My Experience Navigating Physical Intimacy In Early Adulthood, Marriage, And Motherhood


My Experience Navigating Physical Intimacy In Early Adulthood, Marriage, And Motherhood In a culture that seems to be obsessed with sex, physical intimacy in marriage and motherhood remains somewhat of a taboo subject. This is especially true for me, a Midwestern, Catholic gal planted in the South. 

I grew up in a conservative family and we definitely didn’t have conversations around sex. I remember one brief conversation with my mom at about 15-years-old, when I shared with her that I was the only one of my friends not getting physical with the boys. I could tell she was caught off guard and her response was something along the lines of, “You come from a fertile family, so be careful.” Basically, she was saying, “Don’t get pregnant.” And that was it.

In young adulthood, navigating the boundaries of physical intimacy was really confusing for me. My Christian-Catholic upbringing weighed heavily on my conscience and for whatever reason, I remained committed to the vow of “saving myself” for marriage (I know, shocking!). That didn’t mean I never crossed a line I later regretted. More often than once, my alter ego came out after a few drinks, and I became the make-out queen. These meaningless episodes of drunken lust made me feel icky about physical intimacy, though I was having an innocent good time.

Even while dating my husband in the pursuit of a committed, serious relationship that ultimately led to marriage, I couldn’t detach the feeling of shame from physical intimacy. And while I wanted to believe our marriage vows would immediately unlock any shame or confusion related to sex, this wasn’t my experience. While I was excited to connect with my husband in a special way, it wasn’t as simple as flipping a switch in my brain to suddenly celebrate and honor sexual intercourse. It took an effort to build desire for something that I had considered to be “bad” for most of my life, even though I longed to connect with my husband in that way. (This reveals a larger issue related to the messaging I received as a young person about sex, but that point could probably be a thesis topic and can be a conversation for another day.)

In our pre-marriage relationship, we didn’t abstain from all physical intimacy, but sexual intercourse wasn’t a part of our relationship. We were deeply intimate in other ways, through emotional and spiritual intimacy, intellectual conversation, friendship, respect, shared experiences, and a shared vision for our lives. This was important to our early marriage as we navigated the new territory of connecting through sex because we had a foundation of trust to build upon. While it was sometimes difficult and awkward to talk about our physical needs and desires, walking this road together ultimately enhanced our marriage. We now view our physical intimacy as a journey we get to explore together for the rest of our lives and that is exciting!

Of course, we have had to overcome society’s messaging about physical intimacy and what it should be like. Not to mention, people love to exaggerate how often they are physically intimate with their spouse and are not quick to reveal struggles they have in this area. As a young adult and young bride, I was fed lies about sex that didn’t align with what is truly healthy and normal.

And this brings me to sex in motherhood.

Just when we found our groove in the sheets, we became pregnant. Cue the pregnancy pillow barricade, nausea, growing tummy, wacky hormones, anxiety, nesting, and fatigue. For some lucky ladies, libido spikes in pregnancy (you go girl!) and for others, they don’t want to be touched with a ten foot pole. I experienced the latter. It felt like the connection we built through physical intimacy came to an abrupt halt. Not only was my desire at an all-time low, but everything my husband did annoyed me, down to the way he slurped his morning coffee. Sadly, most of his attempts to pursue me during this time were rejected (thank you, hormones!). We both accepted this as a temporary season related to the intense process of growing a human.

But the end wasn’t in sight. Birth wasn’t kind to my body. I suffered a 4th degree tear, leading to fear around sexual intercourse. I was also breastfeeding around the clock, and took on a new job a few months postpartum. The postpartum hormones weren’t kind. My husband was also traveling often for work. I wouldn’t say we found a rhythm with physical intimacy…it became more of an afterthought. Life got a bit crazy. Six months postpartum, we became (happily) pregnant again. 

Back-to-back pregnancies, birth injuries, breastfeeding, and stressful jobs don’t lend themselves to a hot and spicy sex life. I didn’t just “bounce back” to my former pre-baby self, which affected my self-image and confidence, even in front of my husband. But we desperately wanted the desire to be there. One night after sitting on opposite couches and scrolling our phones for hours, we had a reckoning. We weren’t satisfied with our physical intimacy. I cried – it must be my fault. But it wasn’t.

This is life and this is marriage.

The seasons of life will keep rolling in. The reality is, if you have kids, jobs, hobbies, friends, responsibilities, and you continue to age (spoiler alert: we all do), it will always take an effort to prioritize physical intimacy in marriage. This is why I’m sharing. You aren’t alone or messed up if this is something you struggle with in your marriage. But it does take focus and teamwork to address. But honestly, there is a huge upside that benefits both partners!

A few things that are helping us are:

  • Individual therapy to handle personal stresses
  • An occasional cleaning lady to reduce household tasks (a messy house is not sexy)
  • Praying together before bed and praying specifically for our intimacy
  • Keeping the tv off and putting phones away an hour before bed
  • Prioritizing healthy eating, working out, and sleep (hello balanced hormones!)
  • Scheduling sex (yup, I said it! And we enjoy it!)

The moral of the story is, navigating physical intimacy is a journey. We receive so many mixed messages about what it is, what it should be, and how we should pursue it. These messages follow us through every phase of life. The important thing is that you evaluate what works for YOU (and your partner). Keep an open line of communication regarding your physical intimacy and embrace the changing tides of life as they come!


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