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Exploring Womanhood
from the book:
"As you make your way through a sexual lifetime, cultural attitudes about what it means to be a woman and a mother are bound to influence or even inhibit how you express yourself sexually. Let your experience be your teacher, let your desires be your guide, and keep in mind that both of these will be in constant flux throughout your life. Sometimes you'll crave a three minute orgasm, sometimes you'll orchestrate a three-hour symphony, and sometimes you'll want no genital activity at all. What you yearn for today won't necessarily be what you yearn for tomorrow, but each and every one of your desires has something to teach you about who you are and who you're becoming" - Anne Semans and Cathy Winks, authors of The Mother's Guide to Sex
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Exploring Womanhood > Interviews

Exploring Womanhood's Intimacy Questions with
Anne Semans & Cathy Winks
Authors of The Mother's Guide to Sex
Enjoying Your Sexuality Through All Stages of Motherhood

We invite you to read our reviews of The Mother's Guide to Sex. A few words about the book from the authors can be read here. Also, take a look at some additional questions and answers that followed this interview here. Enjoy!

Question: As a breastfeeding mother, my husband is still attracted to my breasts (they've always been large). I'm wondering if I'll ever view my breasts as sexual rather than functional again. Could it be hormones from breastfeeding that does this or is it just the way I'm thinking.

Cathy: Probably both. The hormonal changes related to breastfeeding can definitely reduce sexual desire. Postpartum, a woman's estrogen level drops, and levels of two other hormones, prolactin and oxytocin, rise. A decrease in estrogen leads to a decrease in vaginal lubrication and a possible decrease in your general sense of well-being. Prolactin and oxytocin both have a physiologically calming and libido-dampening effect that is particularly noticeable in the first few months after childbirth. If you nurse for many months, these hormonal effects will level out-your prolactin surge will be less extreme, and your ovaries will resume producing estrogen.

But, hormones are only part of the story. You're also dealing with your own changing body image, fatigue, and societal messages that women should breastfeed behind closed doors. Some women feel the need to maintain boundaries between the sexual and maternal functions of their breasts in order to clearly distinguish between their roles as a lover and a mother. Others are intimidated by the fact that their lactating breasts will leak milk whenever they're sexually stimulated (you can reduce the fountain factor by nursing before sex so your breasts aren't so full). Let yourself go with the flow (sorry, bad pun) and rest assured that your non-sexual feelings about your breasts are both temporary and completely normal.

Question: We have always had open bedroom doors in my house. How do my husband and I handle having doors closed 'sometimes' without making our toddler feel left out or shut out by mom and dad... which, incidentally, was how I felt as a child when my parents would close their bedroom door.

Anne: If you're worried about ruining your open door policy, you can always try to have sex when the kids are asleep or away from home. Or schedule yourself a regular night away from home in a hotel where you're free to be as rambunctious as you like. This approach can work, even though it requires overcoming some logistical challenges. On the other hand, we don't think there's anything wrong with closed doors, and an explanation to the child that mom and dad need "private" time. Kids start understanding privacy at early ages--when they're told people want "privacy" in the bathroom, or that touching yourself is ok as long as it's done in "private." Eventually, they'll want their own "private" time. Your feelings of being "shut out" as a child may be related to the closed doors, or it may also have just been a natural part of the separation that toddlers have to go through as they learn they can't spend all their time in mom or dad's company.

Question: I have a 13 month old baby and am still completely uninterested in sex. I even get up early on the weekends to avoid the possibility of having it. Could my hormones be messed up from being pregnant (I had a very healthy desire pre-pregnancy)?

Cathy: We cannot emphasize enough how common it is for women to feel "completely uninterested in sex" for as long as two years after their baby is born. Your hormones aren't messed up; they're working perfectly. The postpartum drop in estrogen (estrogen helps create vaginal lubrication) and a rise in prolactin (prolactin helps create milk) can definitely depress a woman's sex drive. Even when enough time has passed for these hormonal changes to level off, you're still dealing with fatigue, sleep deprivation, changing priorities, and the enormous expectations that are placed on mothers--most parents' sex lives move onto the back burner for the first two years of their child's life. You might want to try to reclaim desire by indulging in simple pleasures that will help you reconnect with your sexuality (masturbation, fantasy, playing with sex toys, getting a massage). If you take the focus off, "I should have sex to please my partner" and shift it to, "what would make me feel good in my own body right now?" you're more likely to give your libido a successful jumpstart.

