This week is National Women’s Health Week. I write a lot about sex and women’s sexual health, but a healthy sexual life is at risk when your overall health suffers. The Department of Health and Human Resources has created some great checklists for women in every decade of their lives, from their 20’s to their 90’s, with things we can do to maximize living a healthy life.
There are many factors that affect our health that are beyond our control: genetics, disabilities, and chronic illness, to name a few. So it is important to remember that there are preventative steps we can take to keep serious health problems at bay—the first step is to see a health-care provider.
Some important recommended preventive care steps include:
- Regular well check-ups. As moms we keep on top of our children’s doctor visits, let’s not forget ourselves.
- PAP and HPV tests
- Contraceptive use or family planning advice
- Sexually transmitted infections testing and prevention
- Cholesterol and blood pressure screening
- Healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Seek mental health support if needed
We all want to live healthy lives. This week is a chance to remind ourselves of the importance of taking care of our health and well-being and empowering ourselves to do so. If you haven’t seen a doctor in some time, make that appointment now. #NWHW
I just don’t want to have sex.
No desire. Low desire. Resentment. Exhaustion. Disinterest. Distracted.
Many moms use these words to describe their sex lives. In our closed Facebook group for moms we’ve been discussing the guilt and resentment that grow when you feel like the only sex you are having has become a chore. We’ve also discussed the worry and stress that come with not having sex.
Moms do a lot of chores. Sex shouldn’t be one of them. (Check out what I’ve written about when sex feels like a chore.)
It’s difficult, because while you love your partner, love sharing a family with him or her, you know the importance of a healthy sexual relationship, and to be honest, you’re just not feeling it…
To be clear, having sex occasionally because your partner wants it, when you aren’t in the mood, isn’t a bad thing. There are many reasons this happens—because you love your partner and want to feel close, because you want to give pleasure, because you know he or she really desires sex and you are okay with participating.
However, as Debby Herbenick, PhD writes in her book Because it Feels Good, there can be long term consequences to only having sex you don’t feel like having.
She calls it the “cycle of dread” where women end up not only dreading sex, but eventually dread affection from the partner who wants to have sex with them. This happens when women have sex “over and over again when you don’t want it, thus setting yourself up for sex that doesn’t feel good.”
Plus, the sex you want to be having is the sex you want to be having.
So what can you do about it?
Start with yourself.
Remove the pressure of sex with another person. Love on yourself. Caress yourself. Use the approach called sensate focus therapy (used for couples) on yourself, where you explore your body with your hands or an object like a feather. Relish what feels good. Bask in it. Feel your breath as it goes in and out. Close your eyes.
Feel the sensual power within you.
Exercise your most powerful sexual organ, your brain.
Are you a woman who expects her partner to turn her on sexually, and when that doesn’t happen, do you think something is broken in your relationship, or something is wrong with you?
Guess what, there is a different way. You actually have way more power and control over your sexual arousal than your partner does. And it is all tucked away in your brain.
It just requires practice, patience, and openness to try new things.
You begin with just thinking about the possibility of sexual intimacy. Women who think about sex are more likely to want to have sex and enjoy it.
Now imagine what excites you. It is okay, and very normal, if you are not imagining your partner right now. Remember, your mind is your erotic playground, and the possibilities are endless.
Read books and watch movies that expand this erotic playground. Practice role-plays or invent fantasies that excite you. Share these with your partner if that excites you.
Just remember, you are the owner of your own eroticism. Learning to explore and expand it will help you have a long and vibrant sexual life.
Make time for intimacy.
Nothing is wrong with you because you don’t feel like having sex at the drop of a hat. I know the least sexually appetizing time I can think of for intimacy is late at night, after a full, long day, in a dirty bedroom, on the rumpled sheets everyone in the house plus the dog have slept on.
Again, nothing is wrong or broken about your sensuality, when this isn’t the sex you feel like having. You need a different perspective, some intentionality, and creativity. Here are some ideas:
Get a lock for your door.
