Making Time for Sex as Parents
Research suggests that sexual satisfaction drops in a marriage until your youngest kid is over the age of 5. And while that may feel a bit disheartening, I tell you this to let you know that if sex has fallen off the radar, you’re not alone. Once kids enter the picture, a whole new role enters into your life - that of parent - and it can be difficult to feel sexy/sexual when you’re now taking care of a being that relies on you for its complete survival.
Most of my clients who are parents with younger kids talk about routines that involve getting up, getting everyone ready, rushing off to work or spending all day with the kids, coming home and making dinner, playing with the kids, and MAYBE having an hour or two together at the end of the night to connect - assuming that they aren’t in need of some quiet, alone time themselves. I’m sure you can relate: feeling over-touched, exhausted from lack of sleep and being “on” to spend time with your kiddo(s), feeling the weight of other life stressors. And stress is a big libido killer, so it’s no wonder sex is feeling inaccessible.
Additionally, in most couple dynamics, one person has a higher drive than the other (this is neither good nor bad - it's typical). This often creates a pattern where one person is craving sexual intimacy and feels rejected when the other person says “no” to sex (and not necessarily because they don’t want to - they just don’t have the energy!). Eventually, neither person is engaging with the other around sex and the topic becomes a conversation fraught with frustration and hurt.
There seem to be a few things that can help couples figure out how to reconnect in spite of having limited time as a result of their new role as parents. It’s good to start with identifying your goals for intimacy. It doesn’t need to be numeric (I.e. three times a week) - in fact, you may need to adjust your expectations around the number of times sex “needs” to happen. Instead, when it comes to sexual intimacy, think about your goals for sex: is the goal for you both to feel close, to both orgasm, to experience something different? It’s fine if each of you have different goals. You just want to make sure you both know what you’re each looking to get out of a sexual scenario.
Once you’ve figured out the goals, change your sexual script. No one says sex HAS to be penetrative, or that you both have to orgasm or that it has to happen at night. If you both want to feel connected, consider having a time of mindful touching of one another’s bodies. Explore your partner’s body as if seeing it for the first time. Or just make out for a little while. Or, if orgasm is the goal, consider having a time where only one person orgasms and having the next sexual experience focus on the other person’s orgasm. There are so many ways to sexually connect without following the cultural script we’ve been taught of foreplay then penetration then orgasm. You can mutually masturbate, explore different ways to tease each other, engage in only oral or manual stimulation, etc. Your goals can help guide the ways in which you need to change your sexual script to better meet each others’ desires.
Prioritize sex. We schedule everything else in our lives, so sex should be no different. It’s important to make time for connection and spontaneity isn’t superior to scheduling time for connection. Whether you regularly schedule a date night or make sure that one weekend day you have sex… do something to ensure you’re carving out some time. If you need to, talk to your kids about the importance of parents having some private time together. You can put it into their routine such that “on Tuesday nights, we’ll read 3 books together and then us parents are going to have quiet time together.” You may need to figure out childcare to help support scheduling time. Whether you rely on family or join a neighborhood social media page to find a local high school student looking for extra cash or hire a nanny - make time to find the childcare to help support your needs if that’s within your budget. You might have to bake it into the budget a little bit! If it's not financially feasible, you could also find times when the kids are napping or working on homework to have sexual connection (you could even have shower sex if that’s a helpful escape!). Remember, this is a stage of life - the kids won't always be in whatever stage they are in right now, so it's okay for sex to look a little different too.
Adjust expectations around timing. Not every sexual experience has to be an hour or two. The average penis owner orgasms in 5-7 minutes and the average vulva owner in 15-20 minutes. It’s okay to have some quickies when you can and then have longer, drawn out experiences at other times. Talk to each other about what you have the capacity for. That could sound like “while I’m not able to have full intercourse, I would love to focus on you and giving you an orgasm tonight,” or “I have to be up early tomorrow but I’d be down for a quickie after the kids go to bed so we have time to connect,” or even “Would you be up for snuggling naked tonight and us finding time to have sex soon?” Talk about what works for both of you, knowing the timing that you have available. Maybe you start having more morning sex or if you both don’t work on Fridays, have afternoon sex while the kids are napping or are at school.
Figure out how to have some personal alone time too. Usually as a parent, you're overwhelmed by taking care of so many needs in life that it's hard to feel available for your partner at the end of the day. Talk to each other about your needs at the end of the day and see if you're more in need of alone time or connection time. You may even schedule "on Wednesdays and Sundays we have alone time and on Mondays and Thursdays we have connection time - the rest we'll determine that day." You can even offer each other a break one night a week to be able to do something for yourself. It's easy to get lost in the role as parent and forget that you are your own person with your own needs, wants, and desires. Get out of the house and have a night with friends if you're an extrovert, or take a morning to read your book or afternoon to workout if you're more introverted. However you connect with your sense of self and feel re-energized, make sure you take some time to get that for yourself. We can pour into someone else's cup if ours is empty. Making sure you get some time to yourself is a great way to help you feel more available to your partner when it's time to connect.
Overall, make time for the things that are important to us. If you’re struggling as parents to have sex, know that you are not alone by any means. But if sex is something you want to reincorporate and prioritize, try making a few of these adjustments and see what works. Also remember, sex starts outside of the bedroom, so if you’re struggling to connect sexually, consider that there may be other aspects of your relationship that are at play here besides timing. It may be beneficial to talk to a couples therapist to explore other challenges that are inhibiting closeness, such as an overfunctioning/underfunctioning dynamic (one of you is taking on much more of the household load than the other), trust issues, family drama, or other potential factors impacting your connection.
Lastly, remember not to compare yourself to what others are doing. There’s no “right” number of times in a week to have sex. You both need to look at what you really want/need and what works best for your relationship. That will ultimately lead you both to being more satisfied over trying to achieve some culturally developed expectation of what sex should look like.