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"Along with our mistaken beliefs about everyone else's sex life, we assume that we are powerless to change our sexual relationship. We are often afraid that the only solutions will involve a sex therapist with a secret treasure chest in the back office, filled with studded black leather collars, French maid costumes, plastic purple things that require batteries, and videos you can't find at Blockbuster.

"Most likely, you remember when sex was great: before kids. You may even look forward again to great sex, in the very distant future. As far as the present goes, though, chances are that you've given up. You are convinced that restoring passion to your sex life means becoming Scandinavian, igniting an affair, or learning Houdini-like contortions.

"I hope to change your mind."

-Valerie Raskin, M.D. in Great Sex for Moms

Be sure to read Valerie Raskin's article entitled Ten Must-Haves for Passionate Parents.

More about our guest:
Named one of Chicago's 100 Women Making a Difference, Valerie Davis Raskin, M.D. is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. She also maintains a private practice specializing in women's reproductive and sexual emotional health in the Chicago area. She has taught and practiced psychiatry there for over fifteen years, including the University of Illinois at Chicago, Cook County Hospital, Michael Reese Medical Center, MacNeal Hospital, and the University of Chicago School of Medicine. She is the author of When Words Are Not Enough and lives with her family in the Chicago area.

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Interviews

Exploring Womanhood > Interviews

Exploring Womanhood Interviews
Valerie Davis Raskin, M.D.
Author of:
Great Sex For Moms

Click here to order Great Sex for MomsAlthough 80 percent of all mothers experience a loss of sex-drive during the first year of their child's life (and another 60 percent find it difficult to reclaim their sexual passion during the child-centered years that follow), this problem is rarely openly discussed. Valerie Davis Raskin, M.D., author of Great Sex For Moms: Ten Steps to Nurturing Passion While Raising Kids has replied to a selection of your questions below. Please take a moment to read Ten Must-Haves for Passionate Parents, written specifically for Exploring Womanhood.

Question: I am writing on behalf of my daughter who has a beautiful, four month old baby son. Since the third month of pregnancy her husband has completely turned off all sex and touching that most young couples indulge in. Her husband seems remote even from the baby and didn't even like the idea of her breastfeeding the baby which she is still doing. He will not discuss it with her, and I know this is not a normal man's attitude as I have had four children of my own and never come across anything like it with myself or my friends. She doesn't know what to do to remedy this terrible situation.

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: I'm always stumped when faced with a spouse who refuses all attempts to address a serious problem, and I appreciate how helpless you must feel. It's very difficult to change a problem in another person who is stonewalling. If I understand the math correctly, you haven't been intimate for over a year, and he won't talk about it.

Although the lack of sexual interest in women during and after pregnancy gets a lot of attention, some experts feel that as often as twenty percent of sexual problems that occur during childbearing are due to male loss of interest. Some causes include the taboo of equating "mom" with "sex," depression in the new dad, and over-involvement in work. Please know that this isn't your fault, and you are not alone. But it's also important to know that our culture is terribly harsh on men with sexual difficulties, and embarrassment is almost certainly at the root of his refusal to talk.

The issue is whether/how to get his investment in finding a solution. If he won't engage in working toward reestablishing intimacy, you can't do it by yourself, but I'd want you to push really hard before throwing in the towel. Have you really let him know how concerned you are? If he won't talk about it, perhaps you can leave him a notebook that you write notes in in, asking for a written reply (eliminating face-to-face eye contact sometimes helps with painful subjects), and back and forth. Or, you might get a book for him, such as The New Male Sexuality by Bernie Zilbergeld, which might help him feel less embarrassed.

Information on depression can be found at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml. This is an overlooked cause of low libido in men as well as women.

Or, since the baby seems to be the issue, perhaps Grandma can take the baby for a weekend. Rather than designating the weekend for sex, I'd recommend that you two spend more time being physically affectionate, with no goal established. Sometimes taking the focus off intercourse and putting it back on affection paradoxically jump starts sex again.

Finally, I assume you've asked him to go to counseling and he won't. Is there a pastor or other "wise elder" that you could turn to for help?

I hope this helps give you some direction.

