Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and Authentic Awareness?
My name is Vanessa Tarfon, I’m a qualified Sex Therapist and founder of Authentic Awareness. I’ve been married for 6 years and together for 14 years! We have two boys under 5 years old. Our house is noisy and busy. My biggest challenge is sharing any spare time between chores and doing something for myself.
I created Authentic Awareness from my passion to help women through challenging circumstances and break the cycle of misinformation about women’s sexual health and relationships. Sexual health is taboo (even in the medical world) but it’s an important component of our health. Connecting to your sexual health and identity promotes confidence, self-esteem, energy and reconnects people. Authentic Awareness offers sex therapy and education to busy, tired mothers through courses and sexual wellness products.
Why is it particularly important to focus on mothers and postpartum relationships?
Firstly, 80% of new mums have no interest in sex but feel pressure to maintain a pre-pregnancy sex life. I was part of this statistic struggling with my sexual identity and desire. I successfully created a sensual revival plan to reconnect with my husband and myself, and have used that plan and experience as the basis to help others.
Secondly, the 6-week postpartum check-up revolves around contraception, skipping sexual functioning information or the psychology of sex. Mothers are left wondering why they experience pain, dryness or low sexual interest. New parents are overwhelmed, tired or embarrassed to ask questions about sex and intimacy but are desperate for answers.
Finally, mothers always put themselves last but it’s unsustainable long-term. Early postpartum disconnection doesn’t start to improve for 10 years and has visible consequences when parents reach their 50s. It’s time to be honest and intervene early to prevent future disappointments and heartache.
What are the key psychological challenges of being intimate postpartum?
The brain is our biggest sex organ. It’s the key to intimacy and what powers your sexual desire and connection. The key challenges with being intimate after a baby are:
- Poor body image and self-image: accepting temporary and permanent body changes can be difficult. Mothers often lose their sense of self and feel unattractive.
- Stress: stress kills libido! It comes from internal and external pressures and expectations. Mothers struggle with how to do and be everything required of a parent, partner and person.
- Sex-pectations: new parents worry about maintaining intimacy and the frequency of sexual activity. For most mothers, sex and intimacy will look and feel different and that is OK. Sex is a learnt skill through exploration that continues throughout our entire lives.
- Anxiety, depression or birth trauma: mothers often worry about falling pregnant again or fear touch. Touch anywhere on the body or even the anticipation of intimacy can trigger a trauma response or response anxiety.
- Extreme fatigue and lack of time: being a parent is a busy role. Parents often automatically fall into stereotypical “mother and father” roles. There never seems to be enough time in the day for all the chores PLUS me time PLUS intimacy.
What are the key benefits of maintaining connection and intimacy postpartum?
Disengaging from yourself happens almost instantly. Disconnecting from your partner happens just as quickly but often isn’t recognised until later in life when the consequences become obvious.
4 key benefits of preserving connection and intimacy are:
- Positive environment: when you lose emotional connection and intimacy, you become negative and life feels harder. The mood in the house declines, and you become short-tempered, irritable and critical. Remaining engaged brightens the mood in the house, and you feel more energetic, optimistic and relaxed regulating your whole family.
- Smoother parenting transition: being emotionally connected makes sharing the daily workload easier and new routine transition smoother. You aren’t alone on your journey. Working and feeling like a team means you are both invested in a shared goal for your future life.
- Relationship satisfaction: interacting as a couple, and sharing goals and beliefs improve your relationship satisfaction. Relationship satisfaction is important because it affects your health and your parenting style, which affects your baby’s socio-emotional development.
- Sense of self and freedom: by maintaining a connection to self and your partner you feel you have confidence and purpose. Your optimism and energy infect your family.
What are your top 4 tips for being intimate postpartum?
- Communicate your expectations: talk about your intimate relationship expectations. How important is it? What activities are you open to and what are your boundaries? What frequency suits you both? Most importantly, make each session quality not quantity-based. Remember: intimacy includes sexual and non-sexual acts so go slow. Connection and enjoyment may include orgasm or it may not.
- Schedule intimacy time: following your conversation about expectations, schedule regular intimacy time on your to-do list. Particularly within the first 12 months postpartum, if you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. Your relationship is as important as your chores. Sounds wrong? I know, but I guarantee you’re likely to do the ironing before intimacy once you have a baby!
- Daily appreciation message: At the end of each day tell one another face-to-face one thing you appreciated that day. We love to feel valued and loved. This simple act releases our happy hormones. This is a great practice to prevent going to bed angry and waking angry! Start and end the day with a positive mindset.
- Take the time to rediscover your self-image: Mums need alone time to recharge and redefine their identity. It is key to inspiring sexual desire and your zest for life. As little as 5 minutes a day creates positive mindset changes. Do something for yourself every day to spark the personal style or personality you’ve always had.
What’s your advice for parents or relationships that have hit a breaking point?
See a Sex Therapist or discover your next steps in the privacy and comfort of your own home with the Mama’s Sensual Safari. Sexual and relationship problems are exactly why we are here. We thrive on helping people resolve concerns and we love talking about taboo topics. Having an objective third party can help you overcome barriers and open conversations.
No one should ever feel ashamed, anxious or embarrassed about relationships, intimacy and pleasure. Everyone is entitled and capable of pleasure. Don’t let parenthood interrupt your identity, desire and satisfaction.