Pregnancy and sex

Jay Dee

Pregnancy and sex

May 09, 2012

Are you or your wife pregnant? Has it changed your sex life, or are you worried it will? Here’s my experience of how sex life changes due to pregnancy.

We recently welcomed our fourth child into our family, and I thought I’d write a bit to reflect on what’s going on. Today, I’m writing about how pregnancy affects sex from the male’s perspective, from conception through the pregnancy itself and then after the birth of the child.

Now, I know this may upset some of the women who read this because pregnancy is typically all about the women.  I can’t speak for that side, so I’m going to post on behalf of the men, myself in particular.  I want to let people know about the struggles involved with the husband.  Why?  Because often we get overlooked during this time, and frankly, I think it’s dangerous to do so.

Note: I’m basing this post on my experiences and those of men I’ve talked to. Your experience might be different, but here’s what I see as fairly common in married couples.

Sex before pregnancy

If you’re the high-drive spouse in your marriage and a husband, when you’re first trying to get pregnant, things start great!  Your wife’s sex drive likely will suddenly take off, and she wants sex all the time, or at least while she’s fertile.  She seems to be in the mood for sex more often and ready at the drop of a hat, especially during that one week of the month near ovulation. Even at other times, you might find she’s interested in “practicing.”  

Now, here’s where the first conflict emerges:

  1. You want to get pregnant because, well, that’s the goal – you want to have kids
  2. You don’t want to get pregnant because, possibly for the first time in a while, you’ve felt more connected than ever, more loved than ever, and you’re worried that once the child is conceived, things are going to go back to how they were

That’s how I felt anyway. In our case, we seem to be very fertile.  Great for having kids.  It’s not so great for enjoying that trying-to-conceive phase.  I think with one of the pregnancies, we tried for two fertile periods.  The others, only one. Added in the future: For our fifth one, we weren’t even trying!

This is not great if you’re in a sexless marriage at the time, which we were in for our first two pregnancies. As a husband, you really feel like all you’re wanted for is your sperm. If you struggled with not feeling loved before, if you didn’t feel attractive, if you felt like all your wife wanted you for was as a pay-cheque and a handyman, well, this confirms your worst fears because suddenly your sex life becomes what you want it to be, but it’s only as a means to an end – it’s not about you or their love for you. It’s because they want something.

That’s how it can feel anyway. That’s how it felt for me for our first two children. Things improved later on, but those first ones were rough.

Sex during pregnancy

Assuming everything goes well, congratulations, you’re pregnant!  What does this mean? What’s pregnancy sex like? Well, it means a few things.  Your spouse may experience some or all of the following:

Morning sickness

Morning sickness is poorly named because it doesn’t just happen in the morning for many women. For some pregnancies, it’s all day, every day. This generally happens between the 4th and 16th week of pregnancy. Some women never get it, and some women get it for much longer. Some people say that morning sickness is worse if you’re having a boy or worse if they’re going to have more hair (or red hair). I’ve not seen any studies proving either. Sounds like old wives’ tales to me. I can’t say I saw a pattern myself.

Now, trying to get in the mood for sex while you’re nauseous is difficult at best. Impossible at worst. As well, sometimes you have to be careful about sex because too much of a rocking motion can trigger nausea.

One thing we did find that helped was sour candies. When I figured that out, every time my wife realized she was pregnant, I’d go out to the nearest candy store and buy a variety of the sourest candies I could find. One called Toxic Waste seemed to work fairly well – particularly the lemon flavour.

Shifts in hormones

Pregnancy involves a lot of hormones at levels women aren’t used to dealing with on a regular basis. These hormone shifts can cause a lot of mood swings because hormones are very important to emotional regulation. It’s a bit like PMS but for much longer and sometimes far worse.

This makes trying to gauge whether or not she’s in the mood for sex a bit like playing roulette. A lot of the time, she can’t even tell you if you have a shot. You might get crazy high sex hormones, or she might suddenly want to kill you for making her pregnant or because you’re blinking loudly.

It makes life interesting, is what I’m saying. The key thing to remember is – she’s likely as frustrated as you are by the mood swings and can’t control them. It’s not her fault.

Her body changes drastically

The obvious example is that she’s growing a human inside of her, and so her abdomen is going to get larger. That alone is hard for many women. The increased weight and waistline often make them feel insecure about their bodies. Unfortunately, this might also mean she can’t possibly understand how you’d want to see it or assume that you don’t want to see it and are lying about how beautiful and sexy she still looks. This can lead to her not wanting to be seen or touched, which can make it difficult to initiate sex.

