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Sex After Baby – A Status Report

Sex After Baby Betty Herbert

Image courtesy of ambro /

I am sitting in a restaurant, largely minding my own business. Bert is busy making some kind of a paste from a corn tortilla and a large quantity of dribble. The usual conversation strikes up with the women on the table next to me: Isn’t he bonny? What a smiler! How old is he?

And then, apropos of absolutely nothing, one of the women leans over and says, ‘The sex gets better after they turn two. You can pretty much forget it until then.’

By the time I have gathered my thoughts, she’s up and out of the door. I’m kind of touched, really. She’s basically taken the trouble to answer the question that’s on everyone’s lips after they have a baby.

Well maybe everyone. A friend of mine caught a couple doing it in the maternity ward, just six hours after their baby was born. I can only offer my awe-struck applause at such erotic enthusiasm.

Because, honestly, the true miracle of birth is that people manage to get pregnant more than once. The post-partum world is replete with reasons not to have sex.

For a start, there’s the fact that your body has been subject to what looks and feels like a small explosion. Sure, the stitches have all healed up, but it appears that these days, my vagina has corners. It’s a totally different shape. I am optimistically hoping that this represents some kind of a pleasurable penile assault course, but I am frankly too afraid to ask.

That’s if you get that far. It’s hard to feel particularly sexy when you have such angry, red and extensive stretch-marks that it looks like someone set your pubes alight. A few people have suggested to me that they are ‘mummy marks’, ‘tiger stripes’ or just the outward manifestation of every hiccup and wriggle I felt when I was pregnant. Those people are idiots.

And then there’s the tiredness; or in my case, it’s better termed ennui. I have, quite simply, reached the limit of my niceness for the next year or so. All of my care and attention is being absorbed by one small being, and everyone else can suck it up. I just do not have the brain capacity.

But the thing that’s shocked me the most is that Herbert feels the same. It’s like we’re both a bit broken. All our adoration and desire is flying in one direction, and by the time we’ve managed bedtime, eaten dinner, cleared up, done the washing and finished our chores, the only thing that our feeble desire can cope with is a box-set in bed.

Every landmark that defined our adult lives has been swept away: the independence, the energy, the spare cash, the bodies that behaved in predictable ways. And here we are, adrift. We just haven’t learned yet how to make the transition from mummy and daddy to lovers.

If I were a different sort of blogger, I’d now be offering you ten top tips to get the sizzle back into your relationship. But do you know what? It’s fine. It’s entirely natural for sex to peak and trough over the course of long relationships. As long as there’s still a dialogue  – and some affection – it’s hardly fatal. Sometimes, life just doesn’t feel all that arousing.

That said, I don’t want to wait until the two-year mark to get my groove back. It just takes a while to get the hang of this, that’s all.

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52 Seductions Reading Group Guide

Headline have made a brilliant guide for reading groups, including a filmed discussion with me and a reading circle.

> Download the Reading Guide

> Watch the film

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Competition – Are you a Grumpy or a Seductive Valentine today?

Those of us in long term relationships can feel a bit ‘meh’ about Valentine’s Day.

All that romantic posturing and expense; we’re just over it. We have to keep love alive on the other 364 days of the year, too. We suspect, in any case, that it isn’t really aimed at us.

But on the other hand, Valentine’s Day can offer us an excuse to make romantic gesture, or to simply remember that we are lovers as well as friends. And that ought to be celebrated, I think.

So, I’m giving away two identical competition prizes today. To win a signed copy of The 52 Seductions and a bottle of Calvin Klein Euphoria, you can choose which of these you want to enter, depending on your mood (or, hey, go for both – I don’t mind).

Grumpy Valentines: What’s the worst Valentine’s Day you’ve ever endured? An embarrassing date, a terrible gift, or just a trail of destruction?

Seductive Valentines: What’s the best seduction you’ve ever carried out? Or maybe you’ve got something wonderful planned for tonight?

To enter: you need to follow me on Twitter or Facebook, and share your answer on either here in the comments section, or on Twitter or FB with either #grumpyvalentine or #seductivevalentine.

