The new parents to-do list: Diapers? Check. Car seat? Check. Sex? Uhhh . . .
Sex therapist Ian Kerner and sex columnist Heidi Raykeil might be able to help overwhelmed parents bring sexy back with their new book, Love In The Time of Colic: The New Parents' Guide To Getting It On Again ($16.99, Collins Living).
The easy reader, which comes out today, offers X-rated RX for couples in sex ruts. (Who, other than newlyweds, isn't?) Fun and full of tips, the book is unstuffy (they use the f-word), very personal and, at times, naughty.
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Kerner, based in New York, will be in Miami next week. We couldn't wait, so we spoke with the 42-year-old married father of two boys (ages 5 and 2) over the phone. Kerner talked openly about crappy date nights, scheduling sex and online porn. Then his nanny called on the other line and he had to hang up. (Maybe this guy can identify with us after all!)
Q. You always hear of surveys that say couples are having sex three or five days a week. Are people a bunch of liars?
A. Ha, yes, people always over-report. Sex slumps and ruts are the No. 1 problem I deal with. ... Once-a-week can keep you connected and engaged and, for a lot of parents, that can be the right number. But I've really found personally in my own life and in talking to other couples that sex begets sex. Try it, you'll like it.
Q. As a sex therapist, what percentage of your clients are new parents?
A. I'd say it's about 10 to 15 percent. People are generally uncomfortable talking about their sex lives. ... I'm also a dad out there on play dates and playgrounds. It was a big joke when people heard I was writing about sex and parenting. People would say, ‘I can tell you that book in a second: There is no sex!' And that would be the end of the conversation.
Q. Brooke Shields made it OK to talk about postpartum depression. With all the celebrities making babies, do you think we'll ever get one to admit that having sex after baby can be a problem?
A. I'm hoping and waiting. Brad and Angelina have how many kids now? As beautiful as you are, you can still suffer from ruts and boredom. ... I do hope this becomes more of a discussed issue . . . The truth is that after you have a child, there are a lot of factors that can lead you to get disconnected and turned off.
Q. For women, sex has a lot to do with feeling sexy, but how does a new mom feel that way when she's still 20 pounds overweight?
A. In a lot of ways, it's up to a guy to make a woman feel sexy and beautiful and comfortable in her new body. It's not just a woman's burden to light candles and get in a bath and feel sexy -- although a woman should take care of herself and dote on herself.
Q. Are there physiological or scientific reasons a woman's libido goes down after childbirth?
A. There are certainly hormonal issues. Breastfeeding often inhibits desire, and exhaustion and tension certainly inhibits desire. In women, certain types of anxiety really inhibit desire. ... There are physiological factors, but, you know, sex slumps sort of beget sex slumps. Being sexy and having sex begets more sex. Sex is its own aphrodisiac. If you don't use it, you can lose it. Testosterone levels -- which men and woman have -- start to diminish and your body and mind get habituated to not having sex.
Q. Given the choice between sleep and sex, should we be choosing sex?
A. Sex is actually very rejuvenating and stress relieving. It cannot only help with sleep, it can make you feel better physically. I don't like the idea of ‘I'm exhausted, I can't have sex.' If you're exhausted, you should try to have sex.
Q. Do you consider online porn cheating?
A. I do not consider it cheating. Porn is a double-edged sword. For some guys, it's like their version of a spa day -- like a 90-second spa moment. Some guys are into visual stimulation more. Women can get freaked out because porn seems so extreme. ... If you have a healthy sex life, I don't think there's anything wrong with masturbation or using porn to masturbate. On the other hand, if you're not having sex and not connected -- and it's usually the guy off in the den or study masturbating to porn -- then it becomes a problem
because it's depleting energy from the relationship.
Q. You compare watching childbirth to the movie Apocalypse Now. How does witnessing birth affect a guy's sexual attraction to his wife? Do we need to rethink this part of the birth experience?
A. It's a funny phenomenon. A lot of men sometimes over-hype it. For a lot of men I've talked to, it was an issue. They've never witnessed anything like that. It's totally a stressful situation combined with a lot of new visual stimulation. It can make especially things like oral sex more difficult. But I also tell guys, ‘Look, get over it.'
Q. I know your book targets new parents, but what if a couple still doesn't have the groove back -- years later?
There absolutely is hope for couples like that. Sex ruts and sex slumps are epidemic in this country now. There are some reports that say 50 million Americans are stuck in a rut and haven't had sex for weeks. When you're a new parent, you are more vulnerable to some of the traps that might end up getting you into a long-term slump and rut.
Q. I'm glad you address how date nights can be a drag, with all the pressures of planning, the money, the tracking down of a babysitter. Do you think it's a bad idea to plan too much or to have a set schedule for being together?
A. I don't think there's anything wrong with setting a schedule or picking a night to go out. ... As soon as parents can institute time for self -- whether it's a night or afternoon -- the better. Most of us tend to get too ambitious with date night. We're going only once a month or every three months, so we want to go to that fancy restaurant or the theater. I can't tell you how many times in New York we've booked theater tickets and it's turned into a three-hour production. Do we really want to sit in a theater until 11:30 at night? Parents should keep the routine of going out together, but don't overplan what you're going to do.
Q. Are you OK with scheduling sex? Doesn't that turn sex into a to-do list item?
A. I think it can turn sex into a to-do list. Rather than schedule sex, I'd rather see couples prioritize their relationship more in general so maybe that load of dishes doesn't necessarily need to get cleaned right away or that load of laundry doesn't need to be put away. Those are time sucks. More couples are getting on their computers and surfing the Net instead of being together. Especially with technology, there are all these black holes. You got the kids asleep, so you want to check your e-mail, go online a little and play on Facebook. Now it's 11:30 at night.