I’d highly suggest learning how to give her a good massage if you don’t already know because with pregnancy comes a lot of soreness as well, and massage makes almost everything feel better.

On top of this, her breasts are likely to increase in size as well, particularly towards the end of the pregnancy. This can be pretty awesome, but for many women, it also comes with a lot of soreness and tenderness, which only increases with breastfeeding. That can be frustrating because they’re big and new and sometimes off-limits.

You might also find that she doesn’t have the same sexual response that she used to. It might increase, or decrease, or change. What “worked” in the past to get her aroused or achieve orgasm might not work anymore. Or, it might work much better – the increased blood flow in the pelvis can really enhance arousal, which might make her want to have sex more. Or it might not. It’s a bit of a gamble. We found that with every pregnancy, we sort of had to reset and figure out what sort of physical sensations worked this time around, and it often shifted during the pregnancy and after the birth as well.

Learn some new sex positions during pregnancy

On the topic of her body changing – some positions might not work so well anymore. For example, the missionary position is likely going to make her feel a bit uncomfortable after a while because, well, there’s a baby between you. Likewise, the woman-on-top position might get difficult due to the extra weight and strain on the hips. Doggy style might be uncomfortable because there’s the weight of a baby pulling her down, and if her breasts have increased in size, she might not like the feeling of them moving as much as they are.

So, find solutions that don’t put pressure on the belly and offer support. One that we found worked really well for us was what calls Twisted Mrs.

Basically, you have your wife lie on her side, then bring her top knee up. You can then kneel behind her on the bed while straddling her lower leg. This position is handy because:

  1. The bed supports her belly
  2. You’re not putting any weight on her
  3. She can hold her breasts to stop them from moving too much if that’s uncomfortable.
  4. You can get pretty deep penetration
  5. Your leg can rub against her clitoris, which can help her achieve orgasm

We used this position a lot during our later pregnancies. Try a bunch of different positions and find one that works for you.

Is sex safe during pregnancy?

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, yes, sex is perfectly safe throughout pregnancy for most people. Some men and women feel a little weird about having a baby in there, but the baby has no idea what’s going on. Plus, it’s protected by amniotic fluid, and there’s a cervix between where the baby is and where the penis goes, so you’re not going to harm it, no matter how enthusiastic you are.

The same goes for oral sex – you may find the wife is a little more … juicy. You may find her fluids are more copious due to the increased blood flow.

As well, it seems a lot of couples start engaging in anal sex for the first time, or with increasing frequency, during pregnancy for some reason. I’ve had quite a few wives admit that it just felt really good while pregnant. Others say they were suddenly curious – possibly due to the changing hormones affecting their general desire for sex and how they feel about different sexual activities.

Lastly, I’ve heard from a few couples that fisting (inserting the entire hand into the vagina) seems to help with training the muscles used for birthing. Some people swear by it. I’ve even heard some midwives quietly suggest it – though I’ve never heard one actually call it “fisting.” Usually, they say something like, “Your partner can use their hand to help you practice relaxing those muscles by inserting it into the vaginal cavity” or something like that. Some wives really enjoy that childbirth preparation practice.

Does being pregnant make you hornier?

It doesn’t seem to be consistent. Some women say that pregnancy makes them horny.  I have never experienced this, and it doesn’t seem to be the average experience, but it does happen. However, don’t assume your wife will suddenly be a sex fiend while pregnant because there’s a good chance her desire for sex might drop, at least at some point. But, it can also fluctuate from the first trimester to the second trimester and again to the third trimester.

Having sex near the due date

If you are in your third trimester, particularly close to term, sex can actually help induce labour. For one, orgasms can start contractions. Secondly, semen actually helps “ripen” or soften the cervix, which is necessary for birth. For a couple of our pregnancies, my wife specifically asked for sex in the hopes that it would bring about delivery, which I was more than happy to oblige with. So, have fun with it.

Birth and sex

So, if everything goes well after pregnancy, you have a birth.  I highly suggest being there, catching the baby and experiencing cutting the cord.  Take tons of pictures.  Do anything to be involved because, frankly, it can be difficult to feel involved sometimes. One more note about birth:  If you are squeamish, this might mess you up for a bit.  Some of your favourite parts of your wife aren’t going to look like you remembered.  It’s OK, they go back, more or less.  Don’t let it freak you out.  I’m telling you this because you’ll be too embarrassed to ask the professionals in the room – but I get quite a few emails about it from husbands who worry.