Use your child’s bath time for some alone time with your partner.
Use your own bath time for alone time with your partner in the shower.
Use any other room other than your bedroom, use any other surface other than your bed.
Get a babysitter and have a date just for sex. Rent a hotel for a couple of hours.
Put sex on the calendar and think about it all day long so you aren’t taken by surprise.
Find a lunch break one hour a week or month you and your partner can have intimate time together.
Mess around in your laundry room/closets/shed/backyard/car. Be creative. Just don’t get arrested for indecent exposure. You are parents after all, and that is the stuff of lifelong childhood trauma for your kids
Be intentional, strategic, creative, and patient with yourself.
Remember how you used to do stuff behind your parent’s backs? Mess around with your partner and relish the fun of hiding it from your children.
Buy helpful products
Purchase a lube you love. You may need to experiment. Some lubricants evaporate too quickly to last throughout sex. Try silicone or oil-based (not oil-based with condoms, though) lubricants for longer-lasting effect.
Buy sex toys for yourself. Try them out by yourself first, especially if you feel too embarrassed to try with a partner. Masturbation is an excellent way to fire up your libido and there are many health benefits that come from regular masturbation. (Stay-at-home moms of young children, this is something to look forward to when they go off to school.) Some women masturbate or use a vibrator before they are intimate with their partner.
Just being willing to try different things is a step towards finding your libido again. Be patient and loving with yourself. Share your fears and worries with your partner, and keep trying different approaches. Trying something is better than trying nothing. This is a life-long journey and what you learn will help you build a dynamic sensuality your whole life long.
Get help/Use resources.
Sign up for my newsletter to find out about my upcoming online workshops on sexual desire for moms.
Written by Sarah J Swofford, MPH. sarahjswofford.com. Sex educator for moms, author, mom of two.
The health benefits of orgasms. I’m willing to bet there is an article in every Cosmo magazine ever published with a title along these lines. We know they feel amazing, but are there health benefits to orgasms, and if so, what are they? Here are five great reasons orgasm is good for your body and your health.
1) Orgasm releases endorphins that relieve stress—post-orgasm you feel relaxed, happy, and even sleep better.
2) Orgasm strengthens your PC muscles. The pelvic floor (pubococcygeus, or PC muscles) women use to achieve orgasm are also deep core muscles. Your core receives a workout during orgasm and a strong core is excellent for pelvic alignment, coordination, and balance. Strong PC muscles make achieving orgasm easier and help with urine control.
3) Orgasm releases the steroid hormone DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) that has myriad health benefits. In some ways, it is the elixir of youth. Naturally occurring DHEA aids the immune system, cognitive abilities, and skin tone.
4) Orgasm may keep you from getting a cold. A small study from Wilkes University found a 30% increase of immunoglobin A, an antibody that is a first-line of defense against viruses, among college students who had sex once or twice a week, compared to those who did not.
5) Achieving orgasm, by yourself or with a partner, is a validation of how to give yourself pleasure. It is self-care at the most basic level. Orgasms give women sensual knowledge and confidence about themselves. A win-win all around.
The most effective way to enjoy these health perk? Masturbation. You get to set your own time, use your own techniques, and are in charge of your own pleasure. The health benefits of orgasm are great, but the main reason we have them is the most important of all…because they feel oh-so-good.
Here are two inspiring stories about sex educators using innovative and creative approaches to teaching sex ed. Both of these educators are dealing with different limitations.
First, there is Sanford Johnson, a sex educator in the state of Mississippi, where restrictive sex education laws ban teaching proper condom use. (Sadly, Mississippi is also the state with some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.) His simple yet ingenious work-around provides important information for anyone who is going to engage in a “sock activity.”
Then, David Bergner (author of What Women Want, the wonderful book on the science of female sexual desire) writes in this week’s New York Times Magazine a fascinating look at Bat Sheva Marcus, a sex educator in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York. Marcus works with married Orthodox women experiencing sexual difficulties, some of whom do not know what or where the clitoris is, nor have ever had an orgasm.
