There's so much happening down there after you give birth, it's hard to quantify all that's changed in such a short period. It might be a while before you even notice to what extent the changes have reached. As it turns out, plenty of women notice some significant changes to their bodies and the reactions of their bodies just as they're starting to feel normal again, and it's crushing. Something you may notice is that you're not able to climax as easily as you did before — if at all. Why can't you have an orgasm after childbirth? Is it a cruel trick of nature, or something with a deeper cause?
If you find yourself unable to hit the big "O" after giving birth, you're not alone. There are quite literally hundreds of message boards devoted to the subject. The trickiest part of the problem is that there are so many possible causes that much of the remedy is found via a process of trial and error. According to the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the women who self-report sexual dysfunction in their postpartum period are so varied in their diagnoses that it is impossible to give a blanket response. Researchers found problems ranging from the physiological, like pelvic floor muscular deterioration, to psychological reasons such as depression and anxiety.
I spoke with Family Nurse Practitioner and Midwife Natalya Ovulutskaya, BS, MS, NP from Brooklyn, New York and she tells Romper, "There are many reasons this happens, and most are very easily treatable." She also says that it's a more common problem than you'd think. "It's not something people talk about with their friends, and sometimes not even with their husbands or wives. They express shame when they talk to me about it, and there is nothing shameful about it." (She said that part with great enthusiasm.) "Women might not notice anything different either if they're not engaged in a healthy sexual relationship with themselves or if they have a partner who is not engaged with their pleasure." Translated: if you have a selfish lover who is more or even only interested in their own pleasure, and you don't masturbate frequently enough to truly know your own orgasm, nothing may seem awry to you.
She says that the first thing you should do is to take stock of your body. Are you breastfeeding? That can cause decreased lubrication and vaginal dryness that leads to discomfort during sex and masturbation. If you notice dryness, try "a water-based lubricant that is unscented and unflavored," reports Ovulutskaya. That might be enough to take you over the edge, so to speak.
It could also be that the muscles that control the orgasm, those of the pelvic floor known as the pubococcygeal muscle, might be overtaxed from pregnancy and childbirth, noted an article in the Journal of Prenatal Medicine. There could also be problems that arise from a tear or an episiotomy. "These need to be evaluated by your midwife or doctor, and they might refer you to a specialist, which is made more likely if you notice urinary incontinence that is persisting in the postpartum period," notes Ovulutskaya. Sometimes, she says, these problems can be remedied by strengthening the muscles with kegel exercises, but evaluation is key to the diagnosis.
There is one reason that I hate to mention because women hear "it's all in your head" enough in my opinion, but sometimes, it can be true to a point. (Although, it's not just your head.) Anxiety and postpartum depression can have a genuine physiological effect on your body that stunts your sexual interest and libido. Sex might just be going through the motions, and you may want to be into it, but you're not, or you're anxious you won't be able to climax, which pushes it farther away, says Ovulutskaya. It sucks, but it happens.
No matter what, it's nothing to be ashamed of, and there are treatments. Talk to your provider and your partner, and hopefully, with some experimentation and exercise, you'll be finishing right up.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.