by Jessica Peterson
When I was around 6 months pregnant I read The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact With Your Baby Leads To Happier, Healthier Development, By Sharon Heller. The book is about the importance and value of early (and extended) skin to skin contact between a parent and their newborn. She explores culture and belief in an inspiring, informative, and thought- provoking way. There was one specific section, it might have even been only a line or two, where she made a distinction between sensuality and sexuality that struck me deeply and got me to thinking about my relationship with these concepts. It turns out I did not hold a distinction between them, which was flawed.
So many things in life are sensual. Walking barefoot in the grass, cashmere on your skin, a breeze on your cheek, dipping into hot water, or the brush of a baby’s hand over your chest. It is something that feels good and creates a positive sensation in our bodies. Of course, intimacy can also be a sensual experience. But connecting to our sensuality is so much more than that. It is a willingness to indulge in the pleasure life all around has to offer.
Sexuality is probably more familiar for most of us. It’s the sensations and expressions we share in intimate moments with our beloved. It may or may not include intercourse, but certainly has an erogenous flavor, a primal release perhaps. It too feels good, but has a different tone and a narrower focus that sensuality does.
I was curious how I could use my body to house, birth, and care for my child while holding my sexuality intact. It is a really fascinating thing, because our breasts and vagina, historically sexualized body parts, by society certainly and often by our own making as well, become completely utilitarian. A portal and a milk machine. But, also important to remember is that the same hormones that allow birth to happen are the same hormones present during sex. The two are biologically interwoven, and for good reason, but it’s the ideological struggle we hold as a culture that limits the optimal functioning of both our systems. Understanding the difference between sensuality and sexuality was the key to achieving access to both my maternal nature and my sexual nature.
There are a few particular instances I will share that helped to continue grounding this idea for me. First, we continued to be sexual until very close to the time I gave birth. That felt like a way to enfold our infant into our intimate life (not to mention it is healthy, recommended and can even bring on labor. Functional and fun!) Our baby was present between us and we were both very aware of there being three of us in the moment. It was a way of celebrating an enormous love and it was a practice for riding the edge between being a pregnant woman holding space for another life (the Mother) while also still being a woman with a man (the Lover).
Secondly, the actual act of giving birth was not sensual in a comfortable way, but there was certainly strong and, ultimately, intense sensation that was in some way stimulating. It was a novel use of my vagina, a place acquainted only with it’s function as a sexual organ. It found out that it had another purpose in that time. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the intensity of giving birth deleted any self conscious tendencies I previously had. In that time I didn’t care what anyone thought or saw. It was all raw experience and there for the world to see. That was transformative.
Lastly, caring for a child is extremely sensual, and I can see how I may have felt uncomfortable with that before creating a separation in my sensations. I found that breastfeeding could be arousing, but hey, that is just biology at work and I had no shame around that. At times it would inspire me to go seek out my partner for a little intimate time together once the babe was asleep. Handy I thought. I also have co-slept with my son since day one and cuddling with a tiny warm body is the best, and yes, absolutely a sensual experience. And I was able to fully revel in the beauty of being close to him because I wasn’t all contorted about the pleasant feelings I had around it.
Those are some practical thoughts, but on a more spiritual level the experience of housing and birthing another human being made me feel like a fucking goddess. I was a worrioress who had gone to the source of all things and come back with a little boy in my arms. That is hot. And the power in that lingered for a long time. It was a sort of sexual rocket fuel.
The reality of giving birth was harsh for me. I tore quite severely and required many stitches to be put right, so I was in no hurry to hop back in the sexual saddle. But those early days as a new family were saturated with sensuality. It was a hot summer, we were all hardly dressed, cuddling all day. Oxytocin was flowing like a roaring river. We made a practice of creating “oxytocin bubbles” where one of us would hold our son while the other was on massage duty. In many of these moments the line between sensuality and sexuality became very thin or dropped all together. It was primal and felt natural to connect in this way with our son between us, he was engulfed in an enormous love flowing between his parents. It was not until around six weeks postpartum that we had intercourse, we took it very slow, I was blessed with no discomfort and we re-entered that domain of life from then on.
Naturally, over the course of time our sex life has waxed and waned simply due to life circumstances, but I cannot imagine parenting without access to reconnecting with my partner intimately. It is a source of grounding, release, joy, relaxation, connection, energy, and laughter that I could not mother optimally without. I am so thankful for that little spark in The Vital Touch that redefined the way I experience my body. I have a much greater access to all pleasure, and nothing feels tainted or misaligned.
