Julia (not her real name) was no stranger to motherhood -- her first child was 14 months old when her second was born -- so she wasn't expecting any real surprises when it came to her sex life. It would subside for a while, she figured, then gradually get back on track.
Instead, Julia discovered a strange arithmetic followed the arrival of baby No. 2: Fatigue, stress, and general chaos somehow increased by a factor of 10. Was the rumor she'd heard true? Do kids obliterate their parents' sex life forever?
Men don't like to talk about it; neither do their partners. But loss of libido in men or inhibited sexual desire stresses a marriage more than any other sexual dysfunction, according to Barry McCarthy, co-author of Rekindling Desire: A Step by Step Program to Help Low-Sex and No-Sex Marriages.
Losing interest in sex may not be as common an occurrence for men as it is for women: It affects about 15% to 16% of men, and at least double that many women. "But when men lose interest in sex it scares them...
No doubt about it: Where parents of one child outnumber their offspring, a second baby shifts the whole dynamic. "The balance changes," says family therapist Carleton Kendrick. Or, as Julia puts it, "The couple should be the pillar of the house. Instead the house becomes a giant toy room."
Usually, by the time a second child arrives, the first is old enough to be somewhat independent -- and a handful. Nursing the new baby is hard enough, but add a kid in the "terrible twos" and the workload more than doubles. Meanwhile, the consequences are real: On average, parents with kids spend just 20 minutes a week being intimate, according to Anne Semans and Cathy Winks, co-authors of The Mother's Guide to Sex.
According to Kendrick, the solution is in seeing these issues as opportunities for a new kind of intimacy: "In my experience, sex is actually better for couples with kids, after a little work."
Tips for Keeping Your Sex Life Alive
Redefine. "Make sex mean slow kisses in the morning," says Kendrick. "For husbands, this might be a few minutes of stroking your wife's hair. You start reconnecting in this new way, and then the other ways aren't such a leap."
Reconnect. "Don't talk about the kids all the time," Julia says. "It's tempting, but you have to avoid it. Talk about whatever it is you used to talk about together. Keep those conversations alive."
Get creative. Babysitters can take kids on l-o-n-g walks around the block, Kendrick notes. In general a couple would do well to revisit adolescence: "Get in the car, park somewhere. Or run off into the woods for an hour. I don't mind saying that that worked rather well in my own life."