I have never met my new friend Rea. In fact, we only first met (via email) two weeks ago. But in my world, when you are discussing the post-baby vagina in Email Exchange Number One, you are friends. Automatically.
Rea’s written four nonfiction books, and her debut novel, Not Her Daughter, is available for preorder. If it’s one-zillionth as entertaining as its author, it’s going to be a must-read. In her first RG post, she talks about the the post-baby sex situation, and spoiler: It ain’t good. I know it; all of my parent friends know it; you probably know it. And still: it’s easy to feel embarrassed – even ashamed – about how much (or, ok, how little) you have sex with your spouse once a tiny, screaming human arrives on the scene.
When sex suddenly starts feeling less like an awesomely fun pastime and more like an exhausting obligation, it’s easy to wonder whether something’s wrong with you.
Can we clear the air, please?
What’s Sex Got To Do With It? Apparently Nothing.
by Rea Frey
I live in a sexless marriage.
Let me back up.
My husband and I are not unhappy. We aren’t attracted to other people. We work out, spend ample amounts of time together, co-parent, are genuinely each other’s biggest supporters, and don’t really argue.
We rarely have sex.
As we snuggle in bed each night, my arms scooped around his ribs in a hot, wide spoon, the thought of “should” goes through my head. I pat the bulge in his pants and ask:
“Is he alive?” (Should I give him a quick handy?)
“Are you tired?” (Should we have sex?)
“Did you get off today?” (Should we have orgasms?)
We walk through the steps: condom, mess, aftermath. It’s just so much work. Instead, we slip into fractured sleep and wait for morning.
8 Years Ago.
I roll over and look at Alex, scraping my fingernails down the pronounced notches of his spine. I’ve never touched a man so hairless, a person whose skin seems to be weaved from butter, not cells. I self-consciously cross my prickly legs and hope to God he doesn’t stroke that spot under my chin where all the whiskers live. (Seriously, how do they grow back in a DAY??? What’s the point of plucking, for fuck’s sake?)
Instead, I kiss him deeply, tell him I’m falling in love, and let him stare into my eyes. This is it. This is the moment everything will be different. This is the beginning of something real.
6 Years Ago.
I look at the test in my hand, trying to make sense of the word “positive” staring back at me. The panic sweeps across my body and makes putty of my mind: I’m almost 30 years old! How will we afford it? We don’t live close to family! What will happen to my vagina? I crawl into bed beside my newish husband, still thick with sleep, and whisper: “The test is positive.” I tamp down the nerves as my husband smiles into the early morning light.
5 Years Ago.
She comes into the world slippery and blue, her head the shape of a Foster’s can. It has been 52 hours of labor. Forty of those hours were at home, in baths, with my doula, and my husband massaging that tricky place at the base of my spine. Only here, with doctors, did my daughter’s head turn transverse and ram into the complex web of nerves that made me want to die.
She takes a clotted breath as they suck fluids from her lungs. The color begins to drain into her body, my blue baby turning purple, then settling to a toasty brown. She has her father’s eyes and a nice set of lungs. They hand her to me, and she roots around for my nipples, which are the size of pencil erasers.
“Would you look at the size of these things?” I exclaim.
I could not know that this creature would take over our bed for the next 14 months, that I would breastfeed her for the next three years, and that my nipples would soon fold over onto themselves like dog ears.
I don’t yet know that parenting and romance, for us, will become the great divide we can’t seem to get past…
Even though I thought we could get past anything.
1 Month Ago.
I open a beer and clink the bottle against my husband’s. Our daughter is finally asleep. The TV is on, as it is most nights, when both of us, after a long day, just want to numb our minds and fill our bellies with sweet treats.
“Do you want to know the most amazing thing about lesbian porn?” I ask.
“What?” My husband almost spits out his beer. “You’re watching lesbian porn now?”
I stare at him, a defensive edge burrowing into my tone. “Do you want to know or not?”
“I guess?” My husband shifts. He does not watch porn and swears that he only gets off to the thought of me. 🙄
“These women actually have orgasms—like real, intense orgasms. It’s not like other porn.”
“It is insightful.” We fall into silence, and I wonder why we aren’t having more amazing orgasms; why, when we do have sex, a few times a month, it’s always in bed, at night, with half our clothes on. I cannot remember the last time my husband took a tour of my body, sans sheets, kissing every inch (or vice versa).
I can’t remember the last time the desire for this person took hold of me and made me pine for his physical touch more than I pined for a strong cup of coffee or a good night’s sleep.
But I need that desire in my life, the longing.
I can’t lose that sexual part of me.
I can’t lose us.
My husband makes dinner. He folds the mountain of laundry in the playroom, sings our daughter to sleep, and walks into the living room. Before he sits, I pull him onto the couch. We have sex. It is too fast but still hot, and then we sink into our normal routine, curling up with each other like parentheses.
“We’re idiots,” he says.
“Total idiots.” I want to hold onto this feeling before it slips away, before another few weeks go by and we succumb to schedules, fatigue, parenting, periods, colds, or lack of time.
I know we could go to sex therapy; we could pencil it in; we could freak out about it more and just make it happen because we are only getting older, droopier, and more fatigued.
But then I realize that I’m lucky to have all the other stuff—the loyalty, the friendship, the partner. We are building something more than sex. We are building a family.
We’ll have sex regularly someday.
Until then, I have enough.
Rea Frey is the Editorial Director for the SimplyBe Agency and the award-winning author of four nonfiction books. Her debut suspense novel, NOT HER DAUGHTER, will be released by St. Martin’s Press next summer. (You should totally buy it. Pretty please?) When she’s not adulting, wifing, mothering, eating, or exercising, you can find her writing for other people and drinking way too much coffee. Read more at reafrey.com.
Photos by Nikki McFadden.