Kelly Gonsalves
October 01, 2019 6:30 am
kate_sept2004, Getty Images

Sex creates parenthood, and parenthood destroys sex. That’s what the clichés tell us anyway—but in reality, it’s far from a hard-and-fast rule.

It’s totally normal for your sex life to ebb and flow over the years, even if you never have kids. As our circumstances, priorities, and bodies changes, so do our access to and interest in sex. And yes, research does show that parenthood in particular tends to have a notable effect on a couple’s sexual activity: A 2018 survey found that 47% of moms and 43% of dads felt like the quality of sex worsened after having kids, and that 61% of moms and 30% of dads felt a drop in their sexual desire. One study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that over 90% of new parents had at least 10 different distressing sexual concerns, including how much sex they were having, mismatched libidos, and the mother’s body image.

Some of the issue is physical: Research shows that 62% of women deal with pain during sex at seven weeks to three months postpartum, and some 33% still deal with it 18 months after birth. Meanwhile, parents tend to have an average of six years of disturbed sleep patterns after having kids—and I probably don’t have to tell you what exhaustion and lack of sleep do to your mood and sex drive.

Psychology can also play a big role. When I asked around, many mothers told me self-consciousness about their body’s appearance after giving birth contributed to their lack of interest in sex. (“Tell your wife you think she’s sexy and beautiful and a fertile earth goddess,” one woman told me when I asked what advice she had for new parents. “She’s not going to feel like one for a long time, but she needs to know you still have the hots for her.”)

But there’s good news: That 2018 survey found that 40% of moms and 47% of dads reported no change in their sex life after children, and some folks (13% of moms and 10% of dads) said the quality of sex actually got better.

If you’re wondering what separates couples whose sex lives take a dive due to becoming parents and those whose sex lives are unaffected, one important factor is the way the housework and childcare get done. Research shows heterosexual couples who divide up the chores evenly tend to have better and more frequent sex, and couples where the mom’s in charge of everything tend to have the lowest quality sex life. Another survey found that more than 50% of people say they’re more likely to have sex with their partner after they’ve completed the household chores, and over 60% said a clean bedroom makes them more likely to have sex.

To get a better idea of how having kids affects your sex life, here are parents talking about what sex after kids is like for them:

“Currently, sex has to be planned, unfortunately.”

My sex life is pretty nonexistent. My husband and I would love to have sex, but we’re too busy throughout the day with work and taking care of our almost-two-year-old son. And by the time bedtime rolls around, we’re too tired. If we do have sex, which currently is like once a month, it’s usually planned. Or it’s my husband randomly ready to do it during the middle of the day when I’m still in my pajamas and haven’t showered. At the moment, I watch a lot of porn and get myself off, which I’ve become pretty content with, sadly.

Currently, sex has to be planned, unfortunately. It’s something I really hate, but it doesn’t bother my husband and actually works for him. I need to feel sexy. I need to have actually showered. I need foreplay. What usually ends up happening is my husband says, “Let’s do it tomorrow during our son’s nap time.”

Being a parent is totally time-consuming. You don’t realize it at first, but your children literally take up every ounce of time and energy and there isn’t always time for yourself left over. It’s sad, but true.

—Woman (33) and man (41), parents to one kid (2), from Atlanta, Georgia

“I would choose sleep over sex.”

My sex life now (after three kids) is back to satisfying.  We have sex at least once a week.  There are challenges—will the kids wake up? Is it too late to have sex? Also, I gave up taking the birth control pill and feel that has helped improve my desire to have sex. We use other types of birth control instead.

We try to be spontaneous, but we know that we will definitely have sex on the weekend. It is usually in our bedroom but could also be in our basement. It’s usually between 30 and 45 minutes.

It changed drastically [after becoming parents]. We used to have sex almost every day. We had three children in five years. It was truly impossible to find time to have sex—let alone the desire to have sex. I would choose sleep over sex.

—Woman (47) and man (48), parents to three kids (12, 10, and 7), from Arlington, Massachusetts

“We have a great sex life.”

