If you’re trying to conceive, chances are you’re having a lot of sex. But what happens to your sex life once you’re pregnant? Now the pressure’s off you can concentrate on having sex purely for pleasure again. But that can be easier said than done...
If it’s not the nausea, it’s your fluctuating energy levels, the increasing size of your belly, and the aches and pains that come with carrying the extra weight. Meanwhile hormonal changes mean some people see a real uplift in their libido while others find they are not remotely interested.
“With my first child I was so tired I was sleeping fourteen hours a day so sex wasn’t on the cards. With my second I could have had sex 24/7, I was ready to pounce at any given chance!” - Yolanda, 31
Even if you are up for it, sex can suddenly feel very different. Increased blood flow to the genitals mean that your vagina, vulva and clitoris can feel swollen, tighter, and more sensitive than before. For some, this leads to enhanced sensation and better orgasms. But for others it can be uncomfortable, even painful.
All of this is totally normal. But being “normal” isn’t always enough. After years of reading magazines doling out sex advice and tips, it can feel like you’ve been abandoned. You might be pregnant but you still want a sex life!
The key things to keep in mind, says FPA’s clinical consultant Karin O’Sullivan are communication and flexibility. “It’s definitely OK to say no to sex – at any time. You should never feel you have to put up with it, especially if it’s painful or uncomfortable. But it’s important to find ways to be intimate with your partner during this life-changing period in your relationship. Either way, ongoing communication is crucial.”
Being intimate with your partner is not only good for building your feelings of partnership, it releases oxytocin and lowers stress, all of which are good for your growing baby.
“My husband didn’t want to have sex at all during my pregnancy. He said it just felt too weird.” - Claire, 36
Sex and orgasms carry no risk to your baby and unless you’ve been specifically instructed by your doctor, or your waters have broken, there’s no reason to avoid penetration during pregnancy. But it’s worth remembering that sex doesn’t have to involve penetration.
“There are lots of ways to be sexually intimate,” says Karin. “For some, ‘sex’ could be touching. It could include kissing, cuddling or masturbation.”
Sex and relationships therapist Colin Richards suggests adapting your repertoire to focus more on play and less on penetration.
“Whether you’re going to be using hands, mouth, and toys, there are so many things you can do to pleasure each other that don’t involve penetration. You can agree ‘OK, tonight I’m going to touch you and maybe tomorrow you can touch me’. It takes the pressure off.”
He adds: “It’s important to look at vibrators as an accessory and not a replacement. If you’ve never used them before then pregnancy is a great time to bring sex toys into your relationship.”
“The bigger I got the less I could be bothered to have sex. I was happier using my vibrator.” - Chloe, 30
Most sex toys, including vibrators and dildos, are safe to use during pregnancy as long as you follow the instructions for use. If your partner can’t stand to be left out, you can always invite them to try the toys out too. Taking turns to stimulate each other with a vibrator avoids trying to navigate uncomfortable positions but ensures you still have fun together.
Oral sex and touching are also ways to be intimate and give each other orgasms if penetration isn’t working for you. Towards the end of pregnancy lying on your back can become very uncomfortable so try sitting up, propped by pillows instead. Alternatively, if they lie on their back, you can place one knee either side of their head and receive oral sex that way.
“Penetration was seriously uncomfortable from about 12 weeks which is not only annoying, it’s tricky if your partner is really up for it.” - Louise, 32
If you do want to have penetrative sex but are finding it uncomfortable, you may find using a lube helps. But take care when choosing one. Sexual health and pleasure expert Samantha Evans points out that since many of us are more prone to thrush during pregnancy, it’s even more important to check the ingredients of a lube before buying.
“The flora of the vagina changes during pregnancy. Many cosmetics like soaps, shower gels are not designed for vaginal use and can disrupt the pH of the vagina leading to irritation,” she says.
She adds that even your own vaginal lubrication may be different now that you’re pregnant. “You may have more natural lubrication during pregnancy,” says Evans. “You may also find that your natural lubricant is thicker in consistency and may smell different.”
Whatever the case, be ready to try different things to discover what feels good for you.
And even once you’re lubed up, don’t be afraid to take things slowly, focusing on foreplay. Begin penetration using just a finger, followed by a slim toy, and work up to something bigger. And you may have to change your position as well.
“For people who only have sex in certain positions, pregnancy presents a unique challenge,” says Colin. “And not just physically. People often enjoy missionary because they like being able to see each other. If they suddenly have to turn around, that’s going to present a problem.”
Lying on your side with your top leg bent and resting on a pillow or two will still allow your partner to penetrate from above and you to turn your head towards them but will be more comfortable for your back and bump. Similarly, the famous “reverse cowgirl” is unlikely to appeal if you’re used to having a lot of skin contact. An alternative is to have your partner sit up leaning against the headboard and for you to straddle them facing away. Your back will be against their chest, allowing them to put their arms around you and use their hands to stimulate you at the same time.
“He denies it but I know my husband didn’t fancy me as much when I was pregnant. I tried not to let it get to me but it did make me a bit feel self-conscious.” Charlie, 28
Self-consciousness is really common. “If you’re feeling awkward about your changing body you probably don’t want to go ‘on top’,” says Colin. “You might find facing away from your partner allows you to close your eyes, relax, and feel less under scrutiny.”
In fact ‘doggy style’ can actually end up being one of the more comfortable positions during pregnancy. It takes the weight off the spine and creates a rocking sensation for the baby!
Far from being the end of good sex, says Karin, “pregnancy can actually be the perfect time to explore and develop different ways of being intimate with each other.”
For more support and information about pregnancy, head to Sexwise’s pregnancy resources directory: https://sexwise.fpa.org.uk/planning-pregnancy/further-information
Written and researched for Sexwise by Franki Cookney. Franki is a freelance journalist who writes mostly on sex, gender politics and social development.