Porn Does Not Teach You How to Get Pregnant.

How even being a “Curator of Sex” didn’t prepare me for birth and motherhood.

Porn Does Not Teach You How to Get Pregnant.

The “Curator of the Museum of Sexis a job title that gets a lot of attention. It was the almost-sitcom like backdrop for some of the most defining moments of my young womanhood: being single in New York City, finding my partner and finally, becoming a mother. Miles away from what I thought I’d be when I grew up, it was the kind of adventure I couldn’t have planned even if I tried.

What started as a research position acquired by complete chance at 22 quickly evolved into my life’s calling and genuine passion. I literally fell head over heals in love with the ability to create exhibitions that were both educational and entertaining, trying my best to normalize a topic that our society puts simultaneously on an advertising pedestal and demotes as a taboo.

In the more than 20 exhibitions I’ve curated, I’ve touched upon history, science, fine art, and technology through exhibitions with memorable titles ranging from The Sex Lives of Animals to Rubbers: The Life, History and Struggle of the Condom. Not only did each bring information into my life I’ll never be able to unsee or unlearn---both good and bad---each are interwoven with various stages and milestones in my personal life.

It was during pregnancy Number 2 that I wrote my memoir, Sex in the Museum: My Unlikely Career At New York’s Most Provocative Museum (St. Martins Press), which shares my personal story but also is a voyeuristic education in the unbelievable information I acquired during my tenure as a “Curator of Sex.”

But despite the mountains of sex books I’ve devoured, experts I’ve apprenticed with and practitioners who have taught be the nitty gritty real life sex intel they have amassed, it was actually pregnancy that in many ways was the finishing school of my sexual education.

Here’s 5 things I learned:

  1. Porn does not teach you how to get pregnant. Knowing a lot about the act of sex is wildly different than knowing how your reproductive system functions. I’ve realized there is a huge deficit in useful sex education…and worse where are you meant to get this information from as an adult? If you were lucky enough to get it, sex education in school was primarily a conversation about safe sex. Where is the Sex Ed class that applies to trying to get pregnant.When I decided I was ready to have a baby and stop taking the birth control pills I had been on for 10 years, I had no idea what experience was going to exist on the other side. Not every woman is going to ovulate like Swiss timing. While I thought I could just be scientific about getting pregnant, it took almost a year as I waited for my cycle to normalize and to understand that our bodies (and those of our partners) sometimes need a little leeway.

    1. Pregnancy sex is complicated. Pregnancy is a state of being that impacts every aspect of your sense of self, including sex. Some women have almost insatiable hormone-enabled sex drives, and for others, sex feels completely unappealing. While each pregnancy is different, in most cases, sex can continue up until delivery. It can even be suggested to induce labor, as it was for me during my second pregnancy. With a baby measuring very large, we were all looking for an intervention other than an emergency c-section. In the words of my OB and doula, we needed to have some “rough sex” if I had a prayer of getting that nearly 9-lb. baby out vaginally. As promised, after some mama-papa time the morning of my due date, our daughter was born later that afternoon.

  1. Childbirth is a cultural construction. When I was 19 years old, the book Birth in Four Cultures served as the inspiration for my dedication to the field of gender and anthropology. Despite being intellectually versed in the topic, and seeing all the popular culture documentaries like The Business of Being Born,” I still felt overwhelmed about my childbirth options. What was safe? What was fact versus how I was raised to think about birth? The truth is, no matter how educated you get on the topic, there isn’t just one right way to have a baby.
  2. Wait…what’s going to happen to my vagina? Why doesn’t anyone share this significant piece of information with women? While I had planned for labor to be painful, and knew that many women may experience tearing or even an episiotomy, the lived experience was completely different! It was only as I researched what to put in my hospital bag that I realized I’d need a stash of pads and that extra, almost diaper-like underwear at the hospital. Who knew that women who undergo a C-section will also have vaginal bleeding? And why only postpartum was it mentioned that sex would be prohibited for at least 6 weeks?

    Only through the confidences shared between other mothers have I heard the details of vulvas losing strength or sensation or conversely tightening to a point of making penetration painful and nearly impossible. I didn’t learn about vaginal rehab at work, I learned about it through the mamas in my life.

  1. Sex after baby is complicated too. The body that I had known my whole life suddenly felt like a stranger’s. Exhausted and nursing, I certainly didn’t feel my sexiest. My husband and I used to stay up all night wild and carefree, and now we simply grunted tasks at one another. I was perpetually in comfy clothes covered with stains from breast milk or other magic baby fluids. But with time, and a little more regular sleep, my husband I began to reconnect and actively work on nurturing a relationship that was about more than us just being parents together. I ditched my giant t-shirts and bought a bunch of night gowns that made me feel pretty and human again, but also felt “appropriate” enough to deal with all the middle of the night wake-up calls kids are so famous for.And I learned that sometimes in the chaos of having babies and children we forget to nurture that side of ourselves and our union. No anthropology textbook told me how hard that process was going to be, or how important it would be for my relationship, and more significantly, my sense of self.

Written by Sarah Forbes. For more than a decade, Sarah served as the Curator of the Museum of Sex, cultivating a wealth of experiences for my first book and memoir, "Sex in the Museum: My Unlikely Career At New York's Most Provocative Museum" (St. Martins Press, April 2016). With a Masters in Anthropology, with a focus on gender and sexuality, Sarah’s background emphasizes the cross-cultural historical perspective of sex and the tremendous diversity that exists in the sexual landscape. Professionally a curator, author, sexual culturalist and sexpert for Motherly Media, Sarah is also a wife and proud mother to Kai and Zia.

Homepage photo by Sven Lindhal. Step & repeat photo by BFA.

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