“Sex drive’s decent energy. Y’ can’t argue about that. Keep sex drive all bottled up inside and you get dull-witted. Throws your whole body out of whack. Holds the same for men and for women”― Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
So. This is a weird time, isn’t it? With the coronavirus causing havoc around the world and as many of us as possible living in lockdown, we are having to change almost every part of how we live our lives. We’re working from home and not going out; we’re communicating through video calls and we’re crossing the street to avoid strangers. Our lives are utterly different and I don’t know if they will ever return to how they were before. There’s a lot that terrifies me – further economic recession, soaring death rates, the likely far-reaching health consequences of this emergency – and there is a lot that gives me hope. The coming together of communities, the acknowledgment that some of our lowest paid workers hold crucial jobs needed to maintain society, the acceptance that underfunding the NHS for more than a decade has pretty fucking awful consequences… But there is no denying that whatever happens next, good or bad, our world is no longer the same, and it’s going to take some adjustment to settle into our place in this new world.
This might seem like a weird segue but there is a lot about this upheaval that has reminded me of the psychological shift that I have had to make during the last year and a half, when I have gone from woman to mother. When our daughter was born, the ground beneath my feet changed. Forever. Becoming a mother nearly 16 months ago has had a genuinely life-changing impact on me and who I am and, again, even though I was warned, it’s been harder than I expected. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s been harder in ways that I didn’t expect.
Oh, it’s also been more wonderful than I expected and having our girl is honestly the best thing that I have ever ever done. She is the best girl in the world and I don’t think that’s maternal bias – it’s a fact. And I love EA so much more because he is such a fantastic father. It’s proven again to me that love is infinite; I’d thought I’d loved him as much as it was possible to love someone but seeing him with our girl makes my heart swell even more. And that’s not including how much love I feel for her and how that grows as she gets bigger and more interesting! Looking at her makes me happy, looking at them makes me happy. Our family just makes me so happy!
But despite all of that, despite loving her and our bigger family, I have struggled with being a mother and I do miss who I was before. Specifically, I miss the sexual person I was before she was born, before I was pregnant, even before we were trying for a baby. I miss the person who wanted to have sex all the time, just for fun or because I was horny. Frankly, I miss feeling horny! And it’s been such a long time since I felt like that – essentially our sex life and what sex has meant to me has been different since the end of 2017. Although we really got down to trying for a baby when we got back from our honeymoon in January 2018, we were having unprotected, contraception-free sex from the middle of December 2017 and this one change meant that sex already felt different. And, wow, December 2017 feels like an age ago.
I miss 2017 me because 2020 me has no libido. None. Now, this lockdown and the coronavirus fear (because I knew, I knew, an infectious disease would get us) has further dented my libido but, honestly, it didn’t have much further down to go. Sex isn’t natural for 2020 me; it takes effort and planning and, honestly, it usually takes initiation by EA as otherwise I tend to, well, fall asleep once we get into bed. Love may be infinite but energy is not and I am just so tired all the time. Our bed is a place to sleep and I crash out as soon as my head hits the pillow.
Worse, when we do have sex, I am still fucking exhausted. Oh, I enjoy it and I’m always pleased when we do have sex…but I know that the sex has a tendency to be more functional than it was before. Less indulgent and more wham bam thank you ma’am, and now I can go to sleep. Not always, but more often than I’d like. And it makes me sad.
It makes me sad because I miss long, luxurious, hedonistic sex. I miss spontaneous quickies and I miss having sex because I can’t lie naked next to him and not fuck him. And I do want sex. Rationally and emotionally, I want sex, but also I don’t want it as I know I need sleep more, and so I kid myself that maybe if I sleep today, I’ll want sex more tomorrow. But tomorrow comes earlier than expected as our girl chooses to wake at 5:30 rather than 7 and the exhaustion cycle starts all over again…
I’ve spent a lot of the last year in denial, never quite accepting that I was so far away from the person I wanted to be. Sex in the first few months after her birth was so much better than I expected that I have been completely blindsided by how my libido just fell off a cliff as she got older and the pressure on my time increased. As my baby and I fell into a routine that worked for us, I fell into a rut with my body too. I knew it worked; I knew my body would do what I wanted when I wanted it so I didn’t pay it enough attention. I just needed more sleep, I told myself. I just needed to shower more, I just needed to take more care of my appearance, I just needed to prioritise sex again. It was that simple; I just needed to change one thing and then everything would be OK again.
Except, of course, that it’s not one thing. It’s everything.
