She’s Not a Mother—She’s My Wife

Dear Mr. Dad: I need a man’s advice but am too embarrassed to ask my own father, family, or male friends. I’ve been married about two years now and have a 9-month old baby. The problem is that my sexual relationship with my husband is basically non-existent. I feel sad and lonely and I have mentioned this to my husband before. I was in shock when he told me that he didn’t want to get me pregnant and that he thinks I’m a bit*h! Whoa! Where did that come from?! I don’t think that he is cheating because he comes home right after work. If I call him during the day, he’s always around, and on the weekend he’s home with me. I have not gained weight and stay in good physical shape. I don’t understand what’s wrong. What gives?

A: Thanks very much for your note. It must have been incredibly hard to write.

Of course, not knowing your husband, I can’t say for sure what’s bothering him. But there are a few possibilities that come up fairly often with relatively new dads. First of all, your husband may be having trouble seeing you as a mother. I know that may sound irrational, but your being a mother might be making him think of his own mother—and, as we all know, it’s hard for most adults to imagine our parents—moms or dads—actually having sex. (Of course we know they did, but we just don’t want to think about it.)

Second, we need to think about the kind of childbirth you had. If you had a natural birth and your husband was there, he may have trouble getting images of the baby being born out of his mind. In other words, it may be difficult for him to accept the fact that your body (for him, anyway) has gone from fun to functional. This one is especially hard for men to deal with: we always hear about women’s post-birth sex drive (or the lack thereof), and the stereotype is that all men are chomping at the bit, counting the seconds until they can hop back in the sack again. But a lot of new dads experience a disappearing sex drive. The problem is that they have no one to discuss things with. Your husband undoubtedly doesn’t want to tell you what’s really on his mind for fear of hurting your feelings. And he’s afraid to talk to his buddies because he’s worried they’ll make fun of him—after all, “real” men want to have sex all the time, right?

The third possibility is related to the second. If you’re breastfeeding your baby, it’s possible that your husband is jealous of the baby for hogging your breasts and he may be unconsciously “punishing” you for paying more attention to the baby than to him.

Lastly, your husband may simply not have the energy to have sex. A lot of new dads—particularly in today’s challenging economy—feel increased financial pressure, and they concentrate so hard on earning enough money to support their growing family, that by the time they get home, they’re physically and emotionally drained.

In most cases, all of these issues fade with time. But if you don’t see a change for the better pretty soon, the two of you should get some counseling. There’s no question that what your husband said to you was unkind. However, the fact that he’s actually talking about how he feels is a good sign.