Many of Marcus’ recommendations have to be approved by patient’s rabbi. One rabbi nixed romance novels, but said vibrators were okay, if absolutely needed. Read on for the full article: Orthodox Sex Guru.
Now that I have a book available for purchase, people ask me how to find my book online. So I decided to check out my competition on the behemoth of digital bookstores, Amazon. Here’s what I learned about how NOT to find my book on Amazon.
Did you know there is a genre of erotica called Adult Nursing Erotica? Me neither. Until I searched sex after pregnancy books in the hopes that my book, From Ouch! To Ahhh…The New Mom’s Guide To Sex After Baby would be one of the search results.
The good news: it is.
The not-so-good-news: it can be found on page three, buried far beneath titles I am a bit confused about.
It did reassure me about my book title (and book cover—although pregnant babes in lingerie sell more copies). One title I came across, Satisfying Him While Pregnant (And After). He Still Needs Service, seems overly focused on the non-pregnant partner for my taste.
You see, your partner is like a luxury car, while you, my pregnant friend, are like a gas station….
Billionaires and Their Curvy Cravings (of the renowned Billionaire/BBW Bareback Pregnancy erotica series) and the singular, Saved By The Warebear, were on page two of the search results. The intriguing titles in the Billionaires series include: The Billionaire’s Curve Compulsion and Curves for My Billionaire Upstairs.
(Here’s the hyper-link to the search results. You can’t make this stuff up.)
I was happy to see a Dan Savage title I didn’t know about also on page two. The Kid. What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided To Get Pregnant. I will check this one out, soon.
Page three opened with gusto. A title with the most categories I’ve ever seen in a book title. Little Rachel’s After School Detention (Forbidden Interracial First Time Pregnancy Punishment Erotica).
Really, it speaks for itself.
Success! Finally, here it is halfway down page three, #40 out of 71 results, and only two spots below Earning his Promotion: BDSM in the Office. I’m relieved it made the list at all after so many strong contenders.
This research adventure taught me a lot. I learned there are many categories of erotica I didn’t know about, namely breast-milk erotica. It reinforced one thing I already knew—I have little understanding of how Amazon’s search algorithms work. But one thing is clear, sex sells—hence, the more informational the book, the lower it will rank (my book is not the only victim).
Lessons Learned: When my Grandma asks how to find my book on Amazon—I’m sending her the direct link.
When my little brother, who is about to become a first-time dad, asks for it, I’m guessing (looks at watch), oh about six weeks or so after his baby is born, I’m just giving him search terms.
Sibling torture lasts well into adulthood.
Being too stressed for sex creates an interesting paradox. Stress can kill your sex drive, but good sex is an excellent stress-reliever. Stress can hide in your body, disguised as low energy, exhaustion, moodiness, and even aches and pains like head or stomach-ache. These are all symptoms of stress, along with a loss of sex drive or ability to have sex.
If you are exhausted and have a headache coupled with low sexual desire, it’s easy to think you have a cold, or are tired, or it’s the weather, when actually identifying and dealing with stressors can be the most effective way of getting your sexual mojo back. As this year ends and a new one begins, many moms feel stressed out about goals we haven’t yet accomplished, new year items we need to tick off our lists, and we may even be suffering from the post-holiday season doldrums.
Here are some ways you can beat libido-killing stressors and get your mojo back:
1. Get your sleep, mama.
2. Turn off your phone and disconnect from electronics. Make it an hour, or a day, but relish the freedom of not responding to every beep and chime your phone makes.
3. Spend time doing something you enjoy. Allow yourself to relax.
4. Get out get some exercise. Can’t get out? Stay in and move your body.
5. Avoid the salty, fatty, sweet foods that are the most tempting for mindless, stressed-out eating. Munch on healthy, nutritious food that strengthens your body and doesn’t cause sugar rushes and crashes.
