As a single mom, after two kids and an almost ten-year relationship, I've taken to connecting with other women in a similar walk of life. I talk frequently to single mothers about everything from separation agreements and the process of divorce, to the complicated (and yet, seemingly necessary) world of online dating. There’s a lot to divulge, from the few-and-far-between good dates, to the total disasters that stem from dating profile red flags (read: abs-only shots or ten pictures of a dog and none of a human). In local online groups—where I met many of these women—screenshots are frequently shared. Warning: narcissist, raging alcoholic, MARRIED!! But one of the most constant (and fun) topics of our conversations revolves around the glory that is post-separation sex.
There’s good reason for all the sex talk: As it turns out, the libido of the newly dating single mother is, well, a bit intense. I’d been properly warned about the phenomenon (by my mother, in fact), but I didn’t expect it to be quite so extreme. Still, I found my sex drive came flooding back pretty much the moment I mentally marked myself “separated.” Partly, I knew it had gone away because the stress of motherhood coupled with the unavoidable issues in my marriage had washed away every last speck of romance in my relationship.
Still, I could’ve have imagined what was lying dormant. Other single mothers, deep in their own sexual awakenings both in real life and in online chats, encouraged me to embrace it. Go on that date; have that one night stand; go ahead and put “DTF” on your dating profile. The steady stream of stories about embracing sexuality made my newfound horniness feel like a rite of passage—one I gladly accepted.
At the end of my very first post-marriage date, I found myself making out like a teenager outside a restaurant, next to the light blue van I drive my kids around in, willingly ignoring the sounds of passersby. For weeks after the street make-out, I let the scene play out over and over in my foggy, inattentive mind. I struggled to focus on my usual, mundane tasks. I stared out the window while doing dishes and typing on my computer. I closed my eyes and let the fantasies consume me. And after my first few romps with the same man, and later, a new partner, I was so distracted I missed meals.
Now, I’m having frequent, intoxicating sex for the first time in years. The libido I thought to be near death was actually alive and well—so much that I wondered how I’d managed to overlook it for so long.
Strikingly similar stories from other single moms ease my confusion, though. Crystal Benton, a Maryland mother of one who prefers to use a pseudonym since she is still legally married, says she always enjoyed sex but in her married life it became a rare occurrence. While her sex drive didn’t exactly go away, intimacy with her partner was unsatisfying and infrequent. She says that even though she still had sexual urges, she felt that once you were married with kids, it was perfectly normal for sex to become boring. “I repressed my sexual side,” she tells me. “We would have sex once a month and it would last around five minutes. No real foreplay. I orgasmed from sex three times the entire 12 years we were together.”
Regardless of her underwhelming sex life, Benton says she stayed in her marriage as long as she could for her family but, eventually, her mental health began to deteriorate and she became depressed. Now, having been separated for a year and a half, Benton is embracing sex again. She and her current partner both have kids so they can’t see each other as often as they like to, but when they are together, she says they have sex around three times a day. “I feel more fulfilled now than I ever did when I was married,” she says.
This "awakening" among single mothers who say they “feel like a teenager again” is not uncommon, says Sandra Caron, a professor of family relations and human sexuality at the University of Maine and author of several books about sexuality. “No longer stuck in what may have been a sexless marriage, many single mothers find that there’s time to focus on her own needs versus that of her children and former partner.” This time around, Caron adds, the woman is more knowledgeable about her own desires—her likes and dislikes—and she has more experience communicating. And by being sexually experienced, she may find she has fewer inhibitions.
Though it can feel like a mother's sex drive was gone, it has simply been put on the backburner, Caron says, because in some cases there are too many other duties that come with having a family that sex fails to make it onto the to-do list. “Despite the romantic notion a couple might have about how adding a baby will make their relationship complete, the reality is that adding a baby into the relationship can subtract the sex,” she tells me.
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And because mothers still do much of the childrearing and household duties—despite the fact that more and more mothers have full-time careers—they are typically the more stressed, exhausted parent who is suffering from nagging mental drain. My experts tell me that biological factors for women (pregnancy, breastfeeding, hormone fluctuations) influence sex drive, too, meaning mothers can disproportionately experience that loss of interest in their partner once parenting begins.
Based on my own experience, I’d have to agree. My near-sexless marriage was mostly of my own making. I was tired, irritable, and overall, disinterested. Much of it was fueled by a near-constant frustration with the issues in my marriage, like feeling as if I was doing the majority of the child-rearing, home maintenance, and managing the dreaded mental load of being the organizer and planner of all family-centric things. These issues were so common among married mothers I knew that my fast-fading sex life almost felt normal, as well. But not quite—especially not when another mother would casually mention that her and her husband had a quickie in the bathroom while their toddler watched a three-minute youtube video just because they had to have each other, right then.
For me, the love and the lust between my partner and I seemed to fade as soon as my first bout of raging morning sickness wracked me almost a decade ago. At a certain point, I knew it wasn’t coming back, at least while in my marriage.
Before I was a wife and a mother, I couldn’t have imagined a life that lacked commitment to my own contentment, which has to do, at least in part, with sexual satisfaction. But how easily it happened to me was startling. I willingly I told myself lies to keep me in a life that stunted me: that plenty of couples don’t have sex anymore, that it wasn’t important, and that I was being selfish. It was a kind of betrayal, if only to myself. Still, I tried not to imagine that I might be wasting the best years of my sex life because I was too many things to too many people.
For many mothers, believing our sex drives have value (or even remembering that they still exist at all) can sometimes be a journey. And I understand now why the sex drive of the single mother is fierce. But the truth is, thanks to my raging post-marital libido, sex is better now than I ever remember it being. I’m in the sexual prime of my life, which I have been in for a while. Only now, I actually get to feel that way and—at the encouragement of the other newly dating single mothers in my corner—to finally embrace it.
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