Question: I had no sex drive after having my daughter. She is just over a year now and I am starting to feel more normal since my menstrual cycle returned last month. However, I saw my doctor and he said my sex drive will probably not return until I stop breastfeeding. I don't think my daughter is ready for that yet. I am enjoying breastfeeding as well. Is this very common? I feel no sexual desire at all and am always so tired. I feel ragged most nights and don't even think about sex. My husband and I are more like roommates than lovers. Any suggestions?

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: Your physician makes a good point that breastfeeding can have a negative impact on sex drive. That's because breastfeeding suppresses the natural ovarian production of testosterone. Yes, women also make testosterone, and without it, spontaneous sex thoughts vanish. But we don't have to surrender to hormones, and I'd certainly never suggest that it's breastfeeding or sex. In fact, half the questions I've received here are about waking a sleepy libido, most from moms who aren't breastfeeding.

The good news: the biggest human sex organ is the mind. Instead of waiting for your libido to return, invite it back in. One of the steps I suggest in my book is "borrow from your sisters." One specific suggestion: borrow sex drive by reading erotic literature written by women for women. For a mild boost, try Touching Fire: Erotic Writings by Women. For an erotic jolt, read any of Susie Bright's The Best American Erotica collections, or Lonnie Barbach's The Erotic Edge: Erotica for Couples. Ask your husband to cover bedtime for the kids while you read your own bedtime story. You'll both see the benefits.

Question: By the end of the day, after our 20 month old daughter goes to sleep, I am so tired and rarely in the mood. All I want to do is sleep. Any recommendations on how to reserve more energy for intimate time with my husband? He is very understanding and doesn't pressure me but we both miss it. Thanks for your help.

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: Fatigue is the enemy of married romance: no question about it. My suggestion is that you stop thinking about lovemaking as something done at the end of the day. For example, on the weekend, jump into bed with your husband while your daughter naps. Or, set the alarm clock an hour early once in a while for an eye-opener: your natural circadian rhythms actually make morning the best time for sex and the easiest time to climax. Alternatively, if you have a trusted girlfriend or sister in a similar situation, swap a 6 to 8 pm shift once in a while. Let her take your little one to an indoor playground, for example, while you and your husband substitute sex for dinner.

Question: I've just purchased our first sex toy, a vibrator, and I'm embarrassed about it. I was raised to have the mindset that "toys are dirty." So now that I have it, I'm nervous about showing it to my husband, but I think it would be fun once we got used to the whole idea. How should I bring it up to him? And how do I help him understand that I didn't buy it to take his place, but to occasionally enhance the fun we already have?

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: I want to applaud you for taking the ninth step toward reclaiming passion after kids: Shop your way to great sex. I think you're off to a great start by considering the vibrator to be "ours." Use words that convey that sentiment to your husband: this is something I think we'll find erotic to use together. Suggest to him that the vibrator might be a nice change once in a while because it will free him from worrying about your orgasm. Some women find that it's easiest to share information by e-mail or a pen and pencil note because it reduces the anxiety that can interfere with getting the right words out; others prefer face to face discussion. Whichever means you choose, don't spring it on him during lovemaking if you think he may feel defensive. Once you've introduced it, reinforce the "ours" by using it to rev up his sensations: the crevices of the inner thigh, or the perineum (between the testicles and the anus) are male vibrator-friendly areas.

Question: My husband is disappointed in the lack of "spontaneousness" in our sex life. Since we have a very active one year old I don't understand how we could be spontaneous at this point in time. Is there any compromise to having sex on a whim versus having sex on a schedule?

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: I have to confess that I'm having trouble imagining when parents of a one year old could have spontaneous sex. And, I must say that there are an awful lot of dads of one year olds who would trade their eyeteeth for ANY sex, planned or otherwise, so don't feel defensive. On the other hand, I don't think it's necessary to have an appointment book out in order to have sex, either. Perhaps a compromise would be knowing that there are predictable/scheduled times during which sex is a possibility, leaving the option of sex that is sort of spontaneous, and sort of planned. Baby's naptime, perhaps?

Question: I am still having problems with vaginal dryness and discomfort even though my breastfed daughter is 16 months old. ALL commercial lubricants I have tried irritate me, and my sex drive is very low. Is there hope for me?

