And it’s (hopefully) not as far out as you think.
May 16, 2022
In the weeks after having a baby, sex may seem like the last thing on your mind. The postpartum period is a decidedly un-sexy time: you’re covered in various bodily fluids (your own, your infant’s), you may not fully recognize your own body after the changes it went through in birth, and you’re up every two to three hours at night feeding your newborn.
While it may take a while to rekindle your sex life after becoming a mother, it’s incorrect to assume that just because a woman gave birth, her libido or interest in sexual satisfaction is gone forever.
The responses from Motherly’s 2022 annual State of Motherhood survey show the opposite: sex and motherhood don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
According to survey results, 45% of millennial and Gen Z mothers* are having sex at least once per week—and 87% of those moms report being “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with their sex lives.
At the root, for many moms in our survey, satisfaction isn’t necessarily correlated with how frequently they’re having sex. While 49% of moms say they’re “dissatisfied” having sex just a couple times per month, 41% say they’re “satisfied” with that frequency. Clearly, satisfaction can mean different things for different people, but it’s intimacy—not sex—that’s at the heart of a good relationship, says Rebecca Alvarez Story, a certified sexologist and founder of Bloomi, a line of intimate care essentials. “Intimacy is like your foundation, and with really great intimacy it’ll lead to sex naturally.”
But what does it mean to be satisfied with your sex life? “Sexual satisfaction is a personal indicator. It’s related to your own quality of life—there isn’t just one metric,” says Story.
Satisfaction doesn’t give us the full picture because it’s dependent on a number of different factors. Usually, it’s related to frequency and quality, but also how well your desires align with your partner’s, Story notes. If there’s a misalignment in terms of how frequently you’d like to be having sex versus how frequently your partner would, the mismatch might be affecting your quality of life. That may mean you feel less satisfied when it comes to all things sex.
According to our survey, 55% of moms say they’re having less sex in 2022 than in the previous year.
With childcare challenges, work commitments and the emotional labor of managing a household amidst an ongoing pandemic, it’s no wonder that’s the case. The majority of moms (67%) also report having just one hour of time to themselves that wasn’t filled with work or family duties. That’s… not enough.
So it makes sense that we’re starting to view less frequent sex in a rosier light. Who has the time?
“As we commit to more and more responsibilities, women often value quality of sex over quantity. Most of us would much rather have a couple of highly satisfying and connected sessions over more frequent, lower quality ones,” says Lyndsey Harper, MD, FACOG, IFCEO, an OB-GYN and the CEO and founder of Rosy, a sexual wellness app.
Related: 5 sex-positive apps we wish we’d had years ago
On the other hand, an absence of sexual connection can cause frustration, too. Seventy-seven percent of moms who have sex less than once per month report being “dissatisfied” or “extremely dissatisfied.”
“I give my husband all the credit for keeping our sex life alive. Having two kids—a toddler and an infant—makes it so hard to find alone time. I’ve never had a high sex drive but I love that connection with my husband. All in all, I’m satisfied with this season we’re in and know it’s a phase. We squeeze it in and find fun ways to do so!” mom Katie N. shares with Motherly.
Related: Here’s why you might be having pain during sex, according to experts
Another factor directly related to how frequently most moms have sex? Their children’s ages. Moms with kids under the age of 3 report having the least sex (41% at the rate of 1 to 2 times per month), whereas moms with kids over age 3 report having more sex (38% at the rate of 1 to 2 times per week).
If you’re wondering if you’ll ever get back to that honeymoon phase now that you’re a parent, don’t lose hope: Once kids enter middle school seems to be the sweet spot.
Parent couples’ sex frequency tends to increase during this period, but drops again slightly once kids reach high school.
The main reason for that? Your kids need you slightly less. “By middle school, children are more independent, and start to shift their attachment more from parent to peers. That allows the mother to then have more time for herself,” says Story.