6. Look deeply and identify what’s causing your stress. Be as specific as possible.
7. Find ways to deal with your stressors. Too busy? Take something off your schedule. Dealing with a difficult person? Work on creating healthy boundaries for yourself. Need help? Find and use a great babysitter, assistant, therapist…whatever it is that you need, or ask for help from loved ones.
8. Make time for all-fun, no-stress time with your partner. Play a board game, go for a walk. It doesn’t matter what you do together, just set the intention of being in the moment with your partner and enjoying each other’s company.
9. Are you striving for perfection? Let go. Perfection is impossible and focusing on attaining the unattainable will lead to perpetual stress and anxiety.
10. Practice gratitude. This is my personal new year’s resolution, to practice gratitude daily. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, recently posted on Facebook about her happiness jar. Every day she writes her happiest moment on a slip of paper and drops it in her happiness jar. On days when she needs inspiration, she reads through the moments in the jar—she also keeps these slips of paper as reminders that happiness and joy can be found even among dreary circumstances.
Check out these stress-management resources:
- How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress
- How to build a meditation practice to fight stress.
- The science on the benefits of gratitude
Not convinced, read this post by Dr. Logan Levkoff about how stress affects your sex life.
Wishing you and yours a vibrant, stress-free, 2015.
From Ouch! To Ahhh…The New Mom’s Guide To Sex After Baby won first place in The Book Designer’s August ebook cover design awards for August. I was thrilled, especially after I looked at all the fabulous covers that were submitted. Here is what the book designer, Joel Friedlander, says about From Ouch! To Ahhh…‘s design:
The true winner of this award is Alisha, the designer I worked with at Damonza, a fabulous book design studio based out of South Africa. Benjamin, Damonza’s formatter, formatted my ebook, too.
At first, I tried to design my own, but after looking at endless online images I still hadn’t found anything I liked. So next, I trolled the internet for book cover designers. I found dozens of websites, looked at hundreds of portfolio covers, but only one stood out. It was Damonza’s designs. Ironically, I found Damonza by scouring previous months’ contests of the one From Ouch! To Ahh… just won, from thebookdesigner.com.
It still took time. Damonza asks for examples of covers you like, along with detailed information about your book. After weeks of back and forth, and over a dozen drafts later, we arrived at the final cover. It’s amazing how every tiny detail matters in an ebook cover, especially since it is the first thing readers see of your book— it is what draws them in yet they will likely only see it thumbprint size. So, it has to be stellar.
I love my cover. It is soft, and gentle, and reassuring. I think the type is fabulous. If you are a writer thinking about your cover, I highly recommend investing in a professional cover. If you outsource anything, this is where you should put your money.
I also can’t wait to see the cover when my book is available in print.Share
Sex and chores: Do heterosexual married men who contribute to household chores have more sex?
Sexuality science and research is fascinating for many reasons beyond the obvious one, duh…it’s sex! And when it comes to studying sex and household chores among heterosexual married couples, both men and women have a vested interest.
The possibilities and permutations of sex research are endless, there are always new and different aspects of sexuality to study. Evergreen topics that will forever be interesting to most of us—like masturbation, intercourse, frequency of sex, types of sex, and rates of infidelity—change as cultural norms evolve (i.e. gender role shifts, social acceptance of queer sexuality, and comprehensive sex education programs that reduce unintended pregnancies, to name a few); so the same research can show different outcomes a decade or two later. And as society changes, research questions themselves change.
The recent household chores and sex study is a great example. Last year the daily news cycle lit up with the news that men who do less housework have more sex. The sociologists who wrote the paper, reported that despite gender advancements of the past fifty years, we can’t escape our hunter/gatherer evolutionary sexual attractions; even liberated women find men who don’t pull their weight in household chores more sexually attractive—scientists call it, erotic resistance to gender equality. (I wonder how many men will try out that turn of phrase?)