We have a great sex life. We probably have sex a couple times a week, and I think it’s because we have a really good, strong relationship. And we really like each other. [Laughs.] Which isn’t always the case with people, you know? I think that we prioritize our marriage and our relationship, and I think that it’s all connected and related and that’s why we have a good sex life. We haven’t fallen into the role that a lot of people do where they have kids and they’re just a parent. Our marriage is always a priority.

It’s definitely just spontaneous and typically in the evening after the kids are in bed. My kids are on a pretty good sleep schedule. Nobody sleeps in our bed. We’ve never done bed-sharing, which I think is probably not good for the sex life. I have friends who have done that, and I can’t imagine that it’s good for your sex life. Our babies, each of them have stayed in our room for between three and six months. … And even then, they’re babies, and they have no idea what’s going on. They’ll be in their bassinet next to the bed, and we’d still have sex. The kid would go to sleep, and we’d just have to be quiet.

After my first, it was really painful to have sex. We used lube, went really slow, and honestly it just felt like…I think people think the opposite after you have kids, like you feel stretched out. Well, it literally felt like I was way too tight, and there was no way that it was going to fit. It took like a handful of times after the first baby for sex to feel normal again. With that being said, my second was no problem.

—Woman (33) and man (33), parents to four kids (8, 6, 4, and 4), from Nashville, Tennessee

“It is hard to switch from mom to sex kitten.”

Shirley: As a parent, sex is USUALLY after we put our son to bed and have had a little adult alone time watching a show or movie. On the weekends, we have been known to put a movie on for our son and have a quickie upstairs. It’s never planned. Sex is pretty systematic these days.

[When we first became parents] I felt horrible. It took me a long, long time to feel sexy again and in turn want to have sex. We rarely had sex for probably almost 1.5 years after our son was born. For me, it is hard to switch from mom to sex kitten. Like, I was literally just making sure my son wiped his ass; please do not come at me asking to suck your balls, you know? The role switch is quite the mind game that I need time to process.

Jerry: When it happens it’s great. If not, it’s fine too. I know she has a lot on her plate, so if I want to, I grab her ass to see how she reacts and take it from there. I mean, yeah, it definitely did [change after becoming parents]. I tried to support her in her new mom role as much as I could. Sex was on the backburner, but I figured that was just part of being a new parent, you know? I took care of myself most nights for a while.

We have talked about it a lot, and she said that it’s harder for her to switch from mom to wife. Which I totally understood, but I don’t have that problem. It’s hard, but she is great, and we are getting our “groove” back.

—Shirley (30) and Jerry (35), parents to one kid (5), from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“I didn’t feel worthy of having sex.”

I did have a lot of postpartum after I had [my daughter]. And you know, your body doesn’t look the same, and you have all these stretch marks, and you go through this weird emotional time where you’re exhausted and you don’t eat or you overeat, and then you worry about the baby.

I thought it was more physical, but it was all mental…You feel empty after you have a baby because you’re so busy and worried about stretching and growing and taking care of this person inside of you that you forget your body is your body. It kind of feels like a shell for that person. And then once you have the baby, you feel nothing. You feel empty. You feel, like, “hollow” I guess is the best way to put it. So when somebody shows interest in you sexually, it fucks with you emotionally because you’re in your head. You feel like, “Well, I just gave birth. I don’t have anything to offer you.” When in reality, [it’s] the exact opposite. You got yourself back. You created life. You’re this strong, badass person that doesn’t realize what you did because you’re in such a mental fog because of the lack of sleep and the trauma that your body just went through, that the last thing you’re thinking about is what’s attractive and what’s not. And then, when you look at yourself in the mirror when you’re trying to give yourself a confidence boost, it’s nothing that you want to see.

I didn’t feel worthy of having sex. Whereas Joey was like, “Now we have the baby. Now we can get back to us.” He saw past all of that. He doesn’t care. He really doesn’t care. He helped me shave my legs. He really doesn’t care.

Your body is the easy part. It’s your head that has to recover after that. Because if your head’s not in sex, it’s not going to be fun. It’s going to be like another chore. And parents have enough shit to deal with. This kid shit all over my leg the other day. It’s not sexy. That’s not something that’s going to make me wanna go and jump on Joey. You know what I mean? It’s not gonna make me wanna suck his dick any better.

