By Erica Viedma
First comes love…
Push the parenting books aside for a minute and forget about the kids because this book is adults only. Sex and Intimacy After Childbirth – rediscovering desire in your relationship by Martien Snellen, is for all couples who have been through a change in their relationship and specifically for new parents. You do not have to have a sexual pathology or even difficulties with your partner to find this book useful. It’s about taking stock and remembering how things used to be. You often hear talk about how relationships change after you have kids, but Snellen challenges you to keep things alive with hard work and lots of communication.
The first half of the book outlines the personal, physical and social issues surrounding sexuality and parenthood. Everything is covered from fatigue, birth trauma and post-natal depression to coitus interruptus, sensory overload, in-laws and cultural inhibitions. The tone reminds me of attending an antenatal class with plenty of real life to enliven the scientific evidence. Did you know that due to hormones, the longer you abstain from sex, the easier it is to live without it? The reverse is also true because apparently the more sex you have the more you want. Which must explain the old “give them an inch and they want a mile” problem. It is reassuring to know that some difficulties are simply biological.
Sex and Intimacy puts your sex life into a broader cultural context. As Snellen points out mother does not usually equal sexy in our culture. There is nothing sexy about dishes, laundry and nappies. Although it is not all down hill post-partum, those of you familiar with the term M.I.L.F (Mothers I’d Like to F***) will know that there is indeed a market for the sexy mother.
The second half of the book is the self-help part. In lieu of sex tips we get relationship counselling: “try sharing the housework”, “have a project outside work or family”, “start talking”, “challenge your body image”, “be patient”. All areas of your relationship become part of the sex equation. Everything becomes foreplay and foreplay becomes everything. Snellen challenges you to prioritise your partnership and not to be content with the same old routine (sexually or otherwise). If you work eighty hours a week with no personal involvement in child-rearing or house keeping can you expect your partner to lay out the welcome mat in bed at the end of the day? Snellen talks about sex as a privilege not a need, and as such says it must be earned. “We teach our children that they don’t get dessert until they finish their main meal. Why should it be any different for grown-ups?”
Sex and Intimacy is not like reading cosmopolitan, so you do not find out how often most people have sex, only the very mature concept that it does not matter how often you have sex a week compared to other people. What matters is that you are both happy and satisfied within your relationship.
So the challenge is to re-ignite your friendship with your partner and talk about something other than kids or work for a change. Co-existing with your partner is not love; you need to nurture your intimacy. By investing energy and time into this book you can take a step in the right direction.
This is an important parenting book. Snellen may be writing for the adults but his wisdom affects our children. My hope is that our kids will know love because of how their mum and dad look at each other.
Sex and Intimacy After Childbirth – rediscovering desire in your relationship
by Martien Snellen
The Text Publishing Company 2005