Question: Hello! My daughter is 4, and we are expecting our second child in May. Before we were parents, we really had an active sex life. We had lots of fun together and would experiment frequently. That all seems so long ago now. I really can't remember the last time I really wanted to have sex, though I do do it for my husband's sake, even though that sounds terrible! I really miss how much fun we used to have, and the intimacy we shared. I have no idea how to get the feeling back, and feel like I'm an old lady already!

Anne: First, let go of the comparisons to the pre-baby sex life. This doesn't serve anybody well and your sex life will never be like that again! (This is akin to the folks who long for the heady days of a new relationship when the sex was nonstop. That stage doesn't last forever, but that doesn't mean your current sex life is bad.) This is certainly not meant to discourage you, but it doesn't help matters to have unrealistic expectations. Parenthood sucks up your time and energy so unless you can afford a battery of housecleaners, chefs and nannies, give yourself a break. We've heard from hundreds of parents of toddlers who say their sex lives took a back seat until the kids were more self-sufficient. With a new baby on the way, you're probably not close to that point, but you can build a few things into your routine to allow yourself time to re-energize and relax--only then can you hope the spark will return. Get plenty of rest, exercise, eat well and take time for yourself. If you spend all your time with/on your kids, it's no wonder there's no desire left for another. Use babysitters. This gives you some much needed time off, and it frees up time for you and your husband to be together. Try just being intimate without the expectation of a sexual adventure. You run the show, rather than doing what your husband wants. Perhaps a sensuous foot rub and cuddling naked is enough to make you feel sexually satisfied. Give him permission to go off and masturbate. If you can compromise on some ideas like this, you might find yourself eventually gravitating back to some more common ground.

Question: Can you have a happy, satisfying marriage without sex? My husband and I disagree constantly on this one...I feel you need it to maintain a certain level of intimacy...he thinks I am obsessed with sex and put too much emphasis on it. Because of this, the issue of sex has become a black cloud in our relationship. We have a 9 month old and have not had sex in over a year. I just don't know how to lite the fire under him.

Anne: I can't answer that first question because I think every relationship is different, and some marriages can, and some marriages can't. There's a lot more to a relationship than sex, so it doesn't necessarily signal the demise of a relationship when it takes a back seat. More importantly for you though, is that it seems like you might need to understand that in all relationships there are bound to be times of drought and abundance. That your own sex life is undergoing a transformation should be seen not as a signal of imminent disaster, but a temporary turn while you learn to adjust your lives and desires to accommodate another being. We've noticed that couples who take this long view, and accept the drought knowing that the rains will come again one day, have a much better time of surviving the rocky times. Times like these test out your communications skills, your empathy, and your imagination.

Question: My question is if we have to slow down with our love making, i.e. if there could be a problem if we do it a little bit harder. I am about 6 weeks pregnant now, and am feeling very good. At which month should we switch to another position, since the semi missionary is our favorite? Both my hubby and I are chubby. Thank you so much!

Cathy: If yours is a normal, healthy pregnancy, there's no reason to "slow down" although you might want to wait until you're safely into your second trimester (and past the riskiest time for miscarriage) before you take the brakes off. You probably won't need to give up the missionary position ever, though as you get larger (by about the fifth month, your belly will probably get in the way), you'll need to fine-tune the position by shifting slightly so that your abdomen is off to the side, not directly beneath your partner's body. Alternately, you could lie on your back at the edge of the bed with your partner kneeling or standing on the floor between your feet. For much of your pregnancy, you can safely enjoy any position you please-just make sure that your partner never puts his full weight on you or applies pressure directly on your uterus. During the second half of pregnancy, you should avoid lying flat on your back or on your right side for prolonged periods of time; you'll probably notice some dizziness and discomfort if you do. The weight of your uterus reduces the flow of blood returning to your heart through the vena cava (raising your blood pressure), and will also reduce blood flow to the placenta-neither of which are good things. You can easily adapt to this state of affairs by reclining on pillows in a semi-upright position.