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: It seems that you know that the discomfort is likely secondary to the dryness, so that the dryness is the primary issue. I'm sorry to hear that lubricants are irritating because that would be an easy solution. The one I usually recommend is Astroglide, but if even that is irritating, you're plagued by marked sensitivity, which should resolve after you're done with breastfeeding. Just to be sure the bases are covered, have you also tried the silicone based lubricant called "Eros?" Eros is latex (condom, diaphragm, cervical cap) compatible. And, if a monogamous STD-free couple is using a form of birth control that isn't latex-based (such as the Pill, or a vasectomy), you can try oil based lubricants (available in your local kitchen).

The other perfectly latex compatible lubricant is nature's own, guaranteed hypoallergenic: your husband's saliva. Perhaps if he had a glass of water at the bedside, and he performed plenty of oral sex before intercourse, you'd have enough lubrication for sex to be pleasurable.

However I wonder if there might be a vicious cycle here, in which anxiety about painful intercourse leads to more dryness, which leads to more discomfort, which leads to more dryness, etc. Fear of pain shuts down what vaginal lubrication is naturally there. What this means is that you may need to get back to the point where worry, frustration, and fear about pain are replaced by a greater sense of pleasure. I'd try to increase erotic touching without intercourse-what might be called "outerplay." Periods of manual and oral sex without penetration reprogram your brain to relax and will help the fear-pain cycle recede. Explain to your husband that this is a temporary solution with long term benefits for you both. For more advice about relaxing during intercourse, you might look at Step Six: Cultivate Sexual Mindfulness. (in Great Sex for Moms) Hope this helps!

Question: How often should a couple have sex to keep the passion alive in their relationship?

Valerie Raskin, M.D.:The answer to this question is: however much it takes to keep the passion alive! There is no right or wrong answer to the "how often should we do it?" question, just as there is no value in knowing how often everyone else is doing it. Indeed, trying to keep up with the Joneses is a one way path to low sexual self esteem. Some couples have sex infrequently, but it's wonderfully passionate and intimate every time. Some couples have sex every day, but it's boring and anything but intimate. Like your grandmother said: it's quality, not quantity.

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Question: Our sex is great, but I would like it to be more spicer. So what do I do? And keep in mind, that I am almost 5 months pregnant.

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: Since I know five month pregnant feet can't stand to walk on anything but flats, how about dusting off your high heels and wearing them to bed?

Question: I thought that it is normal for interest to wane, because your brain and body are used to your partner... so the "drug" isn't as powerful as it once was. Is this true?

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: Yes and no. Early sex is usually pretty darn hot. But that isn't just chemical. Early romance is pretty darn hot, too. You can overcome the sexual blah's by invigorating the relationship with new romance (no more gray flannel nightgowns), and by introducing erotic surprise into your sex life. Creativity is a powerful "drug."

Question: My husband is in the clergy. I don't know if it is religious based, or upbringing, or what, but he won't share sexual jokinnuendosndos, intimate discussion or playful touching apart from the actual act of intercourse. I know it isn't sinful to enjoy sexuality and intimacy. I want more. Ideas on how to handle this?

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: A person's sexual attitude is a product of so many influences that I'd hate to pin this on being a clergyman. However, a book that might help him feel that a great sex life is completely consistent with Christianity is "Between Husband and Wife: Gospel Perspectives on Marital Intimacy." (It is rooted in Mormon theology, so you decide how that might fit for him). Although my chapter, "Disarm the Internal Censor," is targeted at women, you and he might find that it helps open the dialogue about how to push a little beyond the comfortable but boring zone. See the next question.

Question: I hope you do not mind a male visiting here. I'd like to make love to my wife somewhere other than the bedroom - like in front of the fireplace, on the window seat, on the back deck in the summer, for instance. But she keeps insisting on our bed. Our daughter is only 2 1/2 and fast asleep so it isn't a privacy issue. I think we're missing out on some fun.

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: Men are welcome! But this is a tough one. Introducing variety to where you make love is a great way to spice up your sex life. But, I don't encourage anyone to engage in sexual acts that make them uncomfortable. Good sex is relaxed sex, and resentment can follow anytime one partner submits to the wishes of the other.

