I spent many of my first 33 years in an antagonistic
relationship with my body, nothing unusual to a girl born in the commercial
riptide of American media and culture. I grew up a "stringbean" who was first
too skinny, and then later, that girl in high school with the baby fat that kept
expanding while the rest of my peers whittled down to lean. By the time I was
letting boys into my clothes, it was in the dark only, and with held breath.
I met my first serious boyfriend in college at 18, which was a
good year for my body; energized by a brief affiliation for step aerobics in my
college health center and wise enough to avoid the starches in the cafeteria,
I found comfort I hadn't experienced during high school. Unfortunately, my boyfriend
liked to make me exercise obsessively, abusing my body beyond pleasure, and
then criticizing me for how far I hadn't come. I didn't meet the man who would
be my husband until age 21. Where my ex had been punitive, Erik was loving and
admiring. He helped me find a way into loving myself and enjoying sex for
the first time.
It wasn't for another 12 years, however, until I first stared
down disbelieving at the pink positive lines on the pregnancy test that I
would begin to find a true home in my own skin. And when I did, it would change
my sex life.
Pregnancy delivered me into my body in a way I had never
experienced before. Once I rallied through the first trimester's nausea, I found
myself to be among that percentage of women who experience an increased libido
during pregnancy. And while my two-day labor to birth my son wasn't exactly pleasant,
as the girl who could barely ever run the mile without collapsing into spasms,
I gained a deep respect for what my body could do. My newfound strength and
endurance engendered a feeling of true sexiness—taking pleasure in my own
body—that lingerie had never given me.
We quickly realized that for all the ways that children pull at the threads of a marriage, sex could weave those threads back into place.
Sure, children's demands can be inconvenient and at first interrupted our sex life. My husband and I haven't engaged in the sleepy ease
of morning sex in seven years, and we both miss it. But we quickly realized that
for all the ways that children pull at the threads of a marriage, sex could
weave those threads back into place. Just as mother and child produce bonding
hormones during cuddling and nursing, adult humans produce oxytocin during sex
that creates a greater feeling of well-being and connectedness. At the end of a
frayed day, tired from work and frazzled by child needs, sex has become a
refuge in which we find each other again.
All humans, but especially children, need massive amounts of
healthy touch. Babies thrive best skin-to-skin, and youngsters crawl, tug
and take comfort in their mothers' bodies. As my son has grown older and no
longer treats my body as his playground, it has left me with an increased need
for contact that my husband is happy to provide.
Children teach, with their unplanned interruptions, that sex
need not always be made into a sacred enterprise involving candles and
lingerie. Sometimes, it's the only time you get to spend with your partner,
often in the hours when you're beyond talking. Not to mention that sex creates those natural endorphins that have a way of temporarily erasing the indignities and frustrations of parentings.
Children also help you prioritize what's really important—and
perfectly toned abs or a thigh gap don't even make it onto my radar. I'd rather
be fluffy and loved than hyper-fit and starved of contact. Being with my husband for 19 years has allowed me to feel completely at ease and safe, which leads to the
necessary abandon required for having good sex. Time has also allowed me to see
that the external surfaces of our bodies that preoccupy us so much when we're
young mean so much less than the experiences we have inside them.