Category Archives: Partners

When Sex Isn’t So Sexy

“We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb.  We are afraid it will never return.  We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea


“Since we lost our baby, I just don’t want to be touched in that way.”

“How are we going to try again?”

“I actually feel more interested in sex right now– is that weird?”

“We’ve been dealing with infertility and miscarriages for so long, sex has a whole different association for me now.  There’s nothing sexy about it.”

Sex and Meaning 

The most loaded of three letter words, sex can mean so many things to us: comfort, excitement, pleasure, intimacy, fun, freedom, and an affirmation of life.  It may feel like a physical need at times and a spiritual event at others.  It can feel like one of the best parts of life and the epitome of an expression of love between you and your partner.

Unfortunately, after baby loss, it can also mean:

Physical pain for the partner who carried the baby– this may be related to a vaginal delivery, C-section, termination procedure, discomfort related to lactation or other medical issue.

Emotional pain because you’re grieving and lots of things are emotionally painful right now.  If you are in a heterosexual relationship, sex can feel like a distressing reminder of how the two of you made a baby who can’t be here with you.  Having to use birth control during the time you expected to be pregnant can feel both weird and sad.  If you have had fertility challenges, it may remind you of another chapter of your reproductive history that has been painful.

Confusion regarding what sex means now.  Are you “back to normal”?  Trying again?

Guilt about doing something enjoyable.  You may feel like it is a betrayal of your baby to do something physically pleasurable.

Just impossible because you don’t feel comfortable in your body, because sex is playful and you don’t feel playful,  because you need to feel safe to feel sexy and that is not your world right now, because you need to feel vulnerable during sex and you can’t stand to be any more vulnerable, because you experienced a trauma associated with your delivery and now sex triggers anxiety, because you’re too exhausted, because you’re too preoccupied or for any other number of other reasons.

Or, especially appealing because you need to feel comforted, connected, alive or not alone and sex is providing that for you.

If, since your loss,  you’ve been feeling upset or disconnected about the idea of sex, you are not alone.  Your feelings are totally understandable and most likely temporary.

“Cause when a heart breaks, no, it don’t break even.”   The Script,  Breakeven

Sex and Partnering

Sharing a pregnancy or baby is, in itself, a form of intimacy.  A baby is of us and of our relationship in a primary way.  Babies are either biologically connected to us or made with hope, planning and intention involving donors, surrogates or additional birth others.  Going through a pregnancy or having a baby with a partner tends to be a time that stands apart from the rest of our time together.  We may have higher highs, lower lows, and scarier scares together.

It is generally a time of greater interdependence and greater need for a couple as they undertake a journey together to bring a new human into the world.  Even if multiple pregnancies have come before or are expected in the future, this time is a bit different.  The wishes, fears, expectations and memories of a specific pregnancy are exactly that, specific to that pregnancy and special in their own way.

And after baby loss?  I think the heart can’t break even.  And the physical fallout of perinatal loss is never even.  Although so much can and usually is shared in terms of a couple’s reactions, one person is more likely to have been more attached to the baby or more ambivalent about the pregnancy or more physically affected by the loss than the other.  I  don’t think it’s necessarily that one partner feels more or less overall.  I think it’s more that the jagged edges of the broken place for each person are just not exactly the same.  Maybe similar, maybe just as painful, but different.

So wherever you and your partner might be regarding the reactions to sex listed above, you likely have some significant differences.  In addition, you lost some things as a couple such as your identity as an expecting couple or parents of a new baby and your dream of where that path would take you.

With the loss of the baby is a loss of what you hoped for and expected together.  You are both at least a bit changed by your loss and part of what you shared is gone.  This can feel like a new world that you have to learn both individually and together.  The feelings of acute grief and the need to relearn your connection with each other may make sex intimidating or unappealing for some time.  This can feel like a huge secondary loss, but it is probably a short-lived one and one you can work on.

“After you experience the loss of a loved one, a solid boundary suddenly stands before you.  It feels as though you’ve hit a hard wall, and you need to find some softness in your life.  Death is the breaking of a connection, while sex can be the establishment of one.”    Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

What Can Help

If your sexual experience with your partner feels out of sync, it may help to remember that this is more likely to be a phase of your relationship rather than a permanent change.  You both are hurting from your loss and coping in different ways.  Here are some suggestions of what may help during this time as you find your way back to each other.

Start Slowly because you’re not exactly the same as you were before your loss and it’s unlikely that your sexual self will be immediately back online.  Having that in mind and managing expectations can help you and your partner give each other the time you need.

Communicate needs and meanings of sex now.  Communication is itself a form of intimacy in that it helps you to know each other better and offers opportunities to connect.

Accept differences in reactions and coping mechanisms.  Physical intimacy may feel comforting to one of you and not so much to the other.  It doesn’t make one of you wrong, it just may take some time to bridge the gap.   In The Five Love Languages:  How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, Gary Chapman popularized his idea of “love languages”.  The idea is that people have their love tank filled by different means, which he categorized into the areas of physical intimacy, quality time, acts of service, gifts or words of affirmation. As a general concept, this can be helpful to consider when you and your partner seem to express and feel love/intimacy in different ways.

Broaden your definition of intimacy by discussing what makes you feel close, connected or turned on and considering new possibilities. Even after you have communicated and worked on accepting differences, there may be ways to expand what feels connecting to each of you.  For example, in the realm of physical intimacy, if sexual intercourse is not the right thing for one or both of you right now, experiment with holding hands or massage as a starting point.

Spend Time Alone Together and consider how you would like to use it.  Walking, talking, crying, or sitting together can all be healing and intimate experiences.