Question: Could you give us some suggestions for positions for intercourse for pregnant women? It is getting rather awkward. Thank you.

Cathy: Our survey respondents spoke fondly of the missionary position, woman-on-top (which allows you to control the depth and angle of penetration), rear entry (a practical way to avoid jostling your pregnant belly), and side-by-side (whether face-to-face, or "spooning," side-by-side positions provide full-body contact without either of you having to support the other's weight). Many women find that pillows are their best friends. You can surround your belly with pillows to make it more comfortable to lie face down; prop yourself upright on pillows; kneel on pillows; or position pillows beneath your hips to take pressure off your back. And speaking of best friends, don't forget that you can either hold a vibrator against your clitoris or slip it between you and your partner in every one of these positions!

Question: I'm wondering if you can tell me how menopause may affect a woman's sex life. What can we expect? Will my husband go through his own "menopause" and will it affect him, as well?

Cathy: This is a huge question that is beyond the scope of our book. Hormonal, physiological changes inevitably affect a woman's sex life (this is equally true during puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause). Estrogen levels decrease during menopause, resulting in thinner vaginal tissues and reduced vaginal lubrication. Hot flashes, interrupted sleep, and fatigue can also short-circuit desire. While men go through less dramatic a change, they do experience a decrease in testosterone levels in mid-life. Hormone therapy (taking synthetic hormones under medical supervision) can help mitigate some of the less desirable effects of menopause, but we would definitely urge you to consult with a medical professional about this.

Question: I have a 14-year-old son who is very modest and embarrasses easily. My bedroom is right above his, and we have a very squeaky bed. I'm worried that my son will hear us making love. I've been in his room when my husband has sat on the bed and I can hear that so I can only imagine how bad it is. WD-40 hasn't helped much, we can't afford a new bed, and my husband has a bad knee that precludes using the floor. My son is, however, is a good sleeper and probably isn't aware of anything. The problem is, I think, my own hang-up. I remember thinking that my parents surely didn't do that! How can I get over this? It doesn't seem to bother my husband - much.

Anne: I can appreciate your concern. I have a squeaky bed and don't like the idea that my neighbors downstairs can hear me, so I can see why you'd be extra concerned about your son. The truth is, if he can hear you, he probably will never mention it out of embarrassment. But even though you thought your parents never had sex, it's not a bad thing for kids to know their parents have sex--it makes us more human to them, and gives them a glimpse of a healthy adult sexual relationship. I don't think you need to worry about causing him emotional harm. On the other hand, if you just can't let go of your own embarrassment around it, or are afraid that you might be disturbing his sleep, then you've no choice but to: 1) get a new mattress (save your pennies or buy one on credit) 2) switch beds or bedrooms with your son or 3) have sex in another room (on the couch perhaps).

Two similar questions follow, along with Cathy and Anne's reply:

Question: My husband masturbates while on the Internet and I'm asleep with my kids. Is this cheating? It's very upsetting to me and makes me feel unattractive, or as if I'm not interesting enough.

Question: I'm on bedrest and we can't have sex. My husband has started watching porn movies at night when I'm sleeping (I found the videos while he was at work). I've very hurt by this. Should I be? I guess it's better than him having an affair but can't he be celibate like I have to be?

Cathy: We're going to answer these two questions together because they share a common theme, namely feeling hurt or betrayed by a partner's sex drive. In our society, we tend to approach sex from the standpoint of scarcity, not abundance. All too often the equation becomes: "If my partner is masturbating, watching porn, enjoying sex chat on-line, or fill-in-the-blank, there won't be any sexual energy left for me," as though sexual energy is a finite resource when, in fact, it's endlessly renewable. Similarly, your partner can turn his or her sense of scarcity into the equation-"If we haven't had sex in three months, we're never going to have sex again"-and either badger you for attention or withdraw completely. The bottom line is that it's definitely counter-erotic to feel guilty, pressured, or abandoned, so if you can empathize with each other, you stand a better chance of being met halfway in some sensual encounters. If you can respect and appreciate your partner's sexual desires rather than being threatened by them, you're likely to sustain intimacy regardless of whether you're sharing every sexual experience. Why not put the focus on your own desires? There's no reason you couldn't be sharing fantasies with each other, watching porn together, or (in the case of the woman on bed rest) requesting a sensual treat such as a foot rub that could make you feel pampered, rather than ignored.

