I’ve never understood the expression “it’s just like riding a bicycle”. I’ve actually not ridden a bike for a long time and it wasn’t easy to start riding again! The same can be said for postpartum sex. Mums can stop for weeks, months or years after birth, and it can be painful to restart. “It feels like the first time”, but over time the riding rhythm returns.

Painful sex after birth has many causes, and having a cesarean section doesn’t mean you’ll be pain-free. Painful sex shouldn’t be long term, so if it is we need to talk.

Postpartum dyspareunia exists and here’s what you need to tell your pregnant friends!

Dyspareunia means persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse. 10-28% of heterosexual women are likely to experience it in their lifetime. In the US, it’s estimated 50-60% of women have dyspareunia 6 to 7 weeks postpartum, and 33% and 17% still report pain during intercourse three and six months after delivery, respectively. Another study found the overall prevalence of postpartum dyspareunia is 35%, with 43% of mums experiencing dyspareunia within 2-6 months postpartum.

 

Why does sex hurt after birth?

 

Pelvic floor changes

The pelvic floor muscle is under strain during pregnancy and weakens. During vaginal birth, the muscles and ligaments can be pulled and stretched even more, and they need time and exercise to recover and rebuild their strength. Until then, penetrative sex can feel like pushing on a pulled hammy. We also don’t want to overwork the pelvic floor and make it too tight because that can also cause painful sex.

Vaginal Dryness

Due to lower levels of oestrogen, as your hormones rebalance, your vagina can be dryer than usual. This is particularly prevalent for breastfeeding mamas whose levels of oestrogen are even lower.

Scar tissue or tightness

If during a vaginal delivery you have torn or had an episiotomy, the skin and tissue around the perineum or vulva (some women tear upwards or sideways) need nurturing to heal and regain their elasticity. The vagina itself can also feel tight.

A wider and looser vagina

As the uterus shrinks back to its pre-baby size, so does the vagina. Yet it can feel “open and loose” for a while. Your vagina may also not return to its pre-baby shape and this change in size or shape can cause different sensations to what you experienced before.

General soreness

Your genitalia can be sore for many weeks after birth as the whole area heals and returns to a pre-baby state (or close to). 

Prolapse

Symptoms of prolapse cannot only be embarrassing (cue incontinence) but they can also be uncomfortable (“feels like an egg falling out my vagina”). Penetrating a vagina that already feels full can be painful.

 

Here at Authentic Awareness, it’s all about pleasure, fun and connection! Painful and uncomfortable sex block our exposure to pleasure and connection because we are so busy worrying about how things feel so it’s important to stop the pain to prevent long term issues.

 

Here are 3 ways to relieve postpartum dyspareunia and make sex pleasurable:

 

Lube Up

I cannot reiterate the importance of lubricant enough for anyone BUT, particularly for new mums. Lubricant is important for preventing the labia from being pulled into the vagina on penetration and reducing pain and discomfort internally during intercourse by decreasing dry friction. My new go-to is Lucy Lube. It’s the thickest water-based lubricant I have discovered to date and a thicker longer-lasting consistency is good for…well…everyone!

Finesse your Foreplay

Slow and steady foreplay is essential to make sure you are aroused. “Doing it to stop someone bugging you” isn’t going to get you anywhere because:

  1. it’s not enjoyable
  2. you aren’t emotionally connecting to your partner
  3. arousal produces natural lubricant and elongates the vaginal canal which provides more space for a penetrating object and reduces pain.

Spend time enjoying sex (it’s not just about intercourse). Get to know your partner and get to know yourself again and what you like.

Relaxation Breathing

When it’s time for penetration use your relaxation breathing. Take a deep breath in and on exhalation consciously relax your vagina. It helps to slowly relax and open up to a new sexual activity or penetrative depth. You don’t need to swallow the whole cucumber in one go, suck it up in bite-size pieces!

 

For more information or to talk about postpartum dyspareunia hit contact now and send me your questions.

Author: Vanessa Tarfon