and start off gentle, with plenty of lubrication. The vagina heals remarkably fast and it will go back to normal, just be patient," one woman said, with another suggesting, "wait until you and your body feel ready. And that it's kind of like having sex for the first time all over again!"
Many said not to feel pressured by your partner, "just listen to your body as much as hubby might want it, it's your body and only you know how it is feeling..." One concluded, "If your partner is pressuring you for sex, leave them."
Just like midwife Dirkins, respondents highlighted the importance of consulting with your doctor. But in saying that, just because you're physically ready doesn't mean you're emotionally ready.
“It’s important that we communicate with our partners about how we are feeling. Sex after the baby takes patience and time on both sides. Your partner needs to understand that while you may have the all clear from a physical point of view, emotionally you might have no interest. Sleep deprivation will do that to you," Dirkins told Mamamia.
"It's also good if you adopt a position where the woman can control the depth of penetration. That way you can stop immediately if something is hurting," she said.
"It's also important that women understand that if you're having sex, you can easily fall pregnant again. The old wives tale of breastfeeding preventing pregnancy is just that (an old wives tale). While it's true that breastfeeding can delay your cycle resuming, keep in mind that the egg is released before a period so you won't know when you've ovulated" says Dirkin. "If you don't want another baby, or it's too soon, be sure to talk to your doctor about your contraceptive options."
And it would seem, one of our respondents learned that the hard way. I quote, "Breastfeeding is NOT a reliable contraception! (Hello pregnant with number two six weeks after the arrival of the first one!!) DO NOT think that breastfeeding will protect you!! Take your time and make sure partner *ahem* takes care of you first! ;o)"
Some wise words indeed.
So for anyone who is terrified about having sex after giving birth - take your time, communicate with your partner, and stock up on the lube.
You're going to be okay.
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