—Danielle (24) and Joey (25), parents to one kid (five months), from Spotswood, New Jersey

“We were both facing away from the door, doggie style, and I looked over, and our three-year-old had walked in.”

It is generally spontaneous, but at the same time before bed. In our bed, usually for 10-15 minutes. I’m addicted to using my vibrator during sex, but that’s been a thing since before we got together. We will rotate through a few positions and call it a night. We are pretty vanilla in what we like and not super kinky or anything unless it’s like a birthday or something. Ha!

Parenting has made us re-prioritize our life. We were in full party mode before I got pregnant. Basically spent Thursday to Sunday intoxicated, hooking up with various people, having fun—but [that’s] not a sustainable situation. Our single sex life with each other was intense, but there was no emotion to it. Parenting has forced both of us to reevaluate our life, party habits, and sex habits. Our sex life is now consistently better and emotionally much healthier. Overall, parenting has brought us incredibly close and actually deepened our sexual connection.

Recently, though, we had the tragic situation of our three-year-old daughter walking in on us for the first time. It was dark and we were both facing away from the door, doggie style, and I looked over, and she  had walked in and began crying hysterically right in my face. “YOU SCARED ME!” We were all traumatized, but next day just we just said it was a bad dream that made her scared. She seemed okay with that version. I’m not sure if that’s what the parenting books say you are supposed to say, but that’s what we are going with!

—Woman (34) and man (33), parents to one kid (3), from Nashville, Tennessee

“I’m too touched out from the kids.”

Sex is great when we manage to have it. Maybe twice a month? Could be two times the same week, then nothing for a few weeks. We’re pretty spontaneous, because you never know what’s gonna happen with the kids. Usually we’ve had a drink or two and are heading to bed a bit earlier than usual. One of us will hint to the other that we’re in the mood and see what the response is. If I’m the one to initiate it, he almost always goes for it, but not all the time. More likely I’m the one saying no because I’m not in the mood for physical reasons: my back hurts, I have a headache, I’m too touched out from the kids…I’m a stay-at-home mom, which can be very physically challenging! If you have a bad back and have to bend over many times a day to put on kiddo shoes and lift kids into the car and buckle car seats, it adds up to a lot.

I feel like at this point, we’re very…efficient lovers. We both know what the other one likes, so we know what to do and how to do it. Even with the problems caused by the antidepressants, we can usually get each other across the finish line in about half an hour, including foreplay. But that’s one reason why I think we don’t have sex as much as we used to. Like, for example, if my back was sore, in the past, Warren would have offered to rub it, and that massage would have loosened me up. Physical touch is one of my love languages, so just the fact that he cared and was spending so much time touching me could have led to sex. That scenario doesn’t happen anymore. I’m not totally sure why. I would for sure still love a massage, but his work has gotten more demanding—he had to get a more stressful job to so we could afford the second child, basically—so he’s on the computer working a lot at night. And when he isn’t, he just wants to zone out. I don’t blame him, but I miss the old days.

—Meg and Warren, parents to two kids (6 and 4), from Someville, Massachusetts

“I miss her.”

Amber: Our entire sex life is one big challenge. Matthew is a firefighter and works long hours, which means I watch the toddlers for long hours without a break. Most days [when] he gets home, I’ve had kids attached to me for 24 hours and need a big breather and space. Like, “no one touch me for hours” space.

The last time we had sex, I woke up at 4 a.m., put the toddler that was wedged between us in his own bed, and woke Matt up with a BJ before work. But that was rare. I am the instigator most of the time lately, but I think he is just so exhausted.

Matthew: Twice a month isn’t very satisfying, but with our schedules, it’s better than none. I miss her, and I’m hopeful it gets more frequent as the toddlers get older. Last night she slept in our four-year-old’s small bed with him because he had nightmares, and I woke up in the big bed with the three-year-old. It’s hard to get any when you don’t even sleep in the same bed.

