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"Not This Month, Honey. I'm Tired"
The challenge of hot sex--okay, any sex--amid the patter of little feet

By Harry Maurer

"Sex? Hah! We haven't had sex in three months."

Sound familiar? Well, you've got lots of company. One of the perils of parenthood can be premature bed death: You're plenty hale and horny, but you and the wife just don't seem to get around to it much any more. And now that you stop to think about it, the slide started in those years when little Jason and Jennifer came along. You've talked about it with your mate, joked about it, fought about it, made resolutions to try harder. Nothing has worked.

What to do? You and your wife may feel like you've heard everything the other has to say, and the passion meter still hasn't budged. Commiserating with your male buddies may not get you anywhere, because chances are they see things the same way you do, and there's not a lot to learn. So maybe you could use some ideas from the other side-that is, from women, but not the one you're married to. Because believe me, they're worrying about sex, too, and probably feel stuck in the same rut. So, as they say on TV, let's call up a friend.

The first thing some wives point out is that after giving birth, they plain old don't feel sexual. And it's not only because they're not getting any sleep. Patricia Love points out in her book Hot Monogamy that women go through an actual hormonal change from the initial "in love" (and in heat) stage of a relationship to the settling-down stage, and an even more drastic swing after kids arrive. The chemicals coursing through their bodies then are telling them to mother, not to seduce. Monica, a 39-year-old New York housewife with two sons, 14 and 10, says that "It's the first four or five years that are hard, and in our case, we were just starting to get back to normal when I got pregnant again. There are a bunch of things at work. First there's the exhaustion: 'How dare you try to cut into my sleep time?' I was also worried about the pain for a year or so. And I didn't feel like a very sexy human being. I was breast-feeding, I was overweight. It's gotten better over the years-we make love about once a month now, and when we do it's great. Still, it's not what it used to be. We have our chances, but we'll choose to stay up late and watch TV or drink too much instead of having sex. I think we're shyer than we used to be. You get out of the habit, and that happened when the kids were young."

In other words, friend, you're not alone.

Even if you've negotiated new-baby syndrome gracefully, the real sex-killer knocks on the door: domestic routine. "Ellie is a very well-behaved daughter," says Angela, a 29-year-old Long Islander who works in advertising while her husband practices law. "She's cooperative, sweet, and loving. But there's nothing that makes me feel sexy about coming home from work, making dinner, listening to her sing all the songs she learned for the school recital, battling our way through the multiplication tables, getting her pajamas on, and reading her a story. It's just not the same as spending those two hours trying on clothes and cute underwear and spritzing with perfume, which I used to do in dating days."

Plus, she adds, "you're living with the guy, so you think, well, if we don't do it today, we'll do it tomorrow."

Then there's the simple matter of proximity-those little beings around the house who not only prevent you from getting time alone together but seem to hover even when they're asleep. Angela again: "When she sleeps at her grandmother's, we have better sex. I don't think it's so much her being in the next room, though that does keep me from shouting, 'Oh, fuck me, you bastard!' It's worrying about that knock on the door. Or if we're doing it in the morning, her coming in and saying, 'What's that smell?' Which has happened! Or, 'What were you guys doing?' "

For Angela, as with many women, the key to kindling her fires is affection. "We have a five-minute affection rule. Every day, five minutes, not leading up to sex, no talking about what's going on, just being loving and focused on each other. We have a date night every week. And I've noticed—if David is particularly horny, he'll start the buildup early in the day, which I think is very smart. When we wake up he'll stroke my hair, touch my breasts, tell me I'm pretty. Then he'll come home from work and he won't complain about his rotten day. If he's really on, he'll bring flowers. And he'll give Ellie a cookie to go to bed early!"

Besides lavishing on the affection, the other classic technique for keeping passion percolating is to set aside Sex Time. Deborah, a 39-year-old California massage therapist with one daughter in college and a teenager at home, has been married to her second husband, Larry, for 14 years. "As the girls grew up I felt more self-conscious about them hearing something. Now I've reached the point where I prefer to have sex when they aren't home. So we don't make love as frequently, but recently we came up with a plan: Every Friday, Larry comes home from work at lunchtime, and from 12 to 1 we have sex. This makes it a lot more interesting in a number of ways. One is that we can do it in different parts of the house -we've done it in the living room on an armchair, in the kitchen standing up, in the shower. The other is that I feel much freer to make plenty of noise. And of course we're not as exhausted as we are if we were having sex at bedtime."

Deborah continues: "Larry and I have also been exploring sex toys for the last year or so, dildos and vibrators. My favorite is the Magic Wand, which has a long handle and a bulb at the end about as big as a tennis ball. Sometimes Larry uses it on me, or sometimes I hold it on myself, or we use it while he's fucking me and it stimulates us both. But it makes noise, so that's another reason I like to have sex when Suzy's out of the house.

"I will say that I worry about having all these toys around because Suzy might find them. So we keep them in a box on top of a built-in cabinet that you have to stand on a chair to get to. Then we have a secret box under the bed where we keep a dildo and a small vibrator, so we can just reach under."

Even with their sex hour set aside on Friday, Deborah says, "It's still a struggle. I think, There are so many other things I have to do! But we both know it's important in keeping our relationship alive, and we've had such good times that we both make an effort. He tries to forget about work, and I try not to think about whatever else I need to get done that way. I'm definitely not always in the mood, but I make the effort anyway, and I always enjoy it by the end."

It's good advice. Block out the time—and then treat it seriously. Sex after parenthood isn't like those youthful spontaneous days when lovemaking, for both of you, topped the list of Important Things to Do. It's going to take some work. But you're a grown-up now, right?

Harry Maurer, the father of two sons, lives in New York City and is the author of Sex: An Oral HIstory.

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