I’ll announce the winner on the morning of 15th February. My decision is final, which I rather like.

And can I gently suggest that a copy of The 52 Seductions would be a wonderfully romantic gesture for your long-term lover? Just saying.

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The 52 Seductions – now in paperback!

I’m delighted to announce that The 52 Seductions is now available in UK mass-market paperback (I know, the last edition looked pretty  much like a paperback too, but this one is a bit smaller and cheaper).

If you haven’t already read it, you can download a free sample if you click on the book-cover on the right-hand side of this site. Amazon are currently selling it for the bargainous price of £4.69.

If you’re a blogger or journalist interested in reviewing the book, please contact Sarah Maltby at Headline. And look out for my guest posts on some excellent blogs over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve re-vamped my blog for the new year – including a new blog called The Final Push, which will start this week. Do let me know what you think. The book also has its own redecorated website.

Finally, The 52 Seductions also launches in Spain this this week (published by Suma de Letras), and I am greatly entertained by trying to read my copy – without speaking a word of the language. The photo on the right is ‘Early Morning Wake-Up Call.’ They look absolutely beautiful though, and I’m very proud of them (if not of my skills as a linguist).

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Tearing off a strip

Austerity measures are in place in the B&H household. Budgets have been drawn up. Certain parties (ahem) have vowed to not be quite so profligate with money. There is a distinct whiff of penitence in the air.

But for each item we have ruthlessly slashed from our budget (newspapers, meals out, the prospect of a holiday ever again), there is a sister item that refuses to to be cut. Take, for example, hair removal. I am used to happily trotting down to my local waxing parlour once a month to be thoroughly defluffed. This may now be £35 we can’t afford, but that doesn’t mean that I’m willing to let my lady garden fall to ruin.

A bikini wax is something I just can’t live without. I routinely receive lectures from other women that this is not the case, but I can only assume that they have a lot less public hair than I do. Left to its own devices, my bikini line extends halfway down my thighs. I would like to say that this is a joke, but it is not. If it is slightly thinner around the edges that it used to be, then that is due to years of devoted waxing. On the rare occasions I’ve tried to grow it back, I’ve developed thrush from the sheer heat it generates. I concede that no-one ‘needs’ a Hollywood (great to have the choice, though), but without my bikini wax, my pubis would resemble Brian Blessed after a particularly heavy night out.

So, there’s only one thing for it. Herbert will have to become my waxing technician. I ask him if he’d mind.

‘Of course not,’ he says. ‘It sounds quite entertaining, actually.’

Entertaining for you maybe, Herbert. Come Sunday afternoon, I spread an old sheet over the bed, and make up a batch of sugaring wax (see recipe below). I have taken the precaution of buying proper spatulas and waxing strips, and I lay these out on a tea-tray covered in newspaper. As a final touch, I bring in my desk lamp so that he can see what he’s doing.

‘Right,’ I say to H, ‘Spread the wax in the direction of the hair growth and smooth on the strip in the same direction. Pull it off in the opposite direction, but not upwards. Parallel to the skin.

‘Okay,’ he says, ‘I’ll just switch the tennis on to keep us company.’

I’m not sure this is a good idea. H is a tennis junkie, and in a battle for attention between my crotch and the ATP finals, I’m pretty sure I’d lose.

Nevertheless, I lay on my back and bend my legs outwards, revealing the full splendour of my thigh fuzz.

‘How far do you want me to go?’

‘Well,’ I say, pulling up my knickers, ‘you see the line where the hair goes from thick bush to wispy hair? That’s the line I want you to follow. Make sure it’s a triangle.’

‘Fine,’ says H, sunnily. He layers on a thick line of wax, smooths on the fabric strip, and then pauses dramatically before ripping out a big clump of pubes.

‘Ouch!’ I say. ‘Do you think you could avoid the long pause before you pull it off? It makes me nervous.’

‘That was brilliant,’  says H. ‘So much came off in one go. Look!’ He waves the strip under my nose and I see an alarming amount of black hair.

‘Remember, don’t go too far in,’ I say. ‘I don’t want a landing-strip.’