However, your wife can learn to turn down her internal censor if she sets her mind to it. Some cognitive techniques which might help include replacing black and white thinking and harsh self-labeling, ("that's perverted") with more reality based thoughts ("I feel really awkward, but I'm willing to be vulnerable once in a while."). You might also try to compromise: do some serious fooling around in front of the fireplace, and move to the bedroom at the critical moment.

Finally, have you asked how she might feel about lovemaking in the shower? It might be a safer place to begin exploring outside the bedroom, because she's already used to being naked there, and with a good lock there is absolutely no worry that the neighbors will drop in unexpectedly. Putting a clean quilt on the floor next to the shower may help those without formal yoga training.

Question: Do husband's have a center of pleasure like our clitoris or G-Spot?

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: One area that many men report as being intensely pleasurable is the area between the base of the scrotal sac to the anus. The correct anatomic term is "perineum," but it's also sometimes referred to as the male G-spot, or the "t'aint." Some men have a distinct dimple that is especially sensitive, although the entire area is very nerve-rich. Experiment with a series of touches, ranging from light stroking to pressure and ask for feedback.

Question: Is it common for women to visit "sex shops?" I have wanted to, but I feel so dirty and odd.

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: Sexual curiosity is completely natural, in fact it's a gift. It's so natural that the Victorians spent enormous amounts of time and energy trying to eradicate sexual curiosity from the planet, and it's still here. Your interest is neither dirty nor odd. However, many women feel more comfortable doing their sex shopping on line. In fact, one of the few e-commerce businesses that is still flourishing are online sex stores run by women for women. Check out www.touchofawoman.com or www.evesgarden.com, among others.

One thing many women don't like about being in a sex shop is the mistaken belief among some fellow shoppers that it's socially acceptable to leer at women in that setting. Take your husband along with you-it's awesome foreplay, and he can stare back at any creeps.

Addendum to this interview.

Several visitors to StorkNet, one of our sister sites, posted concerns about their husbands' lack of desire during pregnancy. We sent the conversation to Valerie Raskin, M.D. and she replied to their comments.

One noted: I am so VERY sad , my husband is not interested in me at ALL... it has been four months (since we conceived!) since my husband and I have been intimate. In the meantime, he has been to two strip clubs. I feel very unattractive and even thought I am very happy and excited about my baby, I feel I have lost my husband. He is very happy about the baby as well, but not interested in me - any advice?

Comments from fellow moms included:

We haven't had too much intimacy either, for a different reason- he's worried about hurting the baby and I have to reassure him it'll be fine until the end of the pregnancy. Maybe your husband has the same fears?

and:

He won't go NEAR me. I find it heartbreaking as well. I have talked--it doesn't matter. I figure he has some issue(s) that I'm just not getting through to.

and:

I had to BEG-- talk about humiliating! That last was such a heartbreaker that I'm scared to even approach him again-- I can't take the rejection.

Comments from Valerie Davis Raskin, M.D., author of Great Sex for Moms: Ten Steps to Nurturing Passion While Raising Kids (Fireside, 2002).

First, I want to applaud the brave women who have brought this little secret of pregnancy out into the open. In our culture, mothers are often portrayed as reluctant partners to their sex-crazed husbands, who allegedly just can't ever get enough. What a myth!

While some women do lose interest during pregnancy, often due to the discomfort of morning sickness or the aches and pains of your pregnant body, about one third of women have an increased libido during pregnancy. Many find that the increased pelvic blood flow makes it easier to climax when pregnant, easier to get desire flowing, and/or find that the emotional power of fertility and pregnancy sparks libido.

Some men are very attracted to their wives' pregnant bodies, but as these writers point out, some men find pregnancy to be a turn off. As one said, it's his issue, and it isn't about whether you're attractive enough. Reasons that some men avoid sex in pregnancy include fear that intercourse, ejaculate, or female orgasm will harm the baby; anxiety about becoming a father (which might include worries about being a good financial provider, or a good dad); self consciousness due to the feeling that the baby is a third party in the bedroom; jealousy of all the attention his wife is getting; or a taboo that comes from the association of your pregnancy and his own mother. Men who grew up with the idea that sex is "dirty" may have overcome that negative childhood message early in their marriage, only to find it alive and kicking during their wives' pregnancies.

