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"I Just Don't Feel Sexy!"

QUESTION: My husband and I love each other and have the same goals in life, but everything we do is centered around our two-year-old daughter. When it is time to get in the mood I don't have anything left. I just feel like mom and don't feel at all sexy. I know he is ready and willing, but he doesn't want me to give "charity" sex. I feel guilty for not making my husband happy. I know he isn't feeling too self-confident because he feels that his wife doesn't want him. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Becoming a mother for the first time can be emotionally, physically and spiritually consuming. However, it is important to begin to separate yourself enough from your daughter so that you can refill your own batteries. This often means having some time to yourself, even if you simply sit and read a newspaper at a local coffee house while Daddy and daughter spend time together. When you recover your own individuality from total immersion in motherhood, you may find you have energy for your husband again.

What kinds of activities encouraged romance or passion in the past in your relationship? Can you begin to revive some of these interactions, even in a small way? Writing your husband a card, remembering a pleasurable or erotic moment you shared together before your daughter was born can be a start at rebuilding some passion in your relationship. Reintroducing music, flowers and candlelight after your daughter goes to bed may begin the intimate talks you need before you are ready to engage sexually. But this will probably not occur until you have some sense of yourself back first.

Now that you are a mother, what interests call to you outside of motherhood? Are there any classes you might enjoy? Clubs you would like to join? Friendships you want to have? Motherhood can be very isolating and babysitting exchanges, co-ops, or play groups may give you time to start to reconnect to others. Adult stimulation is necessary to spark your energy and develop your own avenues of interest. Your low energy may be in part due to depression and loneliness if you are not reconnecting with others or yourself by two years after the birth of your child. Depression diminishes libido!

You do need to save some energy not only for yourself, but for the relationship as well. Unlike the time before becoming parents, spontaneous adult time together does not just happen by itself. It must be scheduled, even carved out to make room for romance, passion and just plain adult relating and fun.

Once you have regained some of your own activities or interests and developed conversations with your husband, you may feel ready to get sexually reacquainted. Take it slow. Observe and appreciate the ways your body has changed after pregnancy and childbirth. Start out by simply taking a warm bath together, gently washing one another by candlelight if you wish. Do not plan on making love right away. First explore each other's bodies.

After bathing together, take turns caressing each other, but avoid genitals and breasts at first. Begin exploring one another's body through touch. Take turns as one person lies nude on the bed, allowing the other to gently stroke their body from head to toe. First lie on your back as your partner strokes you, then on your stomach, allowing him to touch you from your scalp to your toes. Share what feels good, how you like him to touch you now. Discover or rediscover what feels pleasurable to your partner now. Does he like a soft stroke? Does she like slow steady pressure or a lighter touch? Share what feels good. Have a "naked date " together without pressure to have sex.

Your couples' relationship does need attention for passion to remain alive. Acknowledge that you are renewing your marriage at this time by getting reacquainted with one another sexually and in other ways, too. Expect shyness. In some ways, spending time without your daughter will be like going on your first date together all over again! Catch up on the personal changes you have each experienced since you became parents. Daily walks and talks as well as candlelight dinners can help to refocus your relationship on intimacy and adult relating.

Without your renewed focus, the sexuality may indeed atrophy. But it is not too late to rebuild.

Your relationship is the garden in which your daughter grows. You will need to take time separate from her to nurture your relationship. But when you nourish your marriage, your child will also benefit from the increased love and passion that flows between the two of you.

By addressing your needs outside of motherhood, you teach your daughter that mothers are not just moms but people who have their own lives, too. You model for her what it means to be a woman in the family. She will learn that the vital role of mother need not eclipse her own sense of individuality and passion when she grows up!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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