“When I started to look for research and books on sex in pregnancy, I was really frustrated,” says Tynan Rhea, a doula and sex educator. “I couldn’t find anything except some deeply useless blog posts on new positions to try to accommodate a baby-bump (uh, duh).” So, Rhea started to do her own digging. Her recent survey, Sexuality Throughout Pregnancy, elicited some surprising responses.

Here, she dishes on what to really expect when you’re expecting (and after the fact):

SDTC: Were there any survey responses that surprised you?

TR: Admittedly, this was far less common than some other themes, but I found it fascinating that some of the women (all who participated to date have identified as women) said their sexual preferences dramatically changed. One women went from loving really rough BDSM sex, to a more loving and gentle sexual style during pregnancy, and back to BDSM post-natal. More than one women reported having incredibly strong and frequent urges to give their partners blowjobs. Those women even surprised themselves!

I was also delightfully surprised to find that many of the women said their partners were really enthusiastic about their pregnant bodies. Some women even found it annoying! Others were deeply grateful that their partners found them beautiful at a time when they weren’t feeling all that comfortable in their own skin anymore.

Finally, I was very surprised to find that most women complained not about how loose their vaginas were after vaginal delivery, but how tight they were! Scar tissue and C-sections can tighten the vaginal opening/muscles. And it wasn’t awesome: it was painful! Talk about one big fat giant myth of sex and pregnancy!

What are the most common sexual issues that couples face during pregnancy?

During pregnancy a lot of the women talk about crashing libidos, then soaring libidos, and partners who either sank or swam in the waters of their ever-changing lust! A lot of women talked about the struggle of body image, especially in the later months. Sometimes morning sickness and heartburn got in the way, and sometimes partners became inexplicably disinterested. The variability of issues in pregnancy was vast.

What about after they become parents?

Post-partum sex had some stronger themes. First of all, no one agreed with their doctor that at six weeks they were ready to have penetrative sex again. Why are doctors telling people they can have penetrative sex again after six weeks? WHY? Any doctor who tells their patient they are “safe” to have penetrative sex again at the six-week mark is grossly disconnected with the realities of the post-natal body. Overwhelmingly, pain with penetrative intercourse reigned the #1 issue by a landslide compared to all other issues surrounding post-partum sex.

Many women warned, TAKE YOUR TIME. That doesn’t mean you can’t have other kinds of sex! Orgasms aren’t off the table (though one respondent did mention they were surprised by how sore their clitoris was). And if you’re still having pain in your vagina/pelvic floor six months to a year after birth, you might want to ask your doctor for a referral to a pelvic physiotherapist. Don’t rely on your doctor to know what to do – they’re just not a great resource in my experience when it comes to sex and pain. Assert that you want to see a pelvic physiotherapist. Episiotomies and C-sections are not easy for everyone’s body to heal from, and both affect the pelvic floor and vagina.

What is your philosophy in a nutshell?

You’re normal. You’re normal. You’re normal. You’re normal, and…you’re normal! People put so much pressure on themselves. Our friends, our families, our culture, our media, all have ideas about what we should and shouldn’t be feeling, wanting, or needing. The truth is: it’s all mostly bullshit.

My philosophy is everyone should have a right to their body and their sexuality on their own terms. I say “should” because it’s just not truthful to say people do. Not everyone does. Accessibility to services, information, and caregivers all impact our ability to honestly explore our sexuality in a safe and inspiring context. I want to help facilitate that process for people by providing information and compassionate care. I once heard a therapist at a conference say, “I’m trying to put myself out of business.” Until we as a society rid ourselves of unreasonable expectations and stop perpetuating this culture of “not good enough” and “not sexy enough” and “not normal enough,” I will be in business. Let’s push me into early retirement!

For new moms (and dads) who may be reading this and thinking that sex is all a distant memory now, what’s your advice?

Try to come back to sex as though you’re a sexually knowledgeable teenager. You’re not starting from zero; you still know what makes you hot and what doesn’t, but what worked before probably won’t work now. Scar tissue, changes in body image, nerve damage (or nerve changes) make the body a brand new landscape for potential pleasure! Try to approach sex with the naiveté and curiosity you had as a kid. Explore each other’s bodies as though it’s all new…because it is! See if you can change the story from “It’s all different now and I’m totally lost!” to “What can we explore next!” It’s going to take some time, but you will have sex again with conscious and compassionate effort!

Also, partners…I know you work really hard, but do some dishes. And the laundry. Hire a baby-sitter and don’t expect sex. Let your post-partum honey come to you when they’re ready. Parenting is tough on both of you but their body just went through a whole lot of new. Be patient, tender, and loving even if you’re not getting all the hot sex you’re used to. You will eventually, especially if you help out lots!

Any tips for how to start feeling sexy again after baby?

Take some time for yourself, post-natal folk. Get reacquainted with your body again. You can literally ask yourself in the mirror, “How is my body feeling today?” Pregnancy is a radical change for people’s bodies! And whether or not the changes are good or bad is secondary: change is change and that in itself is enough to make people feel disoriented. A friend of mine said, “It’s taken me years to finally get okay with my body. And now I’m going to get pregnant and have to do it all over again?” Yes, you will. And it’s okay. Because you’ve done it before–you can totally do it again.

Tynan Rhea is a Doula, Sex Educator, and Sex in Pregnancy and Parenthood Coach for the Sisterhood Wellness Collective.  She completed her Bachelor of Arts Joint Honours in Psychology and Sexuality, Marriage, & Family. Her workshop “Sex in Pregnancy and Parenthood” is coming up on June 5th at the 519 Community Centre for Polyamory Toronto, details here.