The fact that a husband goes to a strip club in lieu of sex during pregnancy certainly makes me wonder about whether he has a belief that sex is dirty, something a "nice" person wouldn't do to a pregnant woman. It may be classic whore-Madonna complex at work. Unfortunately, this is something he's going to have to overcome on his own--either through sex therapy or couples counseling, or some serious self examination. Because it isn't about whether you're sexy enough, you simply must not conclude that you're too fat, too cranky, or too anything to be attractive to him. If he's open to it, Bernie Zilbergeld's book The New Male Sexuality, may be a good starting point for him to take a look at his beliefs about sexuality.

However, the fact that he is going to strip clubs, and letting you know that he's doing so, raises a red flag for me. I wonder if he's angry, even though what he is aware of feeling is joy about the pregnancy. I encourage you to consider the possibility that his low sex drive is a symptom of some unexpressed anger or conflict in the marriage, that would be best dealt with before the added stress of a new baby.

That said, some women find that simply bringing their husbands to the doctor or midwife for a check up reassures their husbands. While your husband is in the examining room, asking, "Oh, by the way, as long as we're both here, is there any reason to change anything about our sex life now that I'm pregnant?" may be all it takes for him to relax. (There are rare conditions that make sex unsafe, such as preterm labor, placenta previa, or premature rupture of membranes, but most couples can safely have sex throughout pregnancy).

If a husband remains reluctant, I encourage you to stop thinking about sex during pregnancy as being the same thing as intercourse during pregnancy. Chances are, it's the penis in the vagina that leads to the pregnant uterus that he considers off limits. Great sex doesn't have to include having a penis in a vagina, during pregnancy or at other times. Great sex can include erotic massages, extended kissing and fondling, bringing one or both partners to orgasm by manual or oral stimulation, watching one another masturbate, or including a vibrator externally. An added plus is that once erotic touching gets going, his natural physiological response to pleasure may help turn off that worried voice in his head that says you're off limits. However, meet him half way by giving him permission to substitute erotic activity that does feel safe to him during pregnancy.

Member question: Dear Valerie, I have a four month old baby. Since the third month of my pregnancy, my husband has not been interested at all in sex, touching or any type of intimacy. My husband seems remote even from the baby and doesn't even feel comfortable with me breastfeeding. He won't discuss it with me and I know this isn't normal. I really do not know how to remedy this situation. If you have any advice, I'd be grateful. Thank you.

Valerie Raskin, M.D.: I'm always stumped when faced with a spouse who refuses all attempts to address a serious problem, and I appreciate how helpless you must feel. It's very difficult to change a problem in another person who is stonewalling. If I understand the math correctly, you haven't been intimate for over a year, and he won't talk about it.

Although the lack of sexual interest in women during and after pregnancy gets a lot of attention, some experts feel that as often as twenty percent of sexual problems that occur during childbearing are due to male loss of interest. Some causes include the taboo of equating "mom" with "sex," depression in the new dad, and over-involvement in work. Please know that this isn't your fault, and you are not alone. But it's also important to know that our culture is terribly harsh on men with sexual difficulties, and embarrassment is almost certainly at the root of his refusal to talk.

Although the lack of sexual interest in women during and after pregnancy gets a lot of attention, some experts feel that as often as twenty percent of sexual problems that occur during childbearing are due to male loss of interest. Some causes include the taboo of equating "mom" with "sex," depression in the new dad, and over-involvement in work. Please know that this isn't your fault, and you are not alone. But it's also important to know that our culture is terribly harsh on men with sexual difficulties, and embarrassment is almost certainly at the root of his refusal to talk.

Information on depression can be found here. This is an overlooked cause of low libido in men as well as women.

Or, since the baby seems to be the issue, perhaps Grandma can take the baby for a weekend. Rather than designating the weekend for sex, I'd recommend that you two spend more time being physically affectionate, with no goal established. Sometimes taking the focus off intercourse and putting it back on affection paradoxically jump starts sex again.

Finally, I assume you've asked him to go to counseling and he won't. Is there a pastor or other "wise elder" that you could turn to for help?

I hope this helps give you some direction.

Valerie Davis Raskin, M.D.

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