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The cliche among the new-parent set is that men always want sex and women never do. But believe it or not, some fathers are not exactly chomping at the bit after the baby arrives.
When it comes to their interest in sex, new fathers fall into two camps, says Greg Dillon, M.D., a psychiatrist in New York City. One is those men who see maternity as sexy and find their wives alluring during pregnancy and all phases of new motherhood; the other camp is those who have trouble reconciling the concept of mother with that of sexual partner. Men in the latter group may be less than enthusiastic about getting back into the post-baby sexual groove for complex reasons.
Why he doesn't want it
"One piece of the puzzle for conflicted men is that seeing their wives nurture or care for a baby simply evokes a motherly image, which feels inconsistent with sexuality," says Dillon. "They don't want to equate sex with the images of motherhood."
This is partly because new fathers can't help but think of their own mother, either consciously or unconsciously, when seeing their wife with the baby. Also, fathers who witness childbirth—a wonderful experience but also one that can be disturbingly graphic—can find it traumatic. "His perception of her as a birth-giving mother may contradict his view of her as a lover, which could diminish his sex drive," says Dillon.
If a new father can't reconcile the concept of his wife as a mother and a sexual being and it negatively affects the couple's sex life, then he (or the couple) should seek help from a therapist—and soon. "Questions of sexual attraction can spiral quickly into low self-esteem for both parties and intractable dynamics," Dillon explains. "Guilt and embarrassment can make it hard for either partner to address the issues."
Another cause of alienation—and a far more common one—is the emotional impact of the new baby, says Dillon. The reality is that the presence of the baby plays a much bigger part in men's withdrawal from sex than they are willing to admit. The mother has a new love of her life, and many men feel ashamed of any negative feelings they might have.
"A husband may see his wife kissing the baby and have feelings of jealousy and being left out but be conflicted about confronting the issue," Dillon says, "so instead he shuts down and backs away."
What's a guy to do?
Men need first to address and work through any feelings of jealousy or competition with the new baby by understanding that love for the baby is different from romantic love and that one does not take away from the other, says Dillon. Then they can raise the subject with their partner in a constructive manner rather than a defensive one.
"For example," Dillon says, "he can say, 'I miss spending time alone with you' or 'I booked a sitter; can I take you out on a date?' This addresses his need to reassert his place as her object of romantic love and reassures her that she is attractive and desirable without posing a competitive stance with the new baby."