She works late nights after watching the children all day as a mom blogger. I try to cheer her up with fresh-out-of-the-shower dances or shoulder rubs. She laughs and goes right back to work. When it does work, it’s a 5- or 10-minute session, and we both fall asleep.

Amber already had a daughter [when we first met], but [the sex] was more frequent, every night almost. Now it’s very infrequent and sad.

—Amber (35) and Matthew (35), parents to three kids (13, 4, and 3), from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

“Responsibility always trumps sex.”

I am a single parent and dating with a significant other. My sex life right now is pretty rare. When we get together, yes, it’s satisfying, but I’m an everyday type of girl, so I do have a vibrator. How often depends on both our schedules, but [we] usually [have sex] two to three times a month. He’s an everyday type of guy also, so I know that is hard. But since we don’t live together, we do as we can. He’s a partner in a company and a soccer coach for multiple teams, and I’m a single mama [with] multiple jobs and kids.

We always do a staycation. We get a room, turn off phones, and just [focus on] us. No outside world or distractions. That’s our time to reconnect. So he’s an all-nighter type of guy. He does not have quickie in his vocabulary. We like everything: romance, toys, sexy lingerie, pushing boundaries.

I have been a mom since [I was] 16, so society definitely judges you. [My sex life goes from] a very healthy sex life to the Sahara desert, nothing for years. Dating a single mom is not sexy. Responsibility always trumps sex.

—Becky (41), parent to three kids (24, 13, and 2), from Mission Viejo, California

“One day the kids will be on their own, and we still need to be in love.”

We have been having sex every day for a couple of years now. We aren’t super adventurous in our sex life, but we do things that we both enjoy, and the climaxes get better and better. He would have way more sex if he could, but we are just too busy during the day. One thing that we really love and have stuck to is that when the kids go to bed, that’s our time. It has to be something special to make us give that time up. The only challenges we really have are when our bodies are sore, and we have to be creative with positions.

We are flirty throughout the day. We grab each other’s butts, give kisses and hugs, and tell each other how we can’t wait for tonight. We have two teenagers and a 5-year-old. The 5-year-old goes to lie in his room at 9 p.m., and we tell the girls they have to have lights out at 10:30, but they have to be in their rooms at 9. This is mostly because our bedroom is on the living room wall, so we do this for privacy. So, we go to our room around 9, we watch something funny on Netflix, and we turn on a show we don’t care about when we are ready to have sex for some noise in the background. We’re usually going at it for about 15-20 minutes. We like to talk dirty to each other, nothing crazy, but it turns us both on. I also use a vibrator during penetration sometimes, and he loves that too, and the climaxes are amazing.

We can’t be as spontaneous as we used to be, especially with the 5-year-old, because he just walks in. We are working on knocking with him. After I had him, it was a bit of a struggle. Body image was not great, and I didn’t feel sexy. I also had some medical issues that affected our sex life, too. The biggest thing I can say amplified our sex life was when both of us started working out. We are both very fit now, and I feel freaking amazing naked. I didn’t realize how much losing weight or being in good shape would affect us in such a positive way. Our closets have full mirrors, so we also like to watch ourselves, which gets better and better as we get in better shape.

Being a parent is just busy and tiring. We don’t have sex during the day nearly as much as we used to, but we sneak in the bathroom for a quickie every now and again. We don’t feel there is anything to be ashamed about when it comes to having sex. We just try not to let the kids hear us. There was only a small period after we had a baby that things were a little crazy and sex happened less often, but I started working out when the baby was a few months old, and it’s just gotten better since then. We also have never co-slept with our kids for this reason. We believe our bedroom is our sanctuary for our relationship. One day the kids will be on their own, and we still need to be in love. Our marriage always comes first.

I would just say always remember that your partner comes first. Yes, we love our kids more than we thought it was possible to love someone, but the marriage is just as—if not more—important. It’s the foundation of the whole family. We believe if we take care of ourselves first, we will be better parents, spouses, and people for everyone around us. You can’t pour from an empty cup; you have to overflow it.

—Tiffinie (31) and Jason (41), parents to three kids (5, 16, and 17), from Tri-Cities, Washington

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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