Motherhood POV: I wasn't interested in sex anymore (Part 1, The Beginning)
Note before reading: My sex aversion was not caused by sexual trauma and thus my journey may not be helpful to those who struggle with sex due to sexual trauma. If this is the case for you, I recommend finding a counselor or therapist who is qualified in addressing sexual trauma.
I am a wife and mother of 4 young children. I spent the last 5 years of my life descending into, fighting against and, by the grace of God, recovering from an aversion to sex.
How can someone who has multiple children have an aversion to sex, you ask? Well, I didn’t always have the aversion – it developed around the time I was pregnant with our second child. I had no idea that it was such a common problem until after I recovered and I started noticing posts from other moms in my various private Catholic groups on Facebook who shared about their similar struggles. So many moms (in the thick of raising young children, expending so much of their physical and emotional energy, rediscovering who they are in their postpartum bodies that they don’t quite feel at home in anymore) are dealing with intimacy problems that range from simply struggling with getting “in the mood” at the end of a long day to drowning in a full-fledged aversion to sex (like I had).
Reading these posts and pleas for help, I was struck by how little I related to the advice given in the comment sections. Often the advice stressed the importance of foreplay, but for me, as you’ll see below, more drawn out and involved sex was not the answer. If this sounds relatable so far, I hope that my journey of overcoming these intimacy issues can help you feel seen and heard, but most of all I hope that I can give you hope that this is something that can be healed.
When my husband and I were engaged and preparing for marriage, I (a 20-year-old virgin) was both excited by and nervous about the now-very-real prospect of experiencing sex for the first time. Both of us remained virgins before marriage and I had no idea what to expect.
It was difficult for us to find helpful information on the Internet, and I was also the first of my circle of friends to get married, so I had no one with whom I felt comfortable discussing the topic or asking advice. Thankfully though, our combined lack of experience turned out to be totally fine, and even wonderful. Neither of us had previous partners to compare each other to and we enjoyed figuring it all out on our own terms, with lots of practice.
That first year of marriage was like everything I’d ever dreamed it would be and more. We frequently made use of a semi-awkward wedding gift from one of my husband’s relatives, which was a book full of romantic prompts for “him” and “her.” The “her” prompts were little activities or planned surprises the wife could do for her husband and the “him” prompts were activities and surprises the husband could do for his wife.
Almost every prompt in our book for newlyweds somehow ended with sex – give a massage, then have sex; bake a fancy dessert, then have sex; leave a trail of Hershey’s kisses from the front door to the bedroom, then (you guessed it) have sex. It was a lot of fun, and it made both of us feel so cherished and appreciated, but in a way, I think it set the groundwork for the aversion I would later develop.
We became pregnant with our first child about 8 months into our marriage and I was over the moon. Next to finally getting to have sex, becoming a mom was the life experience I was most looking forward to with marriage. I threw myself into researching birth and breastfeeding and I fully embraced my transition into my new identity as a mom. My husband was also all-in with parenthood preparation and it was another exciting period in our marriage, both of us watching the other blossom into newer, better versions of ourselves.
Early on in my pregnancy however, our marital intimacy took its first hit. In my first trimester, I felt constantly nauseous and sex was the last thing on my mind after a long day of holding back puke, or puking. My second trimester was a nice break from that and we resumed more frequent intimacy, but I wasn’t as excited about sex as I was prior to pregnancy. Then my third trimester hit and I ballooned up so big (eventually going 12 days past my due date after all was said and done) and sex just became plain uncomfortable and exhausting. But I didn’t despair; I figured that once baby was born and I healed up from the birth of course, things would go right back to the way they were before pregnancy. How wrong I was.
Then Comes the Baby in the Baby Carriage
Life with our first baby was a lot easier and more magical than I thought it would be. In that regard, we were blessed. She was a very “easy” baby and we were absolutely smitten with her. But even after I healed and was given the green light to resume sex by my midwife, I found myself in the same mental space regarding sex as I had been in during my second trimester. I’d do it if it was asked of me but I rarely wanted it, let alone initiated it.
My husband wasn’t too bothered by the change though. We were both satisfied enough in that department and we were busy enough enjoying life as new parents that we didn’t think much about it. I also learned somewhere along the lines that the hormones released during breastfeeding could have a negative impact on libido, so I just shoved any possible concerns I might have had at the time under the rug and went on with my life, again, assuming things would change on their own.
