‘You don’t look like a mom’: Why women are expected to deny their sexuality in motherhood

Canadian-born author Kelly Oxford felt compelled to point out to her followers that moms can be sexy. Instagram

WARNING: This story contains graphic language

If television commercials are to be believed, mothers are responsible for doing the laundry, preparing healthy after-school snacks, deodorizing their teen son’s bedroom, all while sporting a neat bob and sensible pants. Never is a mother depicted as a sexual object. The subtext is, a mom is always a Madonna and never a Magdalene.

WATCH BELOW: ‘Mommy shaming’ is real, experts say

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‘Mommy shaming’ is real, experts say

But that notion was turned on its head recently when Kelly Oxford, an Edmonton-born Los Angeles resident and author of the bestselling book Everything Is Perfect When You’re a Liar, posted a number of sultry photos to her Instagram account that were taken while on vacation.

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READ MORE: Kelly Oxford on new book, parenting, and how she talks to son about #notokay

The mom-of-three captioned the shots with one of her signature quippy comments, joking that her “edibles kicked in,” but then quickly added an addendum to it.

“I get so annoyed when people say, ‘You don’t look like a mom,'” she wrote. “What’s a mom supposed to look like? This is a Mom.”

Her post drew over 200 comments, many of which supported her confusion over what constitutes a “mom.”

“Yes! As if the state of motherhood denies our sexuality… pretty sure being sexy made us mothers to begin with,” one user wrote.

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“Exactly! Let’s change that thought process about what a Mom is supposed to look like,” another said.

But where does the idea that equates motherhood with asexuality stem from? According to some experts, it’s part biological and part social construct.

READ MORE: Mother of adopted child responds to claims that she’s not a ‘real mom’

“Some research has looked at how sex changes for women during pregnancy and postpartum,” says Dr. Rose Robbins, a psychologist in the pain clinic at the Ottawa Hospital. “It’s clear that in terms of sexual desire, arousal and orgasm, the changes a woman undergoes in the last few months of pregnancy lead to a steep decline in libido and desire.”

In a small study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found that sexual activity and desire between pregnant women and their partners declined significantly over the course of the three trimesters compared to pre-pregnancy. In addition, desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm and satisfaction decreased.

Another much larger study published in the Journal of Sex Research reached similar conclusions, and also found that although most couples resume intercourse eight weeks after childbirth, it doesn’t reach the same frequency as pre-pregnancy until closer to 12 months.

Physical barriers aside, however, there’s no question that women are viewed differently once they have children.

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“A lot of this is due to the Judeo-Christian values our society is based on,” Robbins says. “There’s a common duality women deal with between the mother figure who’s asexual and the Magdalene who is a sexual being. There’s no equivalent for men.”

READ MORE: Pregnant woman admonished for getting a routine beauty treatment 

In fact, sexy dads are celebrated — just look at DILFs of Disneyland and the plethora of sexy celebrity dads articles.

“If there’s a man who’s conventionally attractive and a dad, the reaction is usually, ‘Wow! He’s a star,'” says relationship psychologist Dr. Natasha Sharma. “Whereas there’s something unorthodox about a woman who’s a mom and also a sexual being.”

She says that this attitude comes as much from the female camp as it does the male. In the case of Oxford, women may feel intimidated or insecure by her physique, while men feel conflicted or confused by the insinuation that a mother may be more than just a nurturer. (Indeed, Oxford makes no bones about the fact that her identity doesn’t begin and end with her kids.)

Part of this is also exacerbated by the colloquial (if crude) terminology we use for sexy moms — specifically MILF (an acronym for mother I’d like to f**k).

“Why do we have to identify a woman as a mom that you’d like to have sex with? That plays into the idea that this is a mom and therefore a member of a subset of otherwise asexual people who happens to be attractive,” Sharma says. “We’re inadvertently creating a culture that believes mothers who are sexual beings are an odd thing.”

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Furthermore, the idea that a mother is a mother alone, and has no other identity, can come with a host of problems both on a social level and a personal one.

READ MORE: Woman’s post about mom-shaming goes viral: ‘We are all good mothers’

“[Oxford] is not the first public figure to be criticized for depicting herself as sexy. And that can come with a lot of guilt,” Robbins says. “The message is that if you’re sexy, you’re not a good mom, because you have to choose between the two. You can’t be both. But no woman is just a mother.”

She says the best way to change this attitude is to raise awareness of the issue and educate people on the complexity of women’s and mothers’ personalities. Oxford, Robbins points out, is doing her part to get the message out.

“In one post she talks about having moments of depression and why it’s important to take moments for herself. She’s saying: ‘I’m a mom and I love my kids, but I still need time for myself.’ Perhaps we don’t do that enough.”

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