Sex after kids explored in a Q&A with author Kimberly Ford.
After writing about sex and parenting for various publications, author Kimberly Ford realized these were hot topics for a book ("sex sells!"). The result, Hump: True Tales of Sex After Kids. The mother of three lives with her husband and kids in Menlo Park, Calif., but we managed to squeeze in some time to ask her about erotic dancing, Brazilian waxing, vibrators, communication, private time — and how these all contribute to having a healthy sex life after having kids.
1. From all the stories that you collected in your book, would you say that across the board sex lives get better after kids?
I actually think it's the opposite. I think the jury is still out as to whether or not kids are good for marriages, period. There is a psychological study that says that 83% of couples suffer some sort of moderate to severe crisis after kids come into the picture.
So I think the answer, at least initially, is that no, in fact kids are not at all good for your sex life. One of the most important things about the book though, and the final chapter goes into this in some depth, is that the experience of going through pregnancy, childbirth, and later child-rearing with someone else allows for a whole new level of trust and familiarity when your husband is seeing your body going through all sorts of changes and all sort of trauma.
2. You mentioned that having a child is the official transition from girl to woman. Can you expand on that?
It's just such an enormous experience in terms of what your body is actually physically doing, but also in terms of recognizing that your body really has a purpose. Your body is not there to look attractive; it's not there to be seen; it's not there to be worked out at the gym.
In fact, one of its main purposes is to procreate. This sense of knowing your body's worth, and all these amazing things your body can do, I think can enhance women's own self-respect, in terms of "Wow, this is what my body is capable of doing." Certainly bodies take a toll during the course of pregnancy and childbirth, and child-rearing.
I think for a lot of women too there is a maturity that comes with motherhood—that is another transition. So there's the physical transition from girlhood to womanhood, and then there's also this sense of having a larger purpose. Whatever your work-life may be, the fact is, you're responsible for someone else's wellbeing, and that's a very big thing. And it's super rewarding. I think most people would tell you, what our parents would say, that that's the most rewarding thing that they do, also the most challenging.
3. How do husbands either help or hinder the path that women take after kids to get back to feeling sexy?
That's a very good question. I think that probably husbands hinder more than they help. But I think it's entirely subconscious. Everyone is under a lot of stress. I remember missing my husband all day long, and I couldn't wait for him to get home. But then he'd walk through the door and I'd think, "Oh my God, what an asshole!" just because he wasn't in the trenches with me all day long. And I think there is a lot of that sort of tension.
Then of course, there's the tension from the father's side, which is that, you know, this is a person you're supposed to be physically intimate with—especially if you're in a monogamous marriage—and if that person is not feeling like she's wanting to be physically intimate then that's frustrating for everyone. So there's tension there. One of the most important things about the book is that the inspiration and the motivation needs to come from the woman.
Her body has been the site of the trauma of pregnancy and childbirth and her body, in most cases, is the one that's being tugged on all day long and sat on and burped up on. So really, the woman needs to find a way so that she's the one who's feeling good about any sort of sexual interaction.
One of the problems is that women feel like "My husband is just always wanting to have sex and I'm not." And again, there are psychological studies that prove that three years after the baby's born men are having three or four sexual urges a day and women have one every three days, or something.
So there's that natural disparity, but I think if a woman can find a way, whether that's through better communication with her spouse or whether that's a girl's night out, whatever it is that makes her feel more in touch with the sensual part of who she is. If a woman can find that, then in fact there are lots and lots of benefits to be had from the physical intimacy that you can maintain with your spouse.
4. What are some activities that mothers can do on their own, fathers can do on their own and then what can couples do together to help maintain a relationship?
There's a lot of practical information in the book although it's mostly full of anecdotes. I think one of the important things and one of the basic messages is just to prioritize things differently. If you can find a way, as a mom, to let the dishes pile up or let the dust bunnies accumulate — if you can let go of some of that stuff in the name of some physical intimacy then I think that's a huge step in the right direction. The fact is, your husband would rather have take-out than a home-cooked meal if it means you're going to get to bed 20 minutes early and have your needs met.
I also think that luckily we're getting a bit away from the cult of the child. Meaning that, for a long time there's been this sense that we have a lot of information and women are trying to raise the safest, happiest, healthiest, most well-adjusted children.
