Being a parent brings many joys into your life. But if the “sexless relationship after kids” trope is to be believed, a healthy sex life is not one of them.
As a mom to a small child, I know all too well how the demands of parenting can be exhausting, leaving little time or desire for sex. Caring for a little one left me feeling completely “touched out” at the end of the day and longing for space — a common problem among parents, particularly mothers.
“The last thing I wanted was more physical closeness from anyone by the time my little one was asleep,” says Alicia R, who says she didn’t have sex with her partner for nearly a year after the birth of her first child. “What ended up happening was my partner and I drifted apart and felt more like roommates than lovers, and we fought a lot more than we ever did. If I had it to do all over again, I’d make my relationship with my partner a priority, too.”
Fortunately, there’s good news for both new and seasoned parents alike: our sex lives don’t have to go the way of the dodo bird. Relationship counselors say couples who prioritize their relationship, share parenting and domestic responsibilities, and carve out time specifically for physical intimacy can maintain a healthy sex life, which in turn decreases your stress level, improves sleep, and contributes to an overall sense of well-being.
The Three Magic “S’s” to Help Improve your Sex Life as Parents
1. Stay Connected
It’s easy to become complacent about your relationship after kids, whether because the kids’ needs are so immediate and demanding, or because you simply feel too tired to devote energy to your partner. But there are benefits to maintaining a connection with your partner while you navigate parenting together.
“When your children are young, their demands are much higher,” says relationship expert and family care consultant Adina Mahalli. “But making time for your relationship in this season of life is essential.”
When both you and your partner prioritize your relationship, you’re less likely to experience resentment and irritation over little things that can drive a wedge between you. Prioritizing your relationship helps you reconnect with your partner as a lover and a friend and not simply “just’ your co-parent. And research shows that higher levels of connection lead to better and more frequent sex. Try to put time aside each day for each other — even if it’s just 30 minutes at the end of every day — to connect with one another.
It’s important to make sure childcare doesn’t dominant the conversation during this time, relationship coach Channa Bromley says.
“Conscious effort is required to maintain that sexual and romantic spark that created the children in the first place,” she says. “Leave love notes around the house for your partner to find, hold their hand, or give them gentle squeezes while standing in the kitchen.” The small gestures of love and connection can make your sex life that much better when you do have the time and desire for it.
2. Share the Load
Between laundry, dishes, cooking dinner, and constantly tidying up messes only for new ones to be made, household and parenting responsibilities can take a toll on your relationship. If one or both of you feel like your partner isn’t carrying their weight, this is a breeding ground for exhaustion and resentment and ultimately, your sex life may suffer. Research shows that when couples share household duties, they have sex more frequently. Talk with your partner and work out an arrangement that feels equitable and fair for both of you when it comes to sharing the load.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others, too. “Cultivate a large and reliable childcare support network,” Bromley says “Ask for help from others when you can — kids love going to their grandparents! — and outsource certain chores when you can.”
3. Schedule Time for Sex
If your household calendar looks anything like mine, it’s filled with extra-curriculars for the kids, doctor appointments, and various work engagements. But what you may be surprised to find on the calendar my partner and I use is a special symbol that essentially means “we’re getting it on tonight.” While this may seem to take all of the romance out of something that we’re often told should be spontaneous, it goes a long way in helping us make sure we maintain the physically intimate aspects of our relationship.
“Scheduling sex is a lot more romantic than celibacy,” says Baltimore-based couples counselor Raffi Bilek. “While spontaneity adds excitement to your intimacy, it doesn’t provide a great basis for long-term success in this area. Planning out times for sexual intimacy ensures that your connection stays alive.” Scheduling sex can build the rhythm you need in order for spontaneous sex to (eventually) occur.
That said, it’s important to stay flexible. If one of the kids is sick, the babysitter canceled or you’re just too tired, it’s okay to settle for Netflix with no chill sometimes.