Put simply, I am different now – superficially, sartorially, emotionally, physically, practically. Everything that used to define me has gone and, in so many ways, I’m a completely different person. I spent too long off work and now work in a different field (temporarily) where I don’t have the same confidence and sense of responsibility that I had before. I spent too long in trainers without makeup; I don’t lie in; I don’t read as many books or spend as much time on Twitter; I don’t take as many nude photos; my underwear choices are determined by comfort rather than looks and I can’t fix that as I have no idea what bra size I am now; I don’t drink as much. I don’t exercise as often and I know that not running has further widened my division from my body. For a long time, I didn’t sleep naked and was only ever completely naked in the shower.
And, importantly, the fact that my body is mine and a tool for my own pleasure has become completely disconnected from its role as a source of sustenance and safety for my baby. My body is functional, not pleasurable, and this is a source of personal strength – my body made a baby; it can do anything! – but my sexual side has got lost in this transformation.
This all means that, for me, the loss of my sexual self is not as simple as being too tired for sex or not having enough time, although those are significant barriers. The Guilty Feminist podcast this week was on fatigue, particularly as a parent, and Cal Wilson mentioned wishing when her children were young that she could be in a minor car crash – not bad enough for permanent damage but enough that she might need a few nights in hospital without her children, guilt free. She clearly said it in jest but I would be lying if I said I didn’t relate to the sentiment!
It’s not even that my body doesn’t work or that there are issues with residual pain or discomfort, and it’s not that I don’t want sex. I just don’t think about it like I used to and it’s difficult to feel sexy without thinking about sex. My mind is rarely in the right place, and not only because because our girl keeps us so busy. Even now when she’s getting bigger and more independent, I can’t be just me; I still have to be her mother first.
I was warned. The pregnancy and new mother books tried to prepare me and conversations with friends who are mothers with older children also helped me realise that this isn’t unusual, but it’s difficult to explain just how fundamentally different I feel.
I know it’s been hard for EA too. I entirely left it to him to initiate sex, something I had never been very good at in the first place but now don’t do at all, and I know how difficult it can be to feel like you’re the only one who is pushing for sex in a partnership. He’s been so patient and so understanding, never letting me feel that he’s disappointed or annoyed. Don’t worry, it’s not forever, he tells me when I most need to hear it.
And I do know that it’s not forever. Baby M is still being breastfed to sleep so my libido is being kept down by the hormones involved in milk production. Oxytocin may be great for love and is actually responsible for some of the warm glowly satisfaction after orgasm, but it is not good for actually wanting sex in the first place! Similarly, oestrogen levels are kept low during breastfeeding, which can also have a lowering effect on the libido. Yay.
I also know that EA and I just need to find where sex fits into the new structure and routine of our lives – something that’s not been easy to do when our lives keep changing as M grows, I go back to work, and the world catches on fire! Maybe we need to fall back on EA’s favourite dating strategy of sex then dinner to avoid exhaustion, or schedule date evenings so we’re not having to do chores in the rare times that M is asleep…
Personally, there are steps that I need to make too. I realised when I went back to do a hospital medical shift recently that the change in my professional self has also had a larger impact on my self-confidence than I expected, and this has undoubtedly had a knock on effect on my sexual confidence. Before, I was the medical registrar – I was in charge and I loved the responsibility that involved. I knew what I was doing, when and where to get help when I didn’t, and I was good at my job. Now, my job is interesting and my work schedule is much more flexible, which makes it so much easier to look after a small girl as well, but the COVID crisis has really revealed that I both don’t really know what I’m doing most of the time and that I am largely unnecessary. As the crisis continues to escalate, I’ve been called back to acute medicine for 3 months and I will be really interested to see if this return to a job where I am confident and comfortable returns some of my lost sense of self.
Finally, I strongly believe that sex is like a muscle – use it or lose it, and I’ve lost it! While I have been feeling so disconnected and unsexy, I’ve also not been wanking. I just didn’t feel like it and even the rapid orgasm that the Zumio or Satisfyer could provide felt like too long when I could be sleeping instead. But I want this to change. I want to feel horny again and I want to value sex and orgasms and I want to crave EA’s body like I used to because, damn, that man is hot!
So Tabitha’s annual 30 Days of Orgasm Fun that she hosts in April couldn’t have come at a better time! I’m going to try to have an orgasm a day for the whole month to kick start my libido again, improve my sense of well-being, and remind my mind and my body how much better I feel for working that muscle. Because I really miss how that feels.
I’ll let you know how it goes…