Local doctors offer suggestions to new parents experiencing sex slumps

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- It's a secret many moms joke about over wine with girlfriends, but no one wants to really talk about it. We're talking about sex, or lack of it, especially with new parents.

"I don’t think we pay enough attention to it," said Dr. Nicole Scott, OB/GYN at IU Health and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at IU School of Medicine. "It’s an important part of a woman’s life and a couple’s relationship."

The problem is so common, Dr. Scott says she averages five patients a day who lack sex drive.

We couldn't find a single mom who felt comfortable talking about it.

Even Jancee Dunn, who wrote a book called “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids” struggles with talking about sex.

"I’m very shy about talking about sex," said Dunn. "I don’t like to, but my publisher said you have to, it’s a huge issue, because sometimes for moms, I felt this way, sex becomes one more thing I had to do for someone."

Everyone reacts differently to becoming a parent, but for many moms, their sexual fantasy is just to get some peace and quiet.

"Sometimes people will go into panic mode early on thinking, ‘have we fallen out of love? Has our marriage changed forever? Is it gone?’" said Dr. Debby Herbenick, Associate Professor at IU's School of Public Health.

"We had many deep conversations about what color to paint the baby’s room," said Dunn. "It’s amazing how many hours we spent on that and on the crib sheets, ducks or bunnies?! But we didn’t have any substantial conversations at all about anything."

They certainly didn't talk about the toll parenthood takes in the bedroom.

When it comes to new parents, having a sex slump is very normal.

"The sleep deprivation with newborns is no joke, as anyone who has had a baby knows," said Dr. Herbenick. "For parents also, having a new baby can be very stressful. And then of course for women who have just given birth, there are just a lot of hormonal changes that continue for months and months after having a baby, and even longer if a woman is breastfeeding."

And then comes the big six-week post-partum checkup where, in most cases, the new mom is cleared for sex.

"Does that mean you’re ready? It doesn’t exactly," said Dr. Scott.

Dr. Scott says the six-week green light is based on healing, not psychological readiness. She says it can take much longer than six weeks to be ready. And a C-section can take even longer.

But how long is too long and when should you get help?

"If it’s been six months and you still feel separated from your partner or you’re not interested in intercourse, I think it’s worthwhile to talk to a physician," said Dr. Scott. "I think if you’ve controlled for sleep, you’re back to your sleep habits, you’re exercising regularly and you’re having regular periods and don’t have a sex drive, I would say that would be a reason to talk to your doctor."

Dr. Scott says it typically gets easier to get back into the swing of things quicker if you have more children, because you have an idea of what to expect. If it doesn't, or your children are older and your sex drive diminishes, that's when you should see a doctor.

And Dr. Herbenick adds that it's not just a problem for moms.

"Whenever there are differences in how often two people want to have sex, there’s somebody who is feeling guilty for not wanting it that often and there’s also somebody who is feeling guilty for worrying that they’re pressuring their partner," said Dr. Herbenick. "So both people are dealing with a bit of a struggle in that regard."

For Dunn and her husband, fixing the problem required little talking and more action.

"I said to my husband, ‘do you feel like we’re not having sex that much,’ and he said ‘no, we’re not,’ so he was game to do an experiment."

So they did a “sex-periment.” The goal was to have sex for seven days straight, with no excuses.

"We went ten days!" said Dunn. "It was crazy! Many sex researchers will tell you, the more sex you have, the more you want."

If the sex-periment isn't for you, doctors say there are other things you can try, like simple compliments.

"He would say, I love you even more, I find you even more attractive since you’ve become a mother," said Dunn. "Things like that actually worked for me."

Or you can try appointment sex, like Dunn's friends chose to try.

"When her kids are in Tae Kwan Do on Saturdays, that’s when she and her husband get busy,” said Dunn. "And I have another friend who has sex with her husband on Tuesdays because Tuesdays are kind of a boring day otherwise!"

Dr. Herbenick said she knows a couple who has had appointment sex for forty years! And there's no magic number when it comes to frequency.

"It’s just amazing to me how often you’ll see these things in magazines about a certain amount equals happiness or a better marriage," said Dr. Herbenick. "That’s just not the case."

"Anytime you have a major change in life, whether it’s a new relationship or breakup or divorce or health changes, like being treated for cancer, there’s often changes in your sex life," said Dr. Herbenick. "Sometimes these changes are for the positive. In new relationships, people often have exciting, frequent sex with someone. And sometimes they’re more challenging, especially related to health conditions. So the fact that sex changes after people have children or even become pregnant is no surprise."

To try to make talking about sex drive less taboo, Dunn put her story to paper and talked to expert after expert for advice. It made sense because she's a New York Times best-selling author of five books!

In her latest book, she has a special chapter called, "Bone of Contention."

"You have a brand new relationship with your partner, so you have to start from the ground up in a lot of ways," said Dunn. "And your marriage is the foundation for everything else."