The fact is, providing them an image of a successful marriage is really an important part of raising happy kids. If you can let them sit in front of the TV for an extra half-hour in the early evening—when you might be more in the mood—rather than at 9:30 when everyone is trying to get to bed, then that's a better strategy for everyone. So, one of the things to do as a woman is to let go of some of the household responsibilities and then give yourself a break in terms of the parenting.
We do something called Private Time which just means the kids know they're not supposed to bug us, so that might be a glass of wine on the couch, it might be us chatting on the porch, but mostly it's us upstairs behind closed doors. The kids love it because it means that they get to watch an extra half-hour of video or they get to play on the computer, or whatever it is that they're doing. And everyone's safe.
I'm not sure that they understand at all what's happening, but the fact is, it gives us some flexibility and convenience. So you can find time on a Saturday afternoon instead of waiting until everybody's exhausted at 10 o'clock that evening.
5. Is there one key that you would recommend for a happy marriage?
I think probably the most important thing—and it's difficult—is communication. We didn't ever really have a big crisis in this department, but from people who've had a harder time, I think that communication is very, very important.
And I've had friends say that it's important to communicate outside of the bedroom, meaning go and talk about this stuff over a cup of coffee or somewhere where the woman isn't feeling put-upon. So it's not that she's expected to have intercourse with her husband when there's lots of tension, it's that they're going to try and communicate.
Not necessarily for a happy marriage but for a happier sex life, one of the keys, for a lot of women, is to find some sort of personal massager that is making it easier to have an orgasm. Literally, if you're looking at a fifteen-minute Private Time, then you don't have the hour and a half that you used to have, or the forty-five minutes or even the half-hour.
Everything is condensed, and if that is always translating into a quickie for the man, then that's not very satisfying. We didn't use any sort of vibrators or anything until after our second kid was born, and it was like a revolution.
Because suddenly, if it's better for both parties then both of you are going to be more interested in initiating. And it's just much more efficient, which sounds terrible to people who don't have kids, but the fact is, it needs to be somewhat efficient or else it's not going to happen in a household with lots of young children.6.
6. The people you mention in the book who'd experienced infidelity all had glossed over doubts about the relationship earlier in the marriage—have there been similar doubts in the minds of friends who haven't dealt with infidelity?
The nice thing about the book is it's optimistic—we joke that it's a celebration of monogamy, only to sort of offset the kind of wry tone of the title. But it is a celebration of monogamy, and there are twelve people, six couples at the heart of the book. And they are all people who've worked pretty hard on their marriages and so we collectively are very candid about why it works and why it doesn't.
The interesting thing for me, I interviewed three different women who all are divorced. And all divorced, in part because they were unsatisfied with the sexual part of their marriage. But in every single one of those cases, the women had had doubts even as early as their wedding night, if not before.
So, I think what happened in all three of the situations, which was interesting, is that the kids became the focus for both parents. I think that happens—if parents are having a problem it's easier to focus on the kids than to hash out what's actually happening. But if you have doubts very early on in the marriage and things are deteriorating then the natural thing is to focus on the kid, to the detriment of the marriage.
But again, it doesn't quite fit with the book because the book is an optimistic look about how you can maintain a healthy monogamous relationship. And one of the keys is, too, that if you're going to have sex with the same person for the rest of your life, you've got to figure out some ways to make it interesting and creative.
And I actually think, the years when you have young children are a good time for that because often you're having to explore. Maybe you discover pornography, like we did. I mean, that was something that I thought was terrible and then suddenly it is something that, in fact, is a useful tool. Same thing with a vibrator or maybe there are different sorts of sexual things that are exciting for a couple that they would discover in times of stress.
7. You're familiar with Esther Perel and Mating in Captivity. She talks about switching gears from being a wife and mother—a caregiver, to being a sexual partner and a woman. Would you agree it's an effort?
Yeah, I think that's a real challenge. My experience was a little different in that I was in graduate school when I had my first baby and I didn't have any help. I thought I wanted four children, and I thought that this whole motherhood thing was just going to be so fulfilling and my doctoral studies would just sort of disappear, and that this would be it. In fact, it was really difficult and those were some really dark days when the kids were super young.
So, my husband would get home and I literally would be like, 'We have to go to the bedroom right now and do this' because it was the way I was maintaining some semblance of self that wasn't totally eclipsed by the baby. At the end of a long day of chatting with moms at the park or going to a play group or going to Gymboree, or whatever my day had been full of — and lots and lots of conversation, very important conversation about how to get the baby to sleep through the night, or how to get your body back — I just felt like I needed to be an adult. Frankly, sex is a very efficient way to feel like that.