‘Don’t worry,’ says H, one eye on the telly. He smears on another streak of wax and tears it off.

‘H!’ I say, looking down, ‘You’ve gone even further in this time!’

‘I’m following the line of your knickers, but you keep moving them in!’

‘I’m moving them out of your way.’

‘Oh,’ says H. He peers in. ‘Problem is, there’s still a big patch covered in wax. Shall I just take that off anyway?’

This would mean losing most of my public hair, and I don’t fancy getting H to wax around my labia. ‘No,’ I sigh, ‘I’ll have to try and shower it out. We’ll do the other half in a minute.’

In the bathroom, I find that the right hand side of my pubic hair is a series of waxy dreadlocks. I shampoo them, but nothing seems to budge, so I begin to tug at the wax, hoping to loosen it. This leads to a huge line of hair tearing out in my hand. ‘Flaming Norah,’ I imagine Keeley, my usual waxing technician, saying. I can’t help but agree with her. I wish Keeley were here now. She’d be able to sort this out.

‘Right,’ I say to H, returning to the bedroom. ‘You’re just going to have to try to make this even. No-one will see the wonky bits but you anyway.’

‘Yeah,’ says H, ‘But I might find that a bit distracting, now that it’s my own handiwork.’

All I can hope is that I don’t have to show it to the midwife next week.




Sugaring Wax Recipe

I learned to make sugaring wax from an Iraqi friend when I was a teenager. It’s pretty simple and dead cheap. You can buy 100 fabric strips from Amazon for about £4 (we used about 1/3 of a pack, but I’m sure we’ll learn to improve on this rate), and 100 spatulas for about the same amount, although you only use one per session. That means my bikini wax cost about £2.50. Bargain. Clearly you could cut this cost if you had an old sheet you could cut up instead.

1. Mix 2 cups caster sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan.

2. Bring to the boil, and let it bubble away for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. You have to stand over it to make sure it doesn’t boil over.

3. Gradually, it will thicken slightly, and become darker (see pic above). Test it in a glass of cold water – if it disperses, it’s not ready yet; if it stays together, and is pliable to the touch, it’s ready. Because it’s basically a caramel, you can also taste it at this stage – it takes on a toastier flavour when it’s done. N.B. while still hot, it will feel too thin to be used as wax. Have faith.

4. Take it off the heat and cool for 30-45 mins before using – test a small patch of it on your wrist before smearing it on! If it gets too cool and hard while you’re waxing with it, you can ping it in the microwave for 10 seconds or warm it in a bowl of boiling water, but make sure you test the temperature before you use it again.





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Aaaand squeeze…or, actually, don’t…much

Alright, I admit it: I’m a slightly smug Kegel-er.

Over the course of my working day, I like to give my pelvic floor muscles a good ol’ flex as often as I remember. Which is sometimes lots of times, and sometimes not at all. Not to worry. Despite my scattergun approach, they seem to be pretty good. For example, they did not fail me when I was required to empty half my bladder during a recent ultrasound.

The benefits of a strong pelvic floor are well known. Better bladder and bowel control, improved posture, reduced back pain, and of course, enhanced sexual pleasure. I started my daily flexes during the year of Seductions, mainly because I thought H would notice. I was genuinely surprised when my body’s response changed too: the whole length of my vagina now feels much more sensitive and ‘alive’, and orgasms almost tumble out of me.

But it turns out that my Kegel-ing efforts might have been in vain. A growing number of experts now argue that Kegels can do more harm than good – especially as few of us are doing them properly. It may be better to pay attention to our core muscles in general, rather than the specific muscles in our lower abdomen.

This all gets very complicated, very quickly, so I’ve compiled a handy guide.




1. What muscles are we talking about here?

Good starting point, imaginary questioner. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that stretch from your pubic bone to the base of your spine. They support your bladder, uterus and bowel, and help these to open and close effectively. We often use the term ‘PC muscles’ when we’re talking about a strong pelvic floor, but this actually only refers to one of the muscles (the pubococcygeus). It’s better to talk about whole lot together.

