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A couple lie beside each other in bed, in those peaceful hours as the sun is rising. Half-awake, the husband reaches out to his wife, romance on his mind.
Her thoughts, however, are far from seductive. She may be in bed with the father of her child, but her brain is anywhere but present. One eye on the alarm clock, she is making her mental to-do list. Does her child need a bigger size in their school uniform? Should she start them on Kumon maths lessons? And what would be better: the soft play or trampoline park for her little one’s next birthday party?
In my experience, mothers always think they have to be ‘doing’. They are always in a rush — even in the bedroom.
Forget intimacy, the connection and liberation of abandoned lovemaking. Instead of thinking about her husband, and allowing herself the space to be aroused, the mother will be composing a shopping list in her head.
Childfree and happy: Author Verena Brunschweiger
Forget, too, physical attraction. Personally, I can’t imagine having sex with someone whose clothes bear remnants of baby vomit. Whose only conversation is about children’s nutrition and excretions, school trips and so forth. Do men really find a woman who moans and whines, cajoles, cleans, shops and cooks in an endless, super-busy Groundhog Day cycle a turn-on?
In short: they don’t.
Surely, though, you might be thinking, having children brings a depth and profound joy to a couple’s life? Well, not in the bedroom, that’s for sure.
Take, for example, a woman I know, aged 33, with one daughter. She told me confidentially (naturally, most usually don’t admit it publicly — who would?) that she and her husband didn’t have a real love life any more. Everything they did was about their little girl.
A friend of mine, who is a father, complains of his sex life that he feels like he ‘fell asleep as a man’.
Another mum admitted to me that she felt she had to have sex from time to time with her husband — at least at Christmas and on their anniversary. But she no longer enjoyed it the way she did before they had children.
Contrast these people with my husband and I, who have chosen not to have children. We have plenty of fun — indeed, the sex gets better and better!
I hear plenty of mothers complaining about a middle-aged sex slump. Well, I’m 41, and let me tell you, nothing is slumping in my bedroom. You may think I sound like a misopaedist — a genuine child hater. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a teacher, and I adore my pupils who are aged between 13 and 16. I married my second husband in 2010, and we quickly discussed having children — because I love them. That’s why I teach, after all.
But I concluded that having children wasn’t for me. It was a complex decision — I worry hugely about the environment, and the pressure on our precious natural resources — but I also decided I like my freedom too much.
My freedom to pursue my own interests, my own desires, to make huge changes in my life if I need to — and yes, also, my freedom to have great sex.
My husband is very supportive of this. He always said it was my decision, because it is my body. And today, our romantic life and marriage are all the better for us remaining childfree (note, that I say ‘childfree’, not ‘childless’ — a deliberate decision on my part).
When my views on remaining childfree were publicised in Germany, where I live, after I wrote my book, they were greeted with surprise, abuse and even death threats. Parents and colleagues were shocked to hear I felt so strongly about not having children.
But my views don’t relate to existing children, but the ones I and other women could give birth to. Like I said, I love children and spending time with them. Regardless, colleagues started a petition to condemn me, and I was removed from the ethics class I taught.
This despite the fact that science backs my views about the impact of children on a happy relationship: an Open University study with more than 5,000 participants in Britain found childfree couples were happier than parents.
And Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, an American professor of psychology, who has conducted research in this field for 40 years, came to similar conclusions: a newborn’s effect on a couple is harder than divorce or unemployment.
So how does having children kill your sex life? My research appears to indicate the downturn starts from the moment you start ‘trying’ for a baby.
Sleep is crucial: If you’re tired all the time, your sex life suffers as a study found that sleep duration and satisfaction dropped significantly for parents at childbirth
And no wonder! This project seems to involve strange procedures: you must have sex at 5pm sharp — in a certain position, of course. It’s also important to eat special food, to abstain from food and drink you’d normally enjoy, and to listen to Mozart (even before conceiving). Afterwards, you have to make sure every measure is taken to guarantee the success of your biological experiment. No alcohol. Zero caffeine. Early nights galore. It’s all hardly an aphrodisiac. Indeed, ‘trying’ makes the sexual act about anything but connection. It becomes a means to an end. Whereas if you focus totally on the beloved person in bed with you (or wherever you happen to find yourself) and not on your genes or the act of reproduction, you reach a level of exclusive, intense intimacy unknown to those who are hell-bent on producing a mini-me.
After nine months, reality kicks in. Baby is here — and nothing is the same again. And, undoubtedly, the biggest turn-off for men is the reality of how a woman’s body changes after giving birth.
