Some woman find having a baby very sexy. Giving birth and breast- feeding makes them feel powerful and enhances the sense of themselves as sexual and sensuous beings. Loss of desire, on the other hand, is very common, particularly in first-time mothers. More than 50 per cent of women, according to Juliet Rix in the recently published Is There Sex After Childbirth? take more than a year to get their sex lives back to "normal" after the birth of their first child.
The after-effects of birth play a part. It takes time to recover from stitches, episiotomies, painful breasts and even a "normal" delivery. Penetration can cause pain weeks, even months, after labour. Also, if the woman is breast-feeding, reduced levels of the hormone oestrogen can cause dryness in the vagina, so even if she does feel like having sex, it may be uncomfortable.
Then there is exhaustion. The totally spent feeling that can follow labour and the dragging tiredness of the early months can mean the only thing new mothers crave is mad, passionate sleep. Sex is a loss of valuable sleeping time. However, post-natal celibacy goes much deeper than the purely physical. Sex is part of something much wider. It is part of adjusting to the different roles and the complex psychological changes that women go through when they become mothers. "The impact of having a child is much greater on a woman than on a man," said Penny Mansfield, of One Plus One, the marriage and partnership research organisation. "A woman's sense of identity is totally changed when she becomes a mother and that can be quite destabilising." The birth itself can leave some women feeling violated and exposed. The medical intrusions - internal examinations, being stitched up, the instructions to "open your legs", "show me your tummy", can make a woman feel her body has become public property. Even after the birth, in a subtle way, her "boundaries" are being breached by bleeding, leaking milk and the very physical demands of a new baby. It can make her feel that her body is no longer her own. By the end of the day she is all kissed out and sex seems yet another demand. Another contributory factor can be what Joan Raphael-Leff, psychoanalyst and expert in pregnancy and motherhood, calls "the mother/ sexual woman divide". …