Pregnancy  and childbirth are renowned for damaging these muscles, but apparently they only tend to exacerbate existing problems. We’re suffering a epidemic of pelvic floor problems because of – you guessed it – our modern habits.

This is only half relevant, but I find this Betty Dodson video enlightening. In it, she draws the internal structure of the clitoris and vulva, which helps to illustrate why strong PF muscles can lead to orgasmic fireworks.


2. What’s a Kegel?

A Kegel is the classic exercise recommended to strengthen the pelvic floor. It simply  involves drawing the PF muscles upwards, and holding for a while. I say ‘simply’ but it can take a bit of learning so that you’re not tensing every muscle in your body, holding your breath, or generally making yourself dizzy in other ways. But once learned, it’s simple and convenient. There’s a good factsheet of how to Kegel from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital here.


3. But you said that Kegels might not be the answer. 

Well, yes and no. As this post on Mama Sweat shows, Kegels can make the PF muscles too short and tense, causing a knock-on effect to other parts of your pelvis. Your vagina may feel tight, but you’re not getting the support you need. This is particularly a problem for pregnant women, for whom Kegels can make it difficult for the pelvis to open up fully during childbirth.

Far better, says biomechanical scientist Katy Bowman, to do regular squats (not the gym sort, the ‘peeing in the woods’ sort), something that our ancestors would have naturally done all the time. She suggests you start squatting in your bath every time you pee, but if that’s not your bag, she offers a great squatting programme here, and a basic guide here.

As with all things, it’s essential to do these exercises with a correct posture. This video from Hold It Sister shows good practice.


4. So it’s goodbye Kegels, hello squats?

Well, no. Alyce Adams, the self-dubbed Kegel Queen, argues that there’s nothing wrong with Kegels if they’re done properly. Her guide to the Five Biggest Kegel Mistakes shows how many of us are misinformed about how to Kegel correctly. The most important point is this: to avoid over-shortening the PC muscle, you should make sure you fully relax (not push out) after every Kegel. And there’s absolutely no need to do hundreds every day.

It’s all about balance. The squats are great for overall pelvic health, particularly for pregnant women, but (properly done) Kegels have their place too – they’re convenient, discreet and really target sexual pleasure for those interested in that sort of thing. The Kegel Queen has something to say about that, too.


5. Okay, so it’s really a case of squatting a few times a day, and Kegelling a few times a day. 

Probably, yes. Let’s be honest, integrating both or either into your everyday life is your best chance of sticking with it.


6. What about all those PF exercisers that are on sale? Worth it?

Jury’s out. Studies seem to suggest that exercising alone is more effective than gadgets, including those that use electric currents. And pregnant women are at a higher risk of infection, so shouldn’t use anything that’s inserted into the vagina.

On the other hand, PF exercising gizmos may add an extra element of motivation, because they’re pleasurable, and you can sometimes leave them in place while you get on with your life, without having to remember to keep squeezing or squatting. Given the concerns about shortening muscles, though, it’s probably a good idea not to leave them in for too long, so that you make sure your vagina gets some r’n’r between sessions.

Also, for the love of all that’s holy please don’t use PF trainers with horrible chemicals in them. Just think: these things are sitting in your vagina for extended periods, thereby offering plenty of time for you to leach the nasties out of them. The lovely Amy of Pomegranate Boutique explains all here.

If you’re interested in a PF exerciser, Pomegrante offer a great, safe range, and I’m personally a fan of Coco de Mer’s breathtakingly expensive stone love eggs.


7. Shouldn’t you issue a disclaimer for all of this?

Yeah, probably. Take responsibility for your own pelvic floor, kids. If you’ve got any doubts at all, check with your doctor. And bear in mind that I have no medical training whatsoever, except a Girl Guide First Aid badge, and that really didn’t cover pelvic floors.

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Finding a Heartbeat

This one isn't mine. I got it from Google Images.

I had always imagined that women skip along to their first ultrasound with a great sense of excitement. I hadn’t thought for one minute about the crippling terror that might descend in the days before it.

My main thought is: what if it’s not there at all? What if it turns out to be a nasty virus? But there are other worries too: What if it’s not viable? What if it’s already given up the ghost? 