These days, women may talk openly about the menopause, sexism in the workplace, menstrual poverty. But our post-baby body? Strictly something to keep to ourselves. Men doubtless go headlong into parenthood believing women will be as unblemished as model Emily Ratajkowski, who famously posed, baby on impossibly skinny hip, showcasing her teeny waist and buoyant breasts, and believe that’s how the mother of their child will look. Wrong!
Expectations are inevitably going to be dashed. As one male friend told me: ‘I should never have been present at the birth. It was like that line from Bridget Jones’s Baby: it was as though my favourite pub had closed down.’
There will always be marks on a mother’s body, both inside and out, after a birth. Many suffer sagging breasts, haemorrhoids, and the dreaded mum-tum. She’s likely to be exhausted, irritable, demanding. Inevitably your relationship and sex life will change. No longer will the man be the focus of her being. Instead, he is ousted by a tiny interloper.
Mothers are condemned and vilified for every choice they make: from whether to breast or bottle feed, or to go to work or stay at home
Childfree, your relationship is about you and your partner. This is utterly contrary to what parents must endure: endless organising, projects revolving around the kids, quarrels, tedium, and so on.
The new mother suddenly has no anecdotes, because her every waking moment has been co-opted. Everything revolves around the child, who can be ungrateful, rude, critical.
No surprise, then, that studies have shown children aren’t good for your self-esteem. Many mothers feel more like a housemaid than a person in their own right. So who would you prefer to make love to: a person with low or high self-esteem? I think any intimate act is way more delightful with a person who is confident. The reality is the childfree have enough time and money to enjoy their lives and so are usually well-learned and more active in their interests and passions.
This not only heightens their sex appeal, but also makes them more sensitive, as well as open and imaginative partners, too.
Sleep is another crucial parameter. If you’re tired all the time, your sex life suffers. In a study published in the journal Sleep in January 2019, researchers from the University of Warwick, West Virginia University, and the German Institute for Economic Research found that sleep duration and satisfaction dropped significantly for parents at childbirth and hit rock bottom three months later.
Breastfeeding mothers are especially affected (again, no surprise there). And the study found it takes six whole years until the parents’ sleep pattern starts to resemble what it was before they had a child. So it’s obvious that their sex life will fall off a cliff.
Of course, some parents manage to get away for a romantic weekend from time to time. Yet the question remains: does that really make up for all those nights when you tried to sneak in five minutes, but were crudely interrupted by a newborn wailing next door?
In my experience, mothers always think they have to be ‘doing’. They are always in a rush — even in the bedroom
Spontaneous lovemaking is a thing of the past when babies come along. The child-free don’t have to schedule sex, something that’s highly likely to kill any romantic feelings. After all, what could be more of a passion-killer than knowing you’re going to have to be in the mood that evening?
You may think all this makes me sound anti-women. Perhaps you feel I have denied myself one of the essential expressions of my femininity by not having children.
I would say precisely the opposite. I am not anti-mothers. I am a feminist. I seek to empower women. Because viewing modern motherhood from the outside, I can see how it has become nothing more than a stick with which to beat women.
At the heart of a woman’s oppression is her child-bearing and child-rearing role. Mothers are condemned and vilified for every choice they make: from whether to breast or bottle feed, or to go to work or stay at home.
There is a fashionable dogma that preaches that every single, tiny decision taken by the mother bears a direct outcome on the child’s success and future. Who would want such a responsibility, and to live with the guilt that accompanies it?
Feminist campaigner Gloria Steinem famously pointed out that when the Pill came along, we were able to give birth ‘to ourselves’. But this has been snuffed out by the ‘have it all’ mantra that has turned motherhood into a brutal competition. Feminism these days isn’t about destroying the cage: instead, it’s about painting it a nicer colour.
The way I see it, many women become mothers because they are filled with worthy, admirable sentiments: the idea of ‘sacrifice’ or ‘fulfilment’.
Others may think a baby will make her partner love her more, and never leave. Sadly, the opposite is more often true — and that’s because children extinguish the fire in the bedroom.
So who is to blame for this sad, sexless reality? Well, yes, we can indeed blame men for not being great fathers, for leaving the lion’s share of domestic duties to their exhausted female partners.
But mothers play a part, too. They forget what drew them to their partner in the first place: fun, dates, adventures, each other.
So do childfree people have better sex? Well, at least they usually still have sex! Because, in so many cases, opening the nursery door closes the door to the bedroom.
Do Childfree People Have Better Sex? by Verena Brunschweiger (£12.99, Lantern Publishing and Media).
- Tell us what you think – Do you agree with Verena? Or do you think that sex after having children can be better than ever? Tell us your experiences at [email protected]