About a year after our first baby was born, we conceived our second child. I was excited about our newest blessing, of course, but it was certainly a lot different going through pregnancy while caring for a toddler. The morning sickness was more difficult. The exhaustion by the end of the day was on a whole new level. And somewhere in that blur of a pregnancy, my attitude toward sex took a dramatic downturn. Not only was I never interested in sex, by the second trimester I began to dread sex.
As a stay-at-home mom, I spent all day being smothered by an energetic and extroverted toddler for whom I was the sole companion most of the time. Not only was I her caretaker, I was her playmate. Apart from her nap times, I was constantly touched and tugged on and tackled.
As an introvert, I found it very difficult to adjust to this level of constant, intense interaction with another human being (especially while coping with the physical challenges of pregnancy). By the end of most days I experienced the phenomenon that many moms call being “touched out.” How could I possibly give my body to my husband after giving it to another (albeit smaller) person all day? But beyond the physical limitations I found myself hitting in regards to sex, I also found myself struggling with my identity.
The sexual component of myself that I found so much joy discovering in my newlywed days seemed to have disintegrated into a fuzzy black and white memory of a time gone by, never to be accessed again. At that point in my life, if someone asked me if I was fine never having sex again for the rest of my life, I would have replied “yes!” without an ounce of hesitation. I was now “Mom.” I was not a young sexy woman anymore (or at least I didn’t feel that way, despite being in my 20s). I couldn’t simply turn off “mom mode” like a light switch and turn on “sexy wife” mode just because my toddler was put to bed for the night. My mind was either trapped in a constant stream of mom-related to-do lists or completely zoned out in front of a screen during my coveted, escapist “me times.”
Confronting the Aversion
I tried to dissociate from the growing issue of my aversion by just talking us out of sex as much as possible. I offered up excuses that ranged from the classic “I’m not in the mood,” to “I have too many chores to catch up on,” but underneath the lid I slammed down on it, my intimacy issues grew and evolved into an impulsive rejection of literally any intimate gesture from my husband. I began almost instinctively, without conscious thought, pulling away from his hugs, swatting away his lingering hand on my lower back, and shrugging out from underneath shoulder rubs. This began to be too much for him, and rightfully so. At the end of his long work days, I was his comfort zone. He just wanted to reconnect with his wife. I sensed his frustration in his dejected stares but I just couldn’t shake the suspicion that his hugs and shoulder rubs were simply a pretense to sex which was something I avoided at all costs in those days. While laying in bed one night, already tense with anxiety about sex, my husband slid closer to me and I snapped. The dam had broken. The lid was off and I found myself sobbing while trying to both excuse and explain myself despite not really understanding how or why I had become so averse to his touch.
“It’s not you,” I sobbed, begging him to understand that I still loved him, but pleading with him to just accept my new normal, if it was possible. He was heartbroken, of course, to find out the true gravity of my situation, but it helped him immensely to hear me say that I still loved him and, in fact, I was still attracted to him – I just struggled with physical expressions of love now. He told me that, before knowing about the extent of my sexual aversion, he had begun to suspect that I had just fallen out of love with him. Hearing him say that crushed me, because it wasn’t true in the slightest. It made me realize that I needed to address the problem and work on healing from my aversion.
Thankfully, around the same time that I was finally coming to terms with my aversion, I had discovered a Catholic podcast geared toward “women who are tired of pretending and ready to be real.” If that tagline sounds familiar to you, you know I’m talking about Among the Lilies hosted by Cameron Fradd (highly recommend).
The topics she covered were all over the board, but all of them were helpful for Catholic women living in the 21st century. Earlier on in her podcast she decided to do a Patreon series all about sex that would only be available to her Patrons (listeners who support her financially on a monthly basis). She gave a brief summary of the topics that the series would cover during one of her normal “free” episodes of Among the Lily and one of the topics related to struggles with intimacy, specifically not wanting to have sex. It immediately piqued my interest and seemed like a direct answer to prayers since I felt so ashamed and embarrassed to ask any other of my now-married friends how they dealt with sex aversion (if it was even something they struggled with).
I’m so grateful that this podcast series came into my life when it did; I credit it with being one of the biggest reasons I was able to work up the courage to pursue healing. I won’t spoil too much of what the series covered because I don’t want to share private content (I highly recommend listening to it yourself – it’s helpful on so many levels, even if you don’t have the same struggles I did) but I will share some of the tangible changes I made to my life and my mindset, largely inspired by the series, that eventually led to my recovery.