I'm A Sex Researcher & I Hereby Grant New Parents Permission To Skip Sex For Now

Creating space to access pleasure is going to be very, very difficult during this time of your life. And that’s normal. You’re not broken.

by Emily Nagoski
Originally Published: 

For those who bring young, dependent humans into their lives, the imperatives become entirely implausible and have to be replaced with brand-new, wholly individual ways of experiencing erotic connection. Of course they do. The meanings of your individual life, your shared life, your bodies, and your identities all change, radically and permanently. Everyone who has become a parent knows this, and yet somehow many, many parents are unprepared for the truly radical changes that happen to their bodies, their relationship, and their sexual connection.

I get asked more “How am I supposed to . . . ?” questions from new parents than from anyone, and the answer is always you are not. You’re not supposed to do anything but your best, which is hard enough without added pressure to do what you’re “supposed to.” “How am I supposed to meet the needs of my child, my employer, my partner, and all the other people in my life, and stay sane?” You are not. You are supposed to do your best, and your best will nearly always fall short of the vast, infinite sucking vortex of what the world needs from you.

“How am I supposed to feel sexy when my nipples are cracked and bleeding/I haven’t slept more than three hours in a row for most of a year/I’m extremely touched-out from toddler hands on me/the sight of my partner fills me with an unfathomable rage?”

You. Are. Not.

You’re not supposed to.

You know what you’re supposed to do? You’re supposed to collaborate with your partner to co-create a context that makes pleasure easier to access. And that is going to be very, very difficult during this time when your life is changing rapidly, continuously, and uncontrollably. It’s normal for the pleasure project to drop lower on your list of priorities.

The transformation that comes with adding children to your relationship is an excellent opportunity to dump all that old garbage and start from scratch.

But here’s what I’ve found, both in listening to parents talk about their struggles and in learning about their solutions:

I think you miss each other. Even when you’re furious with each other, a part of you wants to find a way through all the emotion and exhaustion and existential terror, to a place of adult human connection. Parenting can be excruciatingly lonely — a bitter irony, considering one of the first things you lose when you add children to your family is time alone. Time with your child is many things, but it is not the same as time with a friend or time on your own, both of which are basic human needs. Finding moments to feel attuned to a fellow adult is deeply nourishing, and sexual connection is a powerful way to get that.

You want tips? I’ve got five for you. But none of them will help you if you use them with the goal of doing what you’re “supposed to,” rather than a goal of finding your way back, even if only for a few minutes, to a partner you admire and trust.

Here are your tips:

Schedule a regular time to connect.

Even if you don’t end up having sex. You can pay attention to your emotional floorplans and notice how each person can help the other get to spaces adjacent to lust, to increase the likelihood that sex might happen, but expectations and obligations mostly just hit the brakes. It helps to have a sense of humor about the struggles of finding time to be adults together while taking care of kids, but go ahead and have big fights if that’s what it takes to help you clarify your needs to each other.

Center pleasure.

Your shared task is to co-create a context that makes it easier to access pleasure, not arousal, horniness, orgasms, or desire. If you have sex you don’t enjoy (maybe so you can say you had sex or cross something off the to-do list), the next time an opportunity arises, your brain will remember, “Hey, last time was no fun,” and it’ll be even more difficult to show up for the party.

There are no rules but consent.

If one of you wants to connect sexually and the other partner is feeling exhausted but affectionate, maybe the less interested, sleep-deprived partner can be entirely lazy, lying beside their partner and watching them masturbate like they’re watching TV — for fun, for amusement, for relaxation, for distraction.

Nights away help change the context.

Narratives of parents who stay erotically connected very often include intentional time away from parenting to change the context. It’s easier when, say, a family member can come stay with the kids while you get away — the context is thoroughly changed without you having to do a lot of work — but maybe it’s easier if the kids spend the night with their aunt and you stay home. At home, take the first couple of hours to create a bubble of grown-up fun — in the Come as You Are Workbook, I call it the “Magic Circle.” Decorate with lights or candles, add a gorgeous scent to the air, definitely get all the kid toys out of the bedroom. Change the sheets, finish the dishes and the laundry, and clean the bathtub in case you want to play in the water. Maybe all you’ll do with your time together is sleep for twelve hours, but that alone is nourishing for your bodies and your relationship.

Ask yourself what it is that you want when you want sex.

Finally, when in doubt, go back to the beginning: What is it that I want when I want sex? What is it that I like? What activates my accelerator and what hits my brakes? Your answers are probably changing as your household, relationship, bodies, and internal experiences change. Keep talking to each other. If you can talk about another human’s bodily fluids, you can talk to each other about your sex life.

Now is your moment. The old rules — the sex imperatives — never actually applied to your sex life, and the transformation that comes with adding children to your relationship is an excellent opportunity to dump all that old garbage and start from scratch. You get to play a whole new game, with a new set of rules that you invent. Precisely what the rules are and how you play by them will vary from relationship to relationship and from season to season as the tiny humans in your life grow and develop.

BONUS TIP: Your bodies are permanently different, whether you’re a birthing parent or not. Don’t waste time and energy trying to “get your body back”; you still have your body, it never left you. Instead, spend that time and energy learning about your body as it is now. None of the rules about how bodies “should” be ever applied to you, but now they are distracting irrelevancies that prevent you from noticing that your body is a frickin’ frackin’ miracle that is helping to keep other young humans alive! Your body is glorious. Care for it as you’re caring for your tiny humans: Listen to your body, move it in ways that manage stress, stay connected in loving, trusting relationships with other adults, eat food that nourishes you, body and soul, and get every second of rest you can.

Excerpted from COME TOGETHER: The Science (and Art!) of Creating Lasting Sexual Connections copyright © 2024 by Emily Nagoski, PhD.

Used by permission of Ballantine Books an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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