Back in February, even the New York Times Magazine got in on the action with a feature article, Does a more equal marriage mean less sex? In essence, it said that in heterosexual marriages, the more similar men and women’s roles become (sharing of housework would be one similarity) the less sexual attraction there is.
But, wait a second, before we feminists expire. In fairness, other sociologists looking at the same data, proposed that perhaps less sexual frequency was due to more tired men (from all that housework!) and females who are less likely to initiate sex. As it turns out, the data used for the research paper were collected in the early nineties, when American expectations for male participation in housework were much lower, and also where a different generation of parents (baby boomers) had children at home.
While men of today aren’t actually doing that much more traditional housework than they were in the nineties, the dramatic increase has been in the amount of childcare they provide (a form of household labor).
So a new study asked, from data compiled in 2006, how does shared domestic labor affect sexual frequency and desire among heterosexual couples with children at home?
They found that gender expectations are changing. Couples with more egalitarian household responsibilities—women in these relationships still perform two-thirds of household labor, but men have doubled their housework since the 1960’s—are as satisfied with the frequency and quality of sex as couples where women do the vast majority of housework. In fact, egalitarian couples reported slightly greater satisfaction in these areas, although not enough to be statistically significant.
As one of the authors reports, “There’s a lot of evidence that men who engage with their children and are involved at home are sexy, and women who are strong and independent turn men on.” The caveat is when gender roles are reversed completely (5% of cases) where men do the majority of household labor.
As gender roles for heterosexual couples broaden, and partners are able to share more equally at home, it will be interesting to see how sexual research evolves, too. In the meantime, I wish the new study had made the same amount of internet splash as the New York Times article. As one mom wrote on my Facebook page when I shared the Washington Post report on the 2006 study, “This should be framed and hung in every room of the house!”
On September 20, I will give my first Skype workshop to a moms’ group, Centar za mame, in Belgrade, Serbia. What is interesting about this workshop is that I have been told that the topic of sex after childbirth is something no one talks about, at least not publicly, in Serbia. This isn’t surprising; there are many communities in the United States where conversations about sex as a new mom are pretty hush-hush.
What IS exciting is that this mom’s center is pulling out all the stops, they have hired an interpreter and contacted Belgrade’s top mom’s website, that will cover the workshop including posting a video of it to their website after the event. I will be sure to post here after the workshop about how it went. In the meantime, I am impressed and inspired by the interest and enthusiasm of the Center for Moms and am looking forward to our time together next weekend.
Sex after pregnancy. We know that usually pregnancy comes from sex. So why are there so few sex after pregnancy books out there?
My new book, From Ouch! To Ahhh…The New Mom’s Guide to Sex After Baby is full of the information and resources about sex that new parents need. To read an excerpt on any electronic device (including your home computer), check it out on Amazon. And here is a full list of where you can purchase your own copy.
From Ouch! To Ahhh reassures new moms that sexual difficulties are normal after childbirth and into the toddler years and provides practical, gentle advice based on sexuality research and my own interviews with new moms. A midwife told me one of the biggest needs new parents she works with have is for information about why sex is challenging after babies: what’s normal, what to expect, and how to talk about it, this book provides it. New moms tell me how alone and uncertain they feel about their lack of libido after pregnancy and the difficulties this causes in their intimate relationships, now they have a resource for these questions, and more.
From Ouch! To Ahh walks new parents through the following challenges: body changes, low libido, exhaustion, lack of time together, mommy burn-out, sex and the breastfeeding mama, sexual communication, sexual arousal techniques, and more….It also includes a section just for dads: everything you should know about sex with a new mom. This book is for any new parents, same sex couples, and heterosexual couples, wondering about sex after pregnancy.
If you are a midwife, doula, or health practitioner who works with new moms and would like more information, or to schedule a workshop with me. (I am available for Skype workshops and in-person.) For more information, please contact me at sarahjswofford.com.