So, as long as it's on the woman's terms, and you don't feel like you're only pleasing your man or something, I think it's a very powerful way to switch gears. Oftentimes, that would be something that would happen right when he would get home. Which, I think, sometimes he would be like, "Whoa, I think I need to say hi to the kids," and I'm like, "There will be time for that!"
It was just very important for me to feel like I was still a wife and a woman, not just a mother. So, I think it's difficult to switch gears. And there's all that stuff in the 1950's about how you're supposed to change outfits and put on some make-up before your husband gets home and make sure that you don't just talk about your day. I was enraged when I first read some of that stuff, but I also feel like there's something to be said for the woman.
I'm certainly not advocating putting on make-up when your husband arrives home, but if you can do something to make yourself feel like you're out of the mom mode and into a different mode. I actually think that's very important for the woman as well, just for your sense of self.
Women are actually in a pretty good bargaining position here. I think the standard thing is that the husband is sort of ready to go and the woman is not. If you can bargain with your husband and say, "I'm more than happy to spend a half-hour in the bedroom with you, but I need to take a walk around the block first, or I get to have a glass of wine and go out and look at a magazine on the porch for 20 minutes.
Or, I get a soak in the tub afterward, or you take the kids to the park for a half-hour." I think that there can be some bargaining. If you can have some of those needs met, then you're more likely to feel in the mood or feel like you're wanting to respond well to some sort of sexual nuance. There is that importance of putting yourself first, and putting your needs as a woman first, ahead of the kids or the dinner, or whatever.
8. What was the most surprising thing you uncovered while writing this book?
One of the things—and it's a big topic right now—is the notion of hair removal. There's a funny chapter about that. Actually the same thing happened with pornography. I used to have very strong stances about natural bodies, and that pornography was terrible and awful. I realized then at some point that my feminist prerogative was such that I could make a decision, and that if watching pornography was arousing for me then there were certain situations where that was okay.
And the same thing with the hair removal. My younger sister had gone and gotten her first Brazilian waxing, and she said, "You really need to do this." At that point I had little kids and I'm like, "Look, I don't really believe in all of that and I don't really care about the whole bikini line and whatnot." And she said, "It's really not about the bikini line, it's much more about sensation."
9. So would you say that your sex life has improved?
Absolutely. I think that when you have young kids, I certainly wouldn't expect any sort of improvement. In fact, I think there is a pretty serious dip for most people in terms of satisfaction. But again, if you've figured out ways to be more creative, and you've figured out ways to have sex with very young children in the house it means that you're pretty motivated and you're pretty creative about your sexual activities. So I think, in the long run, it does, in fact, mean that you have better sex.
One other thing that we laugh about: I have a good friend, she has four kids and—this was before the 101-day people and the 365-day people —[she and her husband] were trying to have sex everyday for a while. And she said that she was thinking of it just like exercise.
You know, that it never ever sounds like a good idea to go for a jog, but once you've started it's not that bad, and then once you're into it, it's actually sort of pleasant, and then when you're done, you're always glad you did it. So if you take that exact analogy, and you apply it to sex—I mean, it's not easy to exercise when you have young children either, but it is important. Once you can get yourself going, once you're over the hump, then you're good!
10. Tell me more about the erotic dancing sessions that you organized.
My sister who is quite a bit younger than I am had this woman come in San Francisco and facilitate an erotic dance class when she was doing a bridesmaids' weekend away. And I realized that in fact these young girls, you know, these nubile lovelies who were, like, 23 did not need the erotic dance as much as we moms did. So, it was shocking, here in sleepy Menlo Park, we had six dance classes.
Some women, it was not their cup of tea. But it was shocking, actually, how much people loved it. My good friend, actually, installed two poles in her living room and so we did a pole-dance class at her house one evening.
The interesting thing was it wasn't really about the husbands. And believe me, nobody was arguing about babysitting that night, and there were lots of jokes about how all these dads were going to be waiting up for the moms who were arriving home.
But it was so empowering because for a lot of these women to rediscover themselves in a group like that—and you know, how many people have done a striptease at all, or even lap dancing or any of the rest of it? Not to mention fun and silly.
People ask how much of that got brought back into the bedroom. I actually don't think much of it got brought back in verbatim, but I do think it gave confidence. If you felt like you could give a decent lap dance or walk like a stripper walks down a runway or whatever, then it does give you confidence. That translates well—not exactly the dance moves themselves, but the confidence.