Jessica comes from a background of deep reflective practises that she is adopting in her quest to journal her experience being a new mother. Her writing can be found at www.mamacitta.org.
She is lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Mathew and their son Rowen Magnus.
Ayurvedic Commentary by Sandra Radja -
I had asked Jessica to write on the topic of sex since I had noticed that sex seems to exit the lives of mothers I have come into contact with. I found it interesting. Not being a mother myself I was intrigued by nature and the enormity of being prepared for procreation and it's after effects. We have heard about post-natal depression as a general topic but we rarely point to specific topics like sex. I see more and more women having children later when the natural immunity is reducing - there is only so much energy to give. I also see more conscious acts of single motherhood and, as mentioned, the new celibate form of relationships that are common but unspoken about. I wanted to start a conversation.
The Ayurvedic approach to parenthood is to prepare ahead. The idea is that both partners do a cleansing therapy called Pancha Karma to clear out the excess doshas in the system so two people come to a union in balance and thereby create a newborn from that state. This is not usually the case. The notion of being financially viable is considered and possibly the set up of baby stuff in the spare room, painted and ready, but rarely do we consider clearing the digestive system and state of mind that will help create the newborn as well as prepare the parents for the expense of energy and constant attention to change that's about to come.
So say it's all happened. Passion, excitement, and desire have taken over and produced a beautiful child.
The first few months of a mothers life is about repair. It's about filling the space that was filled with quite an intense experience of growth. Wrapping the abdomen post birth, eating a Vata calming diet that is nourishing and warm and oiling the body daily are advised. It is not advised that women rush back to work. It is ideal that there is help at hand for the first few months to assist the mother. In the beginning, it's about healing and possibly stepping away from the fray in order to do so.
It is established that one of the most important therapies a newborn needs is touch. However I would also suggest the case for the mother too. Sensual touch, which is well described by Jessica, is an important exchange between mother and child. Both will heal from it. But it can also extend to sensual touch with a partner. Exhaustion is usually what prevents a woman from enjoying sex, which is a shame because it can be very rejuventative when done the right way. Ensuring that part of your day is about you, mama, to ensure that you have the energy for sex, can provide the stress release and emotional connection that can then give you the energy needed to give to your child. According to a study done at Wilkes University, Pennsylvania, folks that had sex once or twice a week had 30 percent more infection-fighting immunoglobulin A (lgA) in their saliva than those who didn't do the deed as often. I daresay, it would also do a lot for a new mothers confidence, to feel that intimacy with another, especially with her changing body. When attention, or prana, is felt throughout the body, that body is healthier and open to vitality.
For a woman, touch in the breast area is vitally important. This area needs to be moved as it can easily create stagnation. Our breasts are sensitive and hold a vital connection to our emotional state. They are also our gateway to building sexual energy as they have an intimate connection to your reproductive area as well as opening the heart area to clear grief. At the least, this should be a regular exercise between couples. It will assist with breastfeeding, if there is stagnation, and provide a sense of nourishment for the constant giving the mother does, of her body, in parenting.
The fluids or rasa in Ayurveda is the first tissue layer, post-digestion, to create well-being in our bodies. It is the water element in our body that assists in protecting our internal skin from enzymatic, hormonal and thinking action, providing a carrier for toxins to exit out of the system, giving our tongues the ability to taste food, and providing lubrication for our skin as a barrier to the external world. It is vitally important not to dry yourself for it will break down your immunity and cause the natural flow in the body to stop.
Ayurveda recommends oiling up. Daily. You can use sesame or sunflower/coconut oils but spoil yourself and go the medicated herbal route. It can provide so much more benefit from ingesting a few herbs into the mix. If you are a single mother or there is no opportunity to be able to receive touch from another, this is a perfect option. The act of oil on the skin will provide the water element and protective layer to the skin. It will also calm the baby that will smell the herbs on you when you hold them close.
Sex has been given a bad rap. It is either straight up nasty porn or totally discarded due to severe exhaustion and the martyrdom of motherhood. There is a beautiful middle ground. It most likely will require organising yourself at first to include this rejuvenative practise, but then it can become a part of your parenting bringing a closeness to your relationship that your kid will feel. It needs to eat and sleep but it needs to learn connection too. It will receive it from its mother but there is a wonderfully balanced and healthy approach to imbibing the life lesson of how to relate to another.
Your partner is also providing and going through immense changes and open to an immune breakdown. Your partner also needs to feel love and conenction too. We all want to be loved and to show that to another. I personally feel this lesson should be taught in a new life as soon as possible.