The Mother's Guide to Sex
by Anne Semans and Cathy Winks

A Review by Alana Wingfoot

What a nice book!

In the best of senses, I hasten to add. This book is written in a very friendly and pleasant tone; the authors enjoy sex and believe that everyone has the right to an enjoyable sex life. Lots of information, lots of individual anecdotes. While it doesn't go into very great depth on most issues, it's certainly a good place for a mother to learn why she might feel whatever way she does about sex, and to get ideas on how to combine a sex life with motherhood. And it doesn't assume that every mother is het or married, unlike most books aimed at mothers!

The book is divided into four parts. Part one, "The Building Blocks of Sexuality", talks about various physical and psychological factors that affect one's sexuality at any stage of life, our society's views of mothers and sexuality, learning to appreciate yourself, sexual desire, communication with your partner, and so forth.

Part two, "The ABCs of Becoming a Mom," discusses sex while you're trying to conceive (including issues that het couples with infertility problems may face), sex during pregnancy, and sex in the months immediately following the birth. (This section includes my favorite quote in the whole book, in the passage about myths and facts about sex during pregnancy: "Geez, if we were heterosexual men, we'd get a bit of a complex from reading pregnancy manuals. The subtext seems to be: Gals, the powerful orgasms you give yourself are capital-D dangerous, but those wimpy little orgasms your hubby gives you are nothing to worry about!") It also contains a chapter on how to talk with your doctor or other medical caregiver about sexual issues and how to get the information you need.

When I read this book, my son was already two years old, so I'm already past most of the issues that part two covers. However, it was nice to be reminded that I wasn't weird for feeling "touched-out" from nursing, to learn that it's not uncommon to find intercourse difficult for many months after a vaginal birth, and so forth. (One of the best things about this book is that there are examples from a variety of viewpoints -- women who had no sex drive after birth and women who couldn't wait to get back into it, women who loved the changes in their bodies and women who hated them, women who had an easy time communicating with their partners and women who had difficulty.) I also found useful the reminder that what turns you on and how you enjoy being touched is going to change, not just from pregnancy, but over the course of your life in general. (For me, one side benefit of pregnancy and nursing is that I finally get some sexual pleasure out of having my breasts and nipples touched; pre-Gregory, I found it rather annoying. Kinda interesting.)

In part three, "Reinventing Sex as a Parent," the authors discuss how your and your partner's sex lives may change when you become parents, new ways to look at sex, finding the time and energy for sex, and ways for single mothers to maintain a sex life. There's a lot of emphasis on communcation with your partner, of course.

I was somewhat disappointed that one of the major issues for me wasn't mentioned in here: the authors discuss ways to deal with it when your partner is interested in sex and you aren't, and there's also some discussion of when you're worried that your partner doesn't find you attractive anymore. But there is nothing mentioned about what to do if your sex drive is back, but you no longer find your partner attractive. This is my big issue at this stage. Before I got pregnant, Bert smelled okay to me, and though I've never found him objectively physically attractive, I was able to feel physical desire for him. While I was pregnant, he began to smell unpleasant (even after a shower), and even though our baby is nearly two and a half and I stopped nursing over a year ago, I still don't feel any desire for him. Fortunately he doesn't have a strong need for intercourse, as long as we're still hugging and touching each other. I'm the one who really wants intercourse -- but I don't want it, or for that matter any other sexual activity, with him. We've talked about this issue, and there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it at this time except to hope I'll find him desirable again later. In the meantime, I'm making an effort to keep giving him affectionate touches.

Part four covers the sexuality of children -- how kids' sexuality develops, what to expect at various stages as kids grow up, how to help your kid develop a healthy sexuality, and so forth. I had somewhat mixed feelings about this part. The information itself is fantastic, far more useful than anything I've found in the standard parenting guides. (Side note: Not only will your small child possibly play with their genitals while you're changing the diaper or giving them a bath, they may also discover that they can stick their finger up their butts. Just FYI, or TMI ;-), however you see it.) And it's certainly logical that mothers are going to need this information, and on balance I'm glad the authors included it.

But it just feels like another example of how becoming a mother means you're always defined by your relationship with your kid. Here's this book for mothers, and what's included? A section about raising your kid! Yes, it's only about a fifth of the book page-wise, and yes, some of the information is useful for a mother in her own sex life (like how to respond when your kid is being nosy about the details of your sexual activities), but.... If I were picking this book up in the bookstore, it'd be because I wanted some guidance on handling my sexuality, not my child's. As I said, I'm glad to have the information (and actually, I'd love to see Semans and Winks do a full book on the topic!), but its inclusion left an iffy taste in my mouth.

Still, this is a wonderful book, and I heartily recommend it to any new or not-so-new mother.

Copyright © 2001 Alana Wingfoot.