Caring for children is a tough job. As parents and caregivers, we care for not only the physical needs of children, but also the emotional needs - and children are emotional! We also have to care for our own needs: we have jobs, households, responsibilities, not to mention our physical and emotional health. So, if we are also trying to maintain an intimate relationship or relationships, it’s common for that to eventually take a backseat.
Feeling stressed and exhausted all too often dumps a bucket of cold water on desire, and we find ourselves repeatedly “not in the mood.” That is where one of my favorite sex educators, Emily Nagoski, comes in. She talks a lot in her book Come as You Are about the difference between spontaneous desire and responsive desire (which you can also check out on her blog, here). Our culture perpetuates the idea that spontaneous desire – desire just at the drop of a hat, the kind we typically see in movies both mainstream and adult – is what we should expect and have if we’re “normal.” But that’s not the most common type of desire, and often not the kind we experience when we’ve been in a long-term relationship and have children. Responsive desire is when you have decided to engage in physical intimacy and as you do so, that “in the mood” feeling shows up. This is much more likely to be the case when you’re parenting during the day and then trying to switch into “sexy mode” later. The Pretty Pink Lotus Bud blog talks about some of the connection between Nagoski's book and parenting here.
So, setting intentional times for physicality, including the admittedly unsexy idea of scheduling it, not only helps remind each other that the physical relationship is a priority, but also offers space for the responsive desire to grow. But intimacy and pleasure involve much more than only sexual intercourse, in whatever way you define that. Orgasm does not have to be the final goal of bringing each other physical pleasure. In fact, take genital stimulation off the table at first. Schedule intentional physicality, but in new ways: give each other massages, make out, or even just cuddle topless while watching a movie: Netflix and chill, but seriously, just chill. Explore new ways of pleasuring each other and enjoying your own and your partner’s bodies. Take turns asking to be touched in ways you would like. What feels good? What makes you feel sexy (and not like a toddler has hung on you all day)? Life coach Alex Howlett has some helpful insights on communication and asking for what you want in relationships, I highly recommend checking out!
Saying that every Tuesday night after the kids are in bed you will have 15 minutes of intentional physicality may seem forced and unsexy. However, once we have been kissing and touching our partner for a little while, we may feel that responsive desire kick in, and “sexy” does not seem so far off. Responsive desire sometimes is a slow burn. You may feel arousal after a few minutes, and sometimes you may have a few days of intentional physicality before really “feeling” it and you’re ready to dive in to further sexual activity. However, making intentional time allows you the space to explore new ways to give and receive pleasure, for desire to build, and to make physicality a priority again. We deserve to feel pleasure, even if parenting at times makes us feel otherwise!