Giving birth is an intense and painful experience… but new parents are masturbating sooner than some might expect. One 2013 study found that 40% of cis women masturbate within a few weeks after giving birth. While doctors and midwives generally advise that people wait six weeks after birth before inserting anything into the vagina, masturbating through clitoral stimulation is generally safe as soon as you feel ready.
“Nothing is off the table when it comes to clitoral stimulation, as long as people are feeling good enough and interested in exploring,” says Bilen Berhanu, a certified doula. “Explore, be mindful of any recovering or sensitive tissue in that general area, and just maintain the same level of precautions you should take ordinarily.”
Berhanu says that people should hold off on any internal stimulation until they’ve been cleared by their doctor. Most people who have a vaginal birth will experience tearing or lacerations, and vaginal penetration could lead to pain or infection. Even if you’ve had a C-section, you’ll still be dealing with lochia (bloody discharge), and you’ll want to hold off on sex until your doctor advises, as well.
Berhanu adds that it’s safe to use sex toys for clitoral stimulation, “as long as you’re just checking in with yourself and being mindful of how things are feeling.” You can also mutually masturbate with your partner, if you'd like. “There’s a million and one ways to be intimate, and it’s well and fine as long as you are careful not to breach the non-penetrative barrier," Berhanu says.
If you don’t feel up for any sexual activity after giving birth, that is very normal — many people experience low libidos after giving birth, due to lower estrogen levels (not to mention the sleep deprivation that comes with parenting a newborn). But “we know that a lot of people will at least have a passing curiosity, if not a real true desire” about masturbation and sex, Berhanu says. She adds that there needs to be more conversation about masturbation and sex after childbirth, because “it’s still an oddly taboo thing for people to talk about.”
“When it’s brought up, it’s been in hushed tones with a feeling of embarrassment around it,” she adds. “I’m very happy to reassure people that this is very much a normal part of life. There are very clear reasons why you avoid penetrative sex for your safety. But intimacy is a very important thing, and connecting with yourself and your body, especially as a newly postpartum person, sometimes can be a very healing and very important practice.”