When kids are preschool age or younger, the availability of your own pleasure bandwidth goes down because younger kids require so much more attention from you, she notes.
Related: Not having sex postpartum is a sign of a great relationship
“I am satisfied [with my sex life],” notes mom Addie R. to Motherly, “but when we aren’t getting good sleep it happens much much less.”
It ebbs and flows. “Once kids are in high school, parents have to step back in because there are a lot of new behavior systems that are needed. There’s a lot more adult planning, like with college or jobs.” Parents of high schoolers tend to report higher levels of stress, and of course, stress directly impacts libido, says Story.
It can be helpful to remember that sexual health changes over time in a relationship, especially as people become parents, go through medical challenges or experience periods of higher stress, adds Dr. Harper.
“When we view our sexual relationship as fluid in this way, it gives us the opportunity to keep communicating and exploring new resources to renew our sexual health when we feel ready.”
“If we view our sexuality as dead after we become mothers, we may never have the mindset to rekindle this important piece of ourselves,” she notes.
Related: How to have a great sex life after having kids
Maybe you’d like to be having more frequent sex in theory, but by the end of the day, you’re honestly just too “touched out.” Though there’s a definite dearth of clinical research on the phenomenon of being touched out, anecdotally, it’s incredibly common among moms of younger kids. “When I’ve seen it, it usually appears in moms who are burned out,” Story shares. “They tend to have smaller children and find it really hard to enjoy sensual or sexual touch, because they’re already overstimulated from their kids needing their body.”
Being a mother is often a full-contact sport, no matter whether you’re breastfeeding or not. It requires using your body as a vessel to provide for someone else, which means your body doesn’t belong to just you. That can make it hard to transition from a nurturing, providing role to one that’s more sensual and able to receive sexual touch, says Story. “You can’t go from a work meeting to a personal meeting and then back to a work meeting very easily. In the same way, it’s hard to go from your kids needing you back to feeling sexual and back to your kids needing you again. You need time blocking, or transition time.”
The key? Carving out that no-touch time when you can, says Dr. Harper, which can help you satisfy your own needs first. “Engage in something during this time that fills your cup. Maybe that’s a nap, singing, dancing, painting, working out; the list would be different for each of us. The sooner we can regain our individual sense of self, the sooner we will have something to share with those we love.”
Related: Are you touched out, mama? A psychologist shares the signs
Maybe you’re currently in one of those ebb periods in which you’re too exhausted or burned out to prioritize sex with your partner. In that case, don’t discount intimacy. It’s all about communication and redefining what that means for you and your partner.
“If couples work to expand their definition of what sex and intimacy can mean in their relationships, then there is more to offer and explore that may be satisfying to everyone involved,” notes Dr. Harper.
Sex can encompass anything from kissing to erotic touch, oral sex to masturbation—all are good options for when intercourse is off the table.
There are also plenty of ways to physically and emotionally connect with your partner that don’t involve sexual contact.
Here’s how to foster intimacy in your relationship if you’re not up for sex:
“One thing that we often forget about and is often underestimated is talking,” Story shares. “Talking can be very intimate. Try to block some time to talk with your partner in bed or on the couch while having tea or a drink. That time of connection and eye contact is really, really important for intimacy.”
Motherly designed and administered this survey through Motherly’s subscribers list, social media and partner channels, resulting in more than 17,000 responses creating a clean, unweighted base of 10,001 responses. This report focuses on the Gen X cohort of 1197 respondents, millennial cohort of 8,558 respondents, and a Gen Z cohort of 246 respondents. Edge Research weighted the data to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the US female millennial cohort based on US Census data.
Lyndsey Harper, MD, FACOG, IFCEO, an OB-GYN and the CEO and founder of Rosy, a sexual wellness app.
Rebecca Alvarez Story, a certified sexologist and founder of Bloomi, a line of clean intimate care essentials.
Sex & Motherhood, SOM 2022, SOM, sex
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