Come the morning of the scan, I am quite beside myself.

‘I think my boobs have definitely got smaller again,’ I tell H, ‘and I just don’t feel as ill as I did last week. I think it’s all over. I think we should prepare ourselves for bad news.’

H, stoically pointing out that a mere five minutes ago I was feeling too sick to eat breakfast, doesn’t really know what to make of all this. ‘We just have to wait and see,’ he keeps saying. ‘We can’t do any more than that.’

I’m lucky, of course, to be having a six weeks scan in the first place. Everyone else has to wait until twelve. But I’m a patient of the fertility clinic, and even though I’ve managed to get pregnant without their help, they’re being extremely kind and treating me as if I’m still one of their flock.

In the hour beforehand, I occupy myself by chugging water. I can’t remember how much I’m supposed to drink, so I guzzle my way through a litre, just to be sure. In any case, my mouth is dry. But by the time I’m sent along to the ultrasound waiting room, every footstep feels like an earthquake in my bladder. I silently congratulate myself for being such a good patient.

By the time I’m called for the scan, my biggest worry is that I’ll be sick, and that I won’t be able to stop myself from peeing at the same time. Neverthless, I forget all that when I lie down and am smeared with gel. H decides not to sit down beside me; instead he hovers geekishly around the equipment.

‘We’ll see if we can see anything this way first,’ says the sonographer, ‘but don’t panic if we can’t. We’ll try an internal scan if we don’t get anything.’

I nod. I’d prefer it if she skipped straight to the internal one, if that’s clearer. I’m not proud. But I’m worried it might sound weird to ask. In any case, it’s not long before she’s pushing painfully down on my abdomen and I’m back to the distraction of trying not to piss myself.

‘My,’ she says, ‘you have been good with the water-drinking.’

Yes, I think. I am ridiculously conscientious like that. I watch her roll the handset over my stomach. Nothing appears. It feels like a lifetime.

‘Problem is – and I don’t find myself saying this often – I think you’re bladder’s too full.’ She points out the enormous reservoir of water on the screen, and the way that it’s squashing my uterus. ‘Do you think you can go and empty half of it?’

‘Oh god yes, thank you,’ I say. I put my skirt back on and nearly run to the loos, where I have cause to thank the gods of Kegel that my pelvic floor allows such activity.

On my return, things run much more smoothly. My uterus is looking a great deal less flattened, and very quickly the sonographer says, ‘I can see a yolk sac.’

‘Is that good?’

‘Yes, of course. I’ve just got to try and find a heartbeat now. The embryo’s very cellular at this stage, so you won’t see much else. And I’m having to enlarge it so much that it’s all very blurry.’ She shows us how other parts of the screen appear to pulse at that resolution. The whole image is like a big grey storm-cloud.

But then, she points to an area that’s pulsing slightly more than anything else. A tiny, persistent heartbeat, slightly white against the grey. ‘I feel like I’m watching an electric spark,’ I say.

‘There,’ she says, ‘perfect.’

H presses his face up against the screen and looks delighted that he can see it too. ‘I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it out,’ he says. Nobody cries, or even wells up. We’re just relieved. And still not out of the woods in any case. Until that twelve week scan, I’ll carry on feeling like I’m kindling a fire, rather than carrying a baby. It’s just too tentative.

H had found his confidence with the ultrasound now. He points at the top of the picture.

‘Is that big, gaping space your vagina?’

‘NO!’ the sonographer and I crow in unison.

‘How rude!’ I say. ‘That’s my bladder! Honestly!’

The sonographer scoots the handset over a little, to reveal a rather more compact line on the right. ‘That’s her vagina,’ she says. ‘By the way, did you know you’ve got a fibroid?’

‘Really? They were looking for one a couple of years ago, but never found it. That would explain so much.’

‘Well, it’s nothing to worry about; it’s on the back wall of your uterus, so it’s actually the ideal fibroid for pregnancy, if there is such a thing. It won’t interfere with your baby at all.’

Our baby. Fancy that! We leave with a 5mm embryo, a 35mm fibroid to keep it company, and a tiny, electric heartbeat.



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