Dear MKE SEX,
I’m on the struggle bus over here. I’m about seven months postpartum, and I’m still nursing our baby. I’ve been seeing a therapist for postpartum depression (which I had with our other two children as well). I literally feel like I’m coming undone most days. I am the heaviest weight I’ve ever been. I feel like shit. I am angry/irritable all the time. I have zero patience with my kids and have no motivation to do anything.
My husband and I were and having LOTS of sex for the longest time (yes, even right after baby). Then I got sick with a mega sinus infection and everything has pretty much gone to shit since then. He’s a physical touch person. I’m not. When we were being intimate on a regular basis, I felt better and we were closer. Since we sort of got out of that habit, I haven’t wanted it, and I feel resentful because it seems that it’s all he wants.
I just told him again that I literally never get time to myself, and he always responds with how we need to get back to having sex. I know he means well. And he never makes me feel bad about myself, ever. He is totally undeterred by my self-loathing. I just don’t know how to express myself without it turning into a fight all the time. I’m so tired of putting myself last. And I’m just really tired.
Bigger Than Baby Blues
I know you’re not asking for advice regarding your postpartum depression, but I just want to give you a lot of credit for meeting with a therapist. PPD is a real thing, and a super valid reason to be on the struggle bus. We are having a perinatal mental health crisis in the United States, and it’s so important to seek help and support.
It’s really common to experience wide fluctuations or even a total drop in libido in the months after you have a baby. For most of human history, we’ve just accepted this without understanding why. In the last few years, however, we’ve finally started figuring out exactly what’s going on. And it’s a lot!
When you’re breastfeeding, you’re releasing a hormone called prolactin every time you nurse. As it happens, prolactin is also released in large quantities when you’re sleeping, when you’re stressed, during periods of intense physical activity (training for or running a marathon, for instance), and during periods of illness. Prolactin is the hormone of satiation. It’s the hormone that tells you that you’ve had enough of something—including sex. As a matter of fact, you have a big old rush of prolactin when you have an orgasm (or have *the* orgasm you were waiting for). It sends the message, “Let me up, I’ve had enough.” High prolactin levels have been implicated in erectile dysfunction in people with penises.
Prolactin is also an oxytocin antagonist—get enough prolactin circulating in your bloodstream, and your oxytocin receptors get turned off. Most folks know that oxytocin is the “hormone of love.” We release oxytocin during consensual sex that we enjoy, during labor and childbirth, while breastfeeding, etc. We also release oxytocin when cuddling people we love, willingly performing acts of service for loved ones, sharing meals with friends and family, and basically any time we’re experiencing intimacy (sexual or otherwise). We become habituated to a certain level of oxytocin in our bloodstream. When we have an interruption in the intimacy that produces oxytocin, we can go into oxytocin withdrawal. Some of the symptoms of oxytocin withdrawal are anxiety, anger, sadness, even paranoia.
Still with me? Okay, so, you are producing prolactin. And while you were feeling sexual earlier in your postpartum period, it’s possible that ongoing sleep interruption from having a new baby, dealing with PPD, and recovering from a sinus infection increased your levels of prolactin. When postpartum people say, “I’m touched out, I’ve had enough,” it’s a literal thing. Their brain chemistry is saying, “I’m satisfied. Please stop.” It’s good to note that PPD can also increase prolactin levels.
And your partner is likely experiencing oxytocin withdrawal, leading him to be more aggressive and insistent about the sex he feels is missing. His brain is angry without its usual dose of oxytocin. And every time he gets close to you physically, that craving goes up, which may cause him to behave in ways that irritate (or infuriate) you.
What can you do about all of this? Start by sharing this information with your partner. When we know why something’s happening, it’s often easier to be patient. He can increase his own oxytocin levels by cuddling the other kids more, taking baths with the baby, spending time with friends and family, etc. (A reminder that acts of service for loved ones increase oxytocin levels may or may not be welcome, but is true nonetheless.)
If you want to try to increase your own libido again, you can try to get your own prolactin levels down a little bit. With a wee one at home, it can be difficult but you can try these things:
• More rest, either at night or by napping/laying down.
• Lots of fresh fruits and veggies for a strong immune system.
• Intentionally spend time unplugged every day. Turning off the screens for just 30 or 60 minutes per day can help.
• Try to let go of guilt for not doing/being what you think he wants right now.
Additionally, you can try increasing non-sexual intimacy. Make it very clear that you’d like to hold hands (or hug, or cuddle, or whatever it is), but that you do not want to have sex. If the two of you can manage it, non-sexual intimacy will help increase his oxytocin levels, and will help retrain your brain to recognize him as a safe place to relax into. That can be super valuable in terms of staying connected until you’re feeling sexual again.
Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at [email protected] and she’ll get back to you with an answer.