Question: I've had a cesarean with a horrible scar plus I have so many stretch marks that my tummy skin could reach to Mars. I feel very unattractive so I don't want my husband to see me naked or touch my tummy. My husband doesn't seem to mind but I feel bad when I see him looking through the Victoria's Secret catalog. How can feel more in the mood for sex when I feel ugly?

Anne: Yours is a common concern among mothers who are shocked when their bodies don't zing back into pre-baby shape (the case with most of us, so you are not alone). You can feel ugly, or you can choose, like many of the moms we spoke to, to view your scars or sagging breasts as the rewards of the miracle of birth, as evidence of the creation of new life. On a practical level, if your embarrassment persists, you can opt to have sex by candlelight or you can peruse that Victoria's Secret catalog with your husband and choose something which allows you to feel sexy and covered.

Question: After caring for a baby and toddler all day, I feel "touched out" by the end of the day. My husband's feelings are hurt when I tell him this. How can I help him understand and keep our romance alive?

Anne: Many times, partners read "touched out" as a flat rejection. What you can do is think about what would make you feel sensual or sexual, and share that with your husband. Ask him to do the same, and you can probably arrive at some compromises. Maybe you'd love a warm soak in the tub, and wouldn't mind him joining you. Maybe your partner would like to watch some porn with you lying beside him while he masturbates. This can be a great time to explore a variety of sexual and sensual alternatives to intercourse, and give you the tools to break free of an old routine.

Question: I'm on complete bedrest with my pregnancy, and my husband and I aren't allowed to have sex. I'm not allowed to have any kind of orgasm so we've pretty much stayed away from each other. How can we stay connected through the rest of this pregnancy?

Anne: Well, after all that abstaining, just think about how great your first orgasm will be! But on to your question. You and your husband can stay connected through a variety of intimate contact. It's not always about the physical--showing each other how much you love each other can be done in thousands of way, kind words, love letters, thoughtful gestures, spontaneous getaways, special meals, little treats, you get the idea. As for the physical, only you know how close you can be without feeling a sexual urge--so experiment with that, perhaps its just holding hands during a movie, sleeping spoon style, etc. It may feel like a restriction, but this can present you with some great opportunities to connect on a deeper level.

Question: Since I've been pregnant, I've been SO horny! I can't get enough, but my husband is afraid we'll hurt the baby. My doctor has assured him that sex is okay, but my husband just won't do it. How can I get him to enjoy my new curves as much as I do?

Anne: You can't make the man do what he doesn't want to do. If he's been reassured by you and your doctor and still isn't game, I think you need to respect his anxieties and not push. On the other hand, this doesn't mean you can't satisfy yourself--it might be the perfect time to try out a vibrator, dildo, some erotic videos or sexy lingerie. Chances are, if your husband sees how much fun you're having, he probably won't resist for long.

Question: I am wondering if orgasm while pregnant is safe. The reason I am asking is that I have had one late miscarriage and one premature baby. Thanks!

Cathy: During a normal, healthy pregnancy, orgasm is perfectly safe. However, we're not qualified to say whether yours is a risk-free pregnancy, and we'd encourage you to check with your doctor for advice. If your medical practitioner has determined that you're currently at risk for miscarriage, he or she will instruct you to abstain from penetration and orgasm for at least the first trimester. Many of the doctors and midwives we interviewed for our book acknowledged that there's no conclusive data supporting a restriction on sexual activity to prevent miscarriage-they simply prefer to err on the side of caution, and so do we! Similarly, if you're at risk for premature labor, your medical practitioner will instruct you to abstain from penetration and orgasm during the last trimester of your pregnancy to avoid the possibility that strong uterine contractions might trigger preterm labor.