Learn About Sensate Focus, a technique developed by William H. Masters and Virginia E.  Johnson that was developed  for couples experiencing a variety of sexual challenges.  It involves a series of steps that focus on touch, initially non-sexual, to explore what is pleasurable.  It provides a structured and nonthreatening way to revisit a sexual connection that has been challenged for any reason.  For couples who have been through baby loss, it may take some of the pressure and triggers away from sexual intimacy by shifting the focus to a slow, physical exploration.

Get Additional Help as needed.  This may include individual and/or couples counseling.  A therapist can work with you or you and your partner to help you address barriers between where you are and where you want to be with your sexual connection.


The intimacy of sexual expression between partners is related to the intimacy of pregnancy and having a baby.  Baby loss can turn the world upside down for a couple in so many ways, including their sex life.  By looking at your individual reactions to physical intimacy, noticing what is happening between you and your partner and experimenting with ways to reconnect, the two of you can return to a closer emotional and physical relationship.












Partners in Pain

“Truth is everybody is going to hurt you:  you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”

 –Bob Marley

“I don’t think she should wallow in it and be so sad all the time.  I mean, there’s nothing we can do about it so let’s move on.”

“I don’t even know if he misses her or understands how I feel.  I wonder if I’ve lost him too.”

“He acts like everything is fine.  He says we just need to get pregnant again.  Does he think that will make it all better?”

hPerinatal loss is a huge challenge for any couple to face.  When we took vows to stand by our partner for better or for worse, we didn’t picture this.  When we saw that second line on the pregnancy test, or heard the excited words from our mate, we had no idea that it would end this way.  But, somehow, this is the bus we ended up on and this is the ride we (and our partners) take.

Sometimes we may find our partner extremely comforting to us during the time of intense grief.  After all, he or she is likely the person to whom we feel closest and the one who shared the most of the baby experience with us.  Our partner may be great at knowing what we need and being able to provide it much of the time.  Many people do report a sense of feeling closer than ever to their partners after a perinatal loss.

But all of us at some point, in the midst of our own imperfections, pain and sense of overwhelm, run the risk of adding to our partner’s suffering.  Even in the strongest relationships, there are likely to be moments (sometimes many) of disappointment or anger though out the grief process.  These upsets may appear as passing challenges or large crises that cause concern for the couple about their long term commitment.

Sometimes partners injure each other because they don’t know how to react in the midst of this type of life event.  After all, who ever took the prep course on how to lose a baby?  When new to grief, or this type of grief, many people jump to assumptions about what they or their partner should be feeling or doing and are intolerant when the expectations are not met.  It may be a husband who thinks his wife is “making too much” over an early miscarriage. It may be a woman who is angry and hurt that her partner does not want to see pictures of their stillborn son.   The intolerance may be verbally stated or just otherwise implied, leading to distance and pain for them both.

Injury can also occur simply due to depleted resources.  When we are maxed out due to sadness and fatigue (and grief is exhausting), it is harder to do the work of reaching out and connecting with with our partner.  It has been noted by many that grief tends to be a rather self-absorbing experience and you may notice yourself turned inward much of the time. It can be easy to look at the distance between you and your beloved and worry that you are no longer on the same side.

Of course, these two issues just scratch the surface of what can arise in a couple’s life after the loss of a baby, but they are ones that are familiar to most of us who have been in this situation.  Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help yourself and your partner.

What Can Help

Examine Expectations

Rather than jumping to negative assumptions about you or your partner’s reaction to the loss, try to first notice what you’re feeling and thinking.  Be curious about what has come up for you in terms of beliefs about what you or your partner should be doing.  Consider that these assumptions may stem from cultural, gender or personality influences as well as your own history of loss.  Acknowledge and take responsibility for your own bias, remembering that we all have them.

Respect Differences

Unless your partner is exhibiting behavior that you think is dangerous, try to respect that he or she is having an experience different from yours and is entitled to be in that place.  If you can suspend judgements about right or wrong, and work on accepting and acknowledging that you are grieving differently, it can neutralize some of the anxiety and related hurtful reactions.  The truth is, however close or similar you and your partner may be, the two of you are different people who had different experiences with the pregnancy and/or baby as well as the circumstances of the loss.  As a result, you can’t possibly have the exact same grief experience.

Build Bridges

Although it’s important to allow for the space inherent in holding different views and feelings, it’s also important to find ways to meet and connect.  This may be far easier in some moments than others and that’s OK.  Being open to the idea will help you to notice opportunities.  It may help to remember that both of you are going through a painful and confusing time.  You are also both adjusting to a big change in the story of your lives together and may be unsure of how the two of you will be in this new chapter.

You may want to be transparent about your intention to try to connect.  Some couples make a time at the end of the day to briefly check in to say how they are each feeling and what they need.  Other couples work together on a project such as planning a memorial or making something together to honor their baby.  It may be particularly helpful to acknowledge difficult feelings about the loss to your loved one.  I’ve heard many people say they would much rather have their partners disclose their sadness or fear than “be strong” for them.

Prioritize Self-Care

Baby loss and the grief that accompanies it make for a high needs time.   A corresponding high level of self-care is appropriate.  This includes a focus on the basics such as eating, sleeping and avoiding abuse of alcohol and other drugs.  Exercise (as appropriate to your current physical condition), meditation or relaxation exercises may be very useful as well.  Sources of support outside of your partner can also be particularly important.  If no one in your current circle seems like the right person to talk to or you feel that you would benefit from additional support, remember that there are options for in person support groups, online support forums or psychotherapy.

Pain and distance in our primary relationship can feel like another layer of loss.  Living in this time of grief challenges us in ways we may never have anticipated.  It is also a time when couples can grow as they learn how to support themselves and each other in the midst of this crisis.