Last week I was at the gym when the woman on the treadmill to my left asked, "What are you reading?" I showed her the cover of Confessions of a Naughty Mommy: How I Found My Lost Libido by Heidi Raykeil.
"I need that book," she stated.
I nodded. "You're not the only one."
Moms don't talk about it every day, but once in awhile at a particularly progressive playgroup, a mom will confide that things aren't going so well for her in the S-E-X department. And all of a sudden -- if the timing is right and there's wine in the cooler along with the juice boxes -- one after another mom will murmur her assent until eventually all of the moms are confiding that they, too, need help in that department. The explanations usually revolve around three main points: Moms' sex lives are lacking passion. Moms want badly to have good sex lives. Moms are so worn out from mommying, working, or in most cases a combination of the two, that the last thing on their minds is getting it on.
That was the last thing on new mommy Raykeil's mind, too. She and her husband had enjoyed a fantastic, fantasy-filled sex life before she gave birth to their daughter Ramona. But once her daughter was born, Raykeil found that her lust for good sex had disappeared. This bothered her husband and it bothered Raykeil:
Contrary to popular belief around here, my husband isn't the only one who's freaked out by my total disinterest in sex. Since pregnancy, my libido is all over the map. It's up, it's down, and now it appears to be completely off the map, AWOL. I've heard that women hit their sexual peak in their early 30s. Okay: Here I am, libido, pushing 30, ready to go. But nothing is happening, the battery is dead. Between postpartum hormones, nursing hormones, exhaustion, and overwhelming love for Ramona, I'm all shorted out.
Raykeil wanted to know where her libido had gone and how she could get it back. This book documents her feelings about being a new mom and a new homemaker, and how -- in Raykeil's postpartum world -- those feelings take the place of her need to be physical with her husband. Raykeil's writing is candid and revealing. If you are uncomfortable reading about another person's sex life, this book isn't for you. If you see sexual intimacy as healthy and as a necessary part of a positive relationship, you will understand why Raykeil worked so hard at figuring out how a naughty girl could turn into a naughty mommy.
Raykeil writes about the strain that her unsatisfactory sex life puts on her marriage and how desperately she wants to regain the intimate connection she had with her husband before Ramona was born. She also struggles with her own definition of good sex. What does it mean to her now that she's older, now that she's a mom, now that she and her husband are parents?
I need to find my way back to the good stuff, and I'm starting to get an idea of what it might take. Good sex needs to be about more than just simply opportunity or logistics, it has to. It needs to be more than hormones or raw lust or date night. It needs to be more than just charity. It starts with two people seeing each other in a real way, and each one saying to the other, You exist, and I see you, I see you, I see you, and I still love you anyway.
Raykeil's journey to regain her lost libido is also a journey to bring her relationship to a deeper place. As a couple, Raykeil and her husband need to get over the stressful hump that a new child brings to the life of two people and move forward as a family of three, a family in which mom and dad still value each other's company as much as they now value the company of their child. While exploring the ways in which she can bring good sex back into her relationship, Raykeil -- by necessity -- ends up exploring the idea that she has a relationship worth saving, not just a sex life worth saving:
I'm learning the problem with having a life above and beyond sweatpants: It can be dangerous. It's easy to dive into domesticity when you feel like that's all there is, when it becomes your whole life. It's a lot harder when you realize there's a whole world still out there, when you realize there are other choices you can make, and that maybe you've left something vital behind.
Raykeil's writing resonates because her book is not only about the postpartum loss of sex drive, but also the nature of sex within long-term relationships, whether a baby is involved or not. It's time -- not just children -- that can turn a relationship from sexy to stale. In Raykeil's case, sex is what brought her and her husband together -- the glue that held their relationship together in the past. What's she hoping is that it will also be what holds their relationship together in the future.
The book is powerful because Raykeil isn't afraid to tell her story. Many women are in Raykeil's place. Some admit it and some don't. Some may assume that a waning sex drive is a normal part of life; and kids, work, and a busy lifestyle naturally replace the spontaneous passion of a responsibility-free, child-free adulthood. What I admire about Raykeil is that she had the guts to tell the world that her sex life was lacking and that she wasn't content with that fact. Before writing her book, she wrote about sex in her Sex in the Suburbs column right here on Literarymama.com. I remember reading her columns and being more than slightly in awe of her courage.
But as much as I enjoy Raykeil's writing, I felt there were times in the book when her analysis became over-analysis. The book drags in parts, and even though the writing itself never gets stale, I found myself wanting to jump ahead to the end of the book, to reach the part where she reveals whether or not she managed to find her lost libido. Lucky for both me and her, Raykeil is a fantastic writer. She weaves words in a beautiful way and I enjoyed her prose even when I tired of the length of a particular section.
In the back of the book are seven pages of straightforward and funny tips for guys written by Raykeil and her husband. Raykeil advises men to "Stroke, don't poke," among other things, and her husband breaks the man's role down into the three Cs: Chat, Chill, and Chores. But these few pages of lighthearted humor aside, Confessions is not a how-to guide for the sexually impaired. Instead, it is one woman's story, her introspective journey through a sexless landmine of postpartum life.
Because Raykeil was brave enough to bring her readers along with her on her very personal introspective journey, I felt it odd that she chose to omit from Confessions any mention of the loss of her firstborn child and what effect that had on her sexual appetite. In Raykeil's essay "Johnny," which was published in the Literary Mama anthology Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, she writes about giving birth to a son who died just weeks after being born. One wonders if the loss of a child might play a role in her waning sex life. Could it have been feelings of guilt and remorse that gave way to Raykeil's intense desire to smother-mother her second child? Could her overspending of emotions on her living child leave her with none left over to share with her husband? I understand omitting talk about death from a mostly upbeat book about sex, but knowing about it, the omission seems glaring.
Talking about sex can be difficult. We live in a society of mixed messages. Sex is all around us; it's prominent on television, in magazines, on billboards, and in movies. Yet we don't get much feedback or training on how to make sex work for us in the context of our daily, normal lives. Raykeil's book explores the average young family's sex life from every angle and every position, pardon the pun. She empowers herself and revs up her sex life by both admitting that she has one, and acknowledging that it is sputtering out after the birth of her daughter. Her courage to write about losing and finding her libido should empower other women, too, whether they are in a heterosexual or homosexual relationship, whether they birthed their child vaginally or by caesarean section, whether they gave birth or adopted.
If you believe that an active, mutually fulfilling sex life is one of the keys to longevity in a relationship, you'll enjoy Raykeil's book. She writes about what many of us don't have courage to talk about, and she does it with style, grace, and tenacity. In her search for what became of her pre-baby naughty self, she doesn't give up. And in writing about her search for her lost libido, she reveals what she learned in her explorations of self and sex, of reproduction and relationships. Confessions of a Naughty Mommy is both entertaining and informative. Like I told my friend at the gym, we all need this book.