Welcome back to my monthly series on building self-confidence to enhance relationships and strengthen communication skills. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, this is the perfect time to talk about healthy sexual communication with your partner. This month I had the opportunity to interview sex educator for moms and author Sarah Swofford, MPH. Read on for some great tips to build self-confidence and get the sparks flying in your love life!
CMH: Self-confidence plays an enormous part in building and maintaining strong, healthy relationships. In your opinion, what role does self-confidence play in healthy sexual communication between partners? Do you find that women especially struggle in this area?
SS: Self-confidence absolutely influences healthy sexual communication. Since I work predominately with women I can say that yes, women struggle in this area. But men do too!
Our sexuality is a place of deep pleasure, intimacy, and vulnerability. So, when something isn’t going well in our sex-lives it is very easy to internalize it and assume the problem is occurring because something is wrong with us…and since sex is a largely private issue, way too many women struggle with these feelings and challenges alone. This is why I do the work I do, to help women realize they aren’t alone and that there is help available.
Practicing healthy sexual communication when sex is easy and fun and enjoyable prepares couples for when things are challenging. Every couple and every situation is different, but if you are in a long-term relationship, the fact is, you will have challenges in the bedroom. So learning to talk about what you like and what works for you when things are good, prepares you as a couple to be able to talk in a healthy way about challenges when you are experiencing them. Often just voicing the elephant in the room, for example, “it has been a long time since we’ve had sex,” relieves tension and makes it easier to discuss. Healthy sexual communication is a lifelong journey and requires regular practice.
CMH: As parents, work, kids and various other stressors tend to take up so much of our time and energy. Often this means couples stop prioritizing one-on-one time with each other. How can a lack of attention to your partnership be harmful, and what are your suggestions for busy parents that can re-energize their love life?
SS: We’ve all been there, right.? You realize how long its been since you actually had enjoyable one-on-one time with your partner and you wonder when you will again. It’s not that we mean to not make the relationship a priority—it just happens. And we often realize it a little too late, when the relationship is feeling the stress. Stress that shows up in various ways: petty fights, or bigger fights, disinterest, snappiness, less sex, irritation, resentment.
There has been a lot in the media lately about how modern-day parenting is centered wholly around the kids, and the adult relationship is left with the dregs. There are several things parents can do to turn this around.
-First, let go of any guilt you might have about spending time without your kids.
-Next, put some time together on the calendar and plan it out (and hire babysitting) for months at a time. This way when the time comes, it’s already there as a to-do item on your agenda, you don’t have to plan it.
-Leave your kids overnight every now and then. I know, this is a hard one for many parents, but a couple of hours here or there really isn’t enough to feel like yourselves again. Or if you really can’t leave them overnight, act crazy, young, foolish (and turned-on) and get a hotel room for a couple of hours instead of going to a movie.
-Hiding sex from your kids is a great relationship-building exercise. See how many creative ways you can get it on without the kids realizing. For example, “do the laundry together” with the door closed.
-Go on a weekend (or even a week) trip with your partner. Again, not possible for everyone, but I’m always surprised by how many parents don’t take advantage of the opportunities they do have. I’m lucky, my mom lives across the country but takes our kids for a week or two every summer. We call it (not in front of the kids) Divorce-Prevention Nana Camp. We live it up while we can and then any time during the rest of the year when we feel distant from one another, or tired, or irritable with each other—we have it to look forward to. The first time we left the kids I remember how surprised I was by how much I really really like my husband.
Remember, as hard as it may be, if you hope to still be with and like your partner when the kids leave for college, you have to make your relationship a priority now.
CMH: Let’s talk about sex and new motherhood. It’s natural for intimacy to take a back seat for a little while after the birth of a baby. But, even beyond those first couple months, many new moms feel self-conscious about their post-pregnancy bodies. What is your advice to new moms that can help them boost their self-confidence in the bedroom?
SS: Many sex educators I respect give parents a sex pass for A YEAR after baby. This means they (and I) believe that parents should give themselves and each other a break and understand that intimacy is going to be a challenge and most likely not very frequent for at least a year after having a kid. I think when moms can do this for themselves too (relax about weight loss, sex, motherhood), it can take the pressure off.
One thing I know is that if you aren’t feeling good about yourself, you probably aren’t going to enjoy being intimate very much. I have an entire section in my book devoted to this–finding ways to build your own self-confidence and feel good in your skin.
We have to start with ourselves. When you’ve had a baby, you give so much. You’ve grown a child, nourished it, cared for it, and everyone else. It takes time and patience to find the sensual spark within you again. Some moms do this with their partner, and many moms do this with a vibrator 😉
Being able to give yourself pleasure reminds you that your sexuality, your libido, are yours— first and foremost. It lets you enjoy the pleasure your body is able to give you without caring about how you look, or what your partner is feeling. And moms need that. They need to rediscover their sensuality without outside pressure.
My two top tips for new moms struggling with low libido are: 1) get a great vibrator and use often, and 2) do sixty pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) a day. Kegels strengthen the muscles that help you have strong orgasms. And the action itself of doing a Kegel is pleasurable, so it becomes a little reminder of your own sexual power throughout the day.
CMH: Tell us about your book From Ouch! to Ahhh…The New Mom’s Guide to Sex After Baby and where new moms can find it.
It is available on Amazon in print and on every digital e-reader, too. You can read about it on my website, sarahjswofford.com
Thank you for having me, Christa.
About Sarah: Sarah J. Swofford, MPH, helps moms have better sex. A sexuality educator with a master’s degree in public health, she supports women who are navigating sex and intimate relationships amidst the demands of parenting. She writes about women’s sexuality throughout motherhood and teaches workshops on sexual intimacy for moms. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two children. Connect with Sarah at www.sarahjswofford.com; On Twitter: @sarahjswofford; or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sarah-J-Swofford-MPH/223650211047834