Question: New mothers are often told that after six weeks, it is okay for them to have sex again. I know it took me longer than that to feel comfortable. I had an episiotomy, and although it was not a severe cut and healed normally, I still felt a bit of pain there for quite awhile. What advice do you have for women who still feel as if they are recovering after six weeks, but who want to enjoy sex again?

Anne: Take your time, go slow, and only do what feels comfortable. The six week guideline is just that--a guideline--but as you pointed out, there are plenty of good reasons why women might not be ready for sexual intercourse at six weeks. If you're feeling in the mood, try some other kinds of sex--anal intercourse, oral sex, mutual masturbation--and only do what feels good to you.

Question: How do you deal with it when one of your pre-teen children hears you having sex?

Anne: It depends on what your kids know about sex already. If you've explained sex to them by now, then they probably know what you're up to and it doesn't require any further elaboration. Kids overhearing their parents have sex is not the end of the world. I believe it helps them understand that their parents are normal sexual beings, and it shows them what a healthy adult relationship can be like, so that when they're ready for one themselves, they've got something to refer to. If you think your kids have no idea what the sound was, you might want to reassure them that mom and dad were loving each other in private (not hurting each other), and take the opportunity (pre-teen is not to early) to explain sex and reproduction to them. There are lots of good books and age-appropriate materials. Ours has a section on talking to your kids about sex, and two of my favorites are It's Perfectly Normal and More Speaking of Sex.

Question: Hi, will orgasm during early conception leads to any risk?

Anne and Cathy: Sexual activity poses absolutely no threat to a normal, healthy pregnancy. It's true that if you have a history of miscarriage or are at high risk for miscarriage, your medical practitioner will probably instruct you to abstain from intercourse and/or orgasm during your first trimester. However, as long as yours is not a high-risk pregnancy, there's no way that the uterine contractions of orgasm could harm your fetus. We'd encourage you to enjoy as many orgasms as you like! When mom feels good, baby feels good too!

Question: When I feed my little baby my three-year-old son and my husband like to watch me feeding. My husband is very much fond of my breasts and wants me to keep the other breast bare while we are together in bed and feeding the baby. The kids co-sleep with us. How about our three-year-old child seeing his dad watching my breasts, and sometimes gently touching them?

Anne and Cathy: It's nice that your entire family has such an appreciation for your breasts. How you respond to this is really a matter of personal preference. Certainly no harm will come to you, your son, or your husband from watching you breastfeed, and it probably satisfies your son's curiosity and helps everyone become more comfortable with their bodies. As for the gentle touching, we also don't think there's anything wrong with your son seeing this display of affection, but if your husband's intention is sexual, it's best left to a time and place where you can enjoy complete privacy.

Question: Why is it that some partners can find a G spot or clitoris so easily, and know what to do to help bring on orgasm, while others don't know what they are doing? Is it up to us women to teach them? Any suggestions?

Anne and Cathy: Good sexual partners are made, not born. Those of your partners who have provided the most sexual pleasure probably had the benefit of experience, practice and good communication skills. It's certainly up to you to instruct any new partner on how to please you. Many men find it intimidating or confusing to figure out what makes a woman tick sexually (It's not like we're taught this in school!), and female partners aren't mind-readers either. Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Get to know your own anatomy and sexual responses. You can't expect a partner to locate your G-spot if you've never figured out where it is yourself.
  2. Find out what type of touch brings you particular pleasure by masturbating, playing with sex toys, and/or reading a good book on sexuality.
  3. Learn how to ask for what you want. Your partner will be grateful and you will be infinitely happier in bed.
  4. Relax. Try not to be too goal-oriented. Enjoy the process of pleasing each other, ask for feedback, and be patient. Sexual discovery can be an end in itself.
  5. Use resources. There are plenty of excellent books, videos and websites devoted to sexual enhancement.

Thank you, Cathy and Anne! Additional question and answers are available here. Enjoy!

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