Having kids is a lot of things—fun, fulfilling…even life-affirming. But it’s also exhausting, time-consuming…and brutal on your body. For all of these reasons, it can make sex feel like one more check mark on an already overloaded mental and physical to-do list. We went to one of the top experts in the country, Ian Kerner, PhD, to ask for his best advice on this important topic.

He’s the bestselling author of She Comes First, lectures on sex and relationships at places like Yale and Princeton, is quoted frequently everywhere from The New York Times to The Atlantic, and perhaps most relevant, is a father to two boys. And he says that, yes, sex after kids isn’t always easy. “I often hear about how hard it is to make time for sex, and how the desire for sex doesn’t have the same sense of urgency of imperative. A lot of women also tell me that they feel a sense of pressure to have sex, and they’re generally aware of their partner’s desire for sex, so sometimes they get into a “dance of avoidance” around sex or sex starts to feel like a chore,” notes Dr. Kerner. Here’s what he says parents can do to get closer to our partners:

Get a Check Up
One of the most common complaints from women is that sex is painful—and that’s not something you should simply be pushing through, says Dr. Kerner. “You should never have sex if it’s a source of pain—that will only decrease your interest and incentive to have sex. Certainly there can be hormonal changes after having children that might lead to changes in the vaginal eco-system, so checking in with you OBGYN is important,” he says.

Think Outside of Intercourse
While painful sex might stop intercourse, it doesn’t have to completely shut down your sex life, notes Dr. Kerner. “Shifting from intercourse-based activities (that emphasize penis in vagina) to outercourse-based activities (stimulation of the vulva and clitoris via manual and oral stimulation) might be advisable, depending upon the source of the pain—and of course, lube, lube, lube. Try a good water-based or silicone-based lube,” suggests Kerner.

Stop Hoping for Spontaneity
Instead, Dr. Kerner suggests figuring out what really paves the way for you and your partner feeling intimate—and what stops it in its tracks. “The sexual brain has two systems that operate like a brake and accelerator on a car. More than likely, there’s a good on the brake more than there is on the accelerator. What are the excitors that turn you on and get you sexually excited? A fantasy? A kind of touch? Taking time for yourself? And what are the inhibitors that turn you off? A kid in the bed? Fatigue? A list of chores? Work with your partner on reducing inhibitors and increasing excitors,” says Kerner.

Focus on Connection, Not Sex…
“Sex is important, but just as important is maintaining an erotic connection with your partner that doesn’t always have to be about sex,” says Kerner, who adds that libidos always ebb and flow and that’s totally normal.  What gets a relationship into a danger zone is a complete lack of touch or flirtation. “Just because you’re not having sex every day doesn’t mean you have to let go of a little sexiness every day. It’s important to feel sexually/erotically connected to your partner — that come up in the form of a hug, a kiss, a squeeze, a touch, a sexy thought or fantasy. Even if you’re having sex one a week, every other week or once a month, you don’t have to lose the sexual thread in your life and relationship,” says Dr. Kerner.

…and Don’t Give Up
Parenting young kids is a crazy journey, and Dr. Kerner says sex can help you weather it.  “It’s actually a kind of glue that keeps you connected to your partner and provides a relationship resilience that allows you to get through many of the challenges of raising kids and maintaining a family,” says Dr. Kerner. He adds: “Sometimes being a parent is all about surviving, but with a little bit of sex you can go from surviving to thriving.”

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