These things certainly aren’t mutually exclusive; one quite obviously leads to the other. That’s how we got here in the first place, right?
But why, then, does parenthood so often, whether it flames out or fades out, drain so many moms – and couples – of their sexuality, that carnal energy that led to the pregnancy?
Many fans have been shocked – and vocal – about how pop songstress Beyoncé has owned her sexuality in a whole new way recently, showing it off without fear: on her surprise visual record, in her videos with her husband, Jay-Z, and during their concert tour.
The A-list couple, parents to young Blue Ivy, 2, were even spotted dropping thousands of dollars at a sex shop in New York City.
All of this has made headlines recently. It’s somehow news that even Beyoncé, a woman considered one of the sexiest women in pop history, and a mother, is still having sex, loving it and celebrating it.
As Rebecca Eckler, author of The Mommy Wars, wrote, “Can we not all admit that the stigma attached to being a mother, who is also sexually active, needs to die already?”
The issue of how motherhood affects sexuality has been endlessly studied and analysed through articles, books and art – and it’s something many women have found themselves exploring, from celebrities like Beyoncé, to, well, me.
“Sex makes babies, so it’s ironic that babies deliver such a fatal erotic blow,” wrote Esther Perel, author of the book mating in captivity: unlocking erotic intelligence.
“Motherhood is filled with selflessness and caretaking. Being a lustful mother can feel threatening and bring up feelings of guilt.
“Being a mother and being sexual is about giving your self the permission to think about you, and know that it does not make you a bad mother.”
Meanwhile, author and popular blogger Jillian Lauren once wrote, “The de-sexualizing of the mother in this culture isn’t just something that’s done to us by our partners or by the media, we do it to ourselves … Moms have innate guilt about ‘selfish’ pursuits and getting sexy has nothing to do with our kids, so it gets dropped to the bottom of the to-do list.
“It’s easy to wake from the oxytocin baby haze and realize that we aren’t connected with our erotic identity at all anymore.”
Over the last few months, I’ve given this issue a lot of thought.
Early this spring, I took a few hours to myself, and wandered into a few sex shops downtown, the first time I’d ever been there – as a customer.
Back in college, I had a part-time job as cashier at a similar sex shop.
I had no qualms about being there. I greeted every customer with a warm, welcoming smile then quickly retreated, leaving them to browse at their leisure, so they would feel as comfortable as possible.
The only awkward moment would occur when I would have to open the product, place the batteries inside and switch on the toy, to make sure it worked. Even then, I would make a little joke to ease the tension, and we would laugh at the absurdity of it.
Back then, I wondered why anyone would be uncomfortable or embarrassed to be in the store. Sex always seemed the most natural, beautiful thing in the world. Accordingly, I would end up having three children by the time I was 30.
Shortly after the birth of my third child, however, things ground to a complete halt. With breastfeeding, the demands of a newborn/toddler, taking care of the older children and working multiple jobs, sex quickly dropped off my radar completely.
And for a long, unsatisfying period, I became used to that void in my life. I got by.
It worked, until it didn’t anymore. And eventually I wanted to explore.
I sought out new experiences, looking to reclaim my sexuality, looking for validation, looking to remember that I was a woman. Not just someone’s mother or employee, but a complete woman, who desires and is desired.
A recent devastating experience reminded me of just how, while sex is incredibly beautiful, it is inherently risky – and the potential consequences are very real, and permanent. It’s not to be taken lightly, and we have to be smart and in control of it.
But it also gave me a whole new appreciation for what was missing from my life.
And so chastened, but not defeated, I continued in my search, finally working up the nerve to make my way to those shops downtown, places that were once so familiar, but now totally foreign to me.
And when I stepped inside, it was like being transported into a whole other world, one where the focus is totally on the self, and the pleasures of the flesh. No children’s toys, whining toddlers, surly teenagers, or endless tasks and obligations – just adult fun.
As I sheepishly made my way through the store, sunglasses on, gingerly sifting through the items, it really struck me how sexuality is such a crucial part of what makes us, as humans and mothers, whole. It’s what makes us feel alive, puts the sparkle in our eyes, the spring in our step, the fire in our veins.
Yes, being sexual is the ultimate way of connecting with another person intimately – but healthy, fulfilling sexuality doesn’t necessarily require another person. It does require self-awareness, self-love, care and respect.
During these all-consuming parenting years, I’ve come to realize that I need to better tap into all of those. What makes me feel whole and satisfied as a woman will in turn make me a better mother.
I proudly mentioned my little shopping trip – and purchases – to a friend recently, and she looked at me in shock. “You didn’t have one?” She asked, mouth gaping. “I have a whole box full.”
In some ways, I may be a late bloomer, but I have vowed to never let that part of life, that part of being alive and human, lapse again. It’s magical, and everyone deserves – no, needs – to carve out space in his or her life for that intensely personal time – especially moms.
“Perhaps it is time to open the door on the secret, sexual lives of mothers,” Catherine Texier once asserted in an essay for BOMB Magazine.
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