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How To Reclaim Your Sex Life After Kids

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photo Via Say It As It Is

Kids are great. But they’re often not so great for parents’ sex lives. Which is why we dialed up Ruth Morehouse, Associate Director of the Marriage and Family Health Center, which teaches the principles of her husband’s famed book, Passionate Marriage, for some advice. Need to get back into the grove with your partner? Read on and take notes!

What, in your opinion, are the ingredients to a healthy, passionate sex life?
“It helps if you have the basics things, like love and respect for the other person. But if you really want a good sex life, you have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone a little bit to keep sex interesting, fun, novel, and meaningful. A lot of times what happens, particularly when you have young children, is people going through the motions of having sex. They kind of enjoy it, but they aren’t using sex to grow or to stretch themselves. Stretching yourself might be making eye contact while you’re having sex, or having your eyes open while you’re having an orgasm. Those kinds of things require confronting your own issues about what’s difficult for you.”

What’s your take on scheduling sex, in order to make sure it happens, versus having spontaneous sex?
“It would be nice if it was spontaneous, but if you have a lot of demands on your lifestyle because you have young children, if you wait until it’s spontaneous, it probably won’t happen. I do think carving out time to be in connection with each other is really important. I think connection can be giving each other a massage, taking a bath together, sex, taking a long walk together, longing around in your bedroom. I don’t think you need to necessarily program that you’re going to have sex on Tuesday night whether you want to or not. It’s more about carving out time to connect. And sex might happen.”

Do you think having these types of connections lead to hot sex?
“You have to prime the pump a little bit. There is a difference between taking a nice long walk and getting it on in bed. The things that we work on give people a little step forward. For example, I just met with a couple that have a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old. They have very little time for sex. It takes so long to get to the place where they want to have sex that they don’t have sex very often. So, I am having them focus on making eye contact for 5 minutes, without talking, and focus on having a positive connection with the other person. If you did that three or four times a week, once you get a couple of hours to yourselves, it’s not like you’re starting from scratch. You’ve got some kind of connection in place. And even if you don’t make it to having sex, at least you’ve spent 5-10 minutes of focusing on positive connection.”

Once you’re actually in the bedroom, what’s your advice to having more connected, fulfilling sex?
“One part of that is allowing yourself to experience sensation at a deeper level. There’s sex where you experience only the level of sensation that you need to get aroused and have an orgasm. But you can explore, investigate, and expand different sensations you have. What do different positions bring up in terms of depth of sensations? Can you feel it at a light level or a medium level or a deep level? It’s the difference between massaging your foot to get a crick out of it, and really letting yourself experience the depth of sensation of firm touch and light touch. It’s about individually and as a couple seeing if you can deepen the level of sensation you can get into. Another thing is partner engagement. Are you deliberating focusing on what you like or love or appreciate about your partner and allowing yourself to call up those positive feelings during sex? Or are you just going through the motions? Then there’s role play. You can be more of the giver or initiator, or the receiver or reluctant passive lover, or adventuresome, playful, or mischievous? What part of your personality is showing up when you have sex? Is it always the same part? Which means sometimes you might have sex that is very serious and meaningful, and another time it is playful and silly. If you’re most comfortable when your partner is initiating sex, you can can try going outside your comfort zone and maybe you take charge.”

What are some tips for turning off your busy mom brain and being present during sex?
“I think it’s particularly something you see with mothers of young kids. But doing things like deliberately making eye contact and focusing on deeper sensation catches your attention and helps. A lot of times people are split in their attention. Practicing being focused with mindfulness activities and progressive relaxation can help with that, so you can focus on being in the moment. If you’re making eye contact with your partner, it’s a little bit harder to do your grocery list at the same time. It can become a vicious cycle. If you’re not really that into sex, it’s probably not really that enjoyable, and then you’re less likely to want to do it, and then you’re more likely to go through the motions the next time you do it. Reading articles about sex, reading what other people get out of sex, or reading Passionate Marriage, can help you get more interested in sex and say ‘Oh, I want some of that.’ Not being engaged is often a way of protecting yourself from not really being seen and known by your partner by not being fully emotionally engaged.”

Do you think there’s a shift of sexual expectations that needs to happen when you’re parents?
“At certain stages, sex is not front and center in certain parents’ lives and it’s not as important as other things. But I think it’s a mistake to just ditch it all together. Doing that causes a lot of other problems and it’s harder to get it back. I think people should make a point of not letting sex disappear from their relationship, but it doesn’t have to be a certain frequency. It’s more about the quality and enjoyment of it when you’re having it. For some people it becomes a ‘let’s make sure we’re normal by doing it 2.4 times a week’ thing, and that’s not good. On the other hand, there’s a tendency to shrug it off and avoid it. But it’s not just about having sex. It’s about how deep of a connection you are able to make with another person. And sometimes when you have a family, it’s like everyone wants a piece of you. There’s this little person that needs to be nursed every few hours, you have a toddler that’s feeling threatened. And it’s like you can’t say no to them, and then there’s this desire to define yourself by saying no to somebody, and often that’s your partner.”

Having kids can rock the boat in other parts of your relationship. Do you think it’s important to repair the sexual relationship or marital issues first?
“A lot of times people think we should tackle everything else first and then sex will come. I don’t think that happens very well. I think you’re going to have more mileage by addressing your sexual issues than talking about whose job it is to take out the garbage. Because if you actually get some sort of momentum going with your sexual relationship, it’s a much more powerful modality because it includes the mind and body and emotions. So, the positive momentum from a strong sexual relationship is more likely to go beyond the bedroom.”

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