While searching for a topic for this week's Science of Sex post, I came across an article on the Psychology Today website advising women what to do when they experience low libido after childbirth. The suggestions included: seeing a physician to rule out a hormonal imbalance; think arousing thoughts; give yourself permission not to feel aroused; go on erotic adventures to spice things up; and seek the help of a therapist.
To all of which I say, "Huh?"
I've given birth to two children, and let me tell you something. Hell yes, childbirth kills the libido, and nobody should be surprised by this. Post-partum, hormonal imbalance is the norm. The female body after pregnancy is a mess of hormones all working to do things like shrink the uterus, jump start milk production in the breasts, shed the excess hair grown while pregnant, etc., etc. Add to that the fact that a mom needs to care for her baby around the clock, and it's no wonder a woman's get-up-and-go decides to roll over and play dead.
(BTW, I am not implying that dads leave all the child care to moms. In my personal experience, dads help out a lot with child care. In fact, the Hubster often was the one who got up at 2 AM, changed the baby's diaper, and then brought her to me so I could nurse in bed. However, dads don't have to do those tasks after having pushed an object the size of a 2 liter bottle of soda out of their body through a hole the size of a grape.)
So the female body is a hormonal mess, and sleep deprived too boot. And often we've got lots of hair falling out (I swear, I thought I was going bald a few weeks after giving birth to both my kids) and our joints are all screwed up and we can barely walk without stumbling and our backs are killing us...
My point is, I frequently see advice columns like this advising new mothers how to get their sexual groove back, and my thought is, maybe we shouldn't be in that much of a hurry to get that groove back. The one bit of advice I saw in this particular article that made sense was "give yourself permission to not feel aroused." Because I'm of the opinion that maybe women aren't supposed to feel aroused once they've had a child.
I am constantly surprised at the expectation put on women to have libidos that work no matter what. And all the world is in search of a cure for the low female libido. But I wonder how often people stop to think that maybe a low libido in certain circumstances is normal. Maybe when the body is worn out, or has just had a baby, we're not supposed to be sexually active. I mean, just think. Getting pregnant too frequently is actually detrimental to women. A fetus in the womb draws everything it needs to grow from the mother, and if the mother isn't getting enough of something to support the growth of the baby and keep herself healthy, the body will simply continue to take from her to keep the baby going anyway. And if the mother continues to get pregnant, the body may continue to support her babies at expense to her, eventually wearing her out and killing her.
So maybe we're not supposed to be all on fire and in the mood for love after having a child. Maybe this is a safeguard to prevent women from doing damage to themselves, making them more capable of taking care of themselves and the infant currently in hand who depends on them for everything. Of course, such a safeguard will cause problems in a marriage if the husband feels he needs more physical intimacy and the wife simply isn't capable of giving it. Which leads me to wonder if maybe the human race is not made for monogamy after all. Maybe, speaking in biological terms, women are supposed to temporarily shut down the baby-making factory after they have a child and men are supposed to go off and find a new baby-making factory in order to spread their genetic material.
No sooner did I think this, than I came across this article, also on Psychology Today, about how sexual monogamy kills men's libidos. Interesting idea. This article states that "human beings are clearly evolved for sex lives featuring multiple simultaneous sexual relationships," and then went on to say that men in particular are designed to be attracted to sexual novelty.
What does this mean for our society today? Are we really not meant to be monogamous? Would we be better off if rather than insisting that one man stay married to one woman, we decided that it's okay to have multiple partners?
Or what if, as the second article suggests, we just let go of this idea that monogamous couples should still be having scorching hot sex even after they've been together for years? What if physical intimacy is supposed to give way to emotional intimacy over time?
It's a classic case of "you can't have your cake and eat it, too." You can't stay with the same partner for years, through child birth and the raising of children, through sickness and health, through wealth and poverty, and still expect after so much time and experience together that you will still rutt like rabbits in the spring. Nor can you insist that everyone at every age continue to have a raging libido and expect them to stay monogamous. If Viagra showed us anything, it was that reviving the libido led to the risk of killing the marriage.
Think about what you would prefer - a long lasting relationship, with the acceptance of decreased sexual activity over the years; or sexual adventures even into your nineties, but with no one long term relationship to come back to when you needed a safe harbor.
Or... or would you consider a polyamorous relationship? More than one partner, with maybe a long-term relationship somehow worked into the mix? Would it be the best of both worlds? Could all of society function like this, or at least concede that for some people, this might be what works best?
For good info on polyamory, I point you to Polyamory Weekly. This is a podcast that explores what it's like to be polyamorous in today's world and talks about a lot of things very useful in any kind of relationship - respect, honesty, communication.
Polyamory is something to think about. I'm not saying everybody should be polyamorous (personally, monogamy seems to work just fine for Hubster and me). But I am saying that as the world changes, our ideas of family and marriage are changing too. And I will definitely say that as writers of erotica and speculative fiction, we ought to be able to look at all sides of a relationship issue, including ones not normally accepted by society.
Polyamory, monogamy, low libido vs. high libido, expectations in the bedroom. All topics worth thinking about and asking questions about, especially in a scientific light.