Back to your involvement.  Assuming you have family and friends nearby or who are able to visit, they are going to be around all the time for the next week.  But they won’t be interested in you.  Your wife and the baby will get all the attention.  Plus, your wife will naturally overdose on oxytocin, a hormone that chemically bonds her emotionally to the new baby.  So she’s absolutely focused on your new addition.  That’s why she can sit and stare at the baby for minutes or hours on end.  Men don’t get that benefit.  For a lot of men, babies are sort of boring.  It’s not until they get to about two years old that they become fun because then they can start to play and connect. Don’t get me wrong, they’re cute; it’s nice to hold them and everything, but they don’t do much. Simply gazing at them for hours doesn’t seem to happen the same for men.

Sex after pregnancy

So, to recap:

  1. Trying to conceive, you start having tons of sex (unless you’re ultra-fertile …)
  2. Then you likely have dwindling sex during pregnancy (if at all)
  3. Lastly, there is not only no sex after the birth but often no attention at all

At this point, husbands are emotionally starved, and our love tank is empty.  Being men, we never learned to cope with this.  In fact, most of us don’t even know why we’re miserable.  We think it’s just because we’re not having sex, but that’s just the most obvious metric.  There is cognitive dissonance (conflict) in our brains.  Our mind is telling us, “Remember, she loves you”.  But our emotions are telling us, “She’s ignoring you, she’s pushing you away, she doesn’t want you”.  Go with your mind on this one; it’s better at thinking long-term.

Most men reconnect emotionally with their spouses through sex.  You’ve likely had little sex (read: emotional connection) for the last nine months.  Now, we’re not only getting no sex (emotional connection) but no attention, causing even more of a drop in oxytocin.  It’s natural to feel disconnected from your wife.  But because we’re men, we grow up believing we’re not allowed to have emotions or express them when we do.  And so, we lack the emotional tools that women are taught.  As a result, we don’t even know how to name what we’re feeling.  Coping with it or addressing it is just impossible for most of us. What usually happens is burying it.

And here’s the ugly part.  If you manage to realize what’s going on.  If you notice that you’re feeling emotionally disconnected.  If you recognize you need time and attention from your wife.  You still won’t ask for it.  Why?  Because she has enough to worry about with the new baby.  I don’t mean this sarcastically. It’s a big shift for her, too; there’s a lot going on.  But I’m not writing about that; enough other people will. Plus, if you do bring it up, there’s a good chance you’re going to get yelled at by someone. I’m guaranteed to just by posting this. As much as our society says that men need to open up when we do, we get slapped for it.

What I do think is that any time you put your children ahead of your spouse, your marriage will suffer.  Granted, occasionally, that needs to be done.  I think having a baby is one of the best reasons for it.  I just think that we often fail to remember/notice that there is suffering going on that isn’t as noticeable as lack of sleep or lack of time.  It’s a lack of intimacy, and I don’t just mean sex.

Most of this is just a rant because, well, it’s been just over a week since we had a baby, so you know what stage I’m at.  I’m writing this mostly to help me process what’s going on in the hopes that I won’t be so frustrated.  So, here’s my advice.

Advice for the men

You know, pregnancy is hard for the husbands too in a lot of cases.    I know, I know, the wives have to deal with the morning sickness, the weight gain, mood swings, growing pains, birthing and then the post-birth recovery and everything else that changes.  But men have their own struggles in this and are often told just to be quiet because it's not about them.  So, they suffer in silence without support.  While everyone is focused on the mother and baby, the father is going through this massive life change of his own - and in many ways, alone.

I know, I know, the wives have to deal with the morning sickness, the weight gain, mood swings, growing pains, birthing, and then the post-birth recovery, and everything else that changes.  

But men have their own struggles in this and are often told just to be quiet because it's not about them.  So, they suffer in silence without support.  While everyone is focused on the mother and baby, the father is going through this massive life change of his own - and in many ways, alone.

Be patient.  Your wife will be yours again soon.  If she isn’t within a month or two, seek help.  Sometimes, it happens that the wife forgets to be a wife when she becomes a mother. Don’t let that happen because too many couples wake up decades later after the kids are grown and gone and realize they don’t know how to be a couple without the kids cementing the relationship.

Also, be careful about temptations because this will be one of those times when you’re most vulnerable to them. Sadly, having children statistically leads to a drop in marital satisfaction and is one of the major life events that lead to divorce.

But, if you stick through it, you’ll likely come out the other side stronger and happier again as a couple.

Advice for the women

Just show some attention to your husbands.  It doesn’t have to be full-on sex; you’re probably not physically ready for that.  But there are alternatives.  And even if you feel that “getting in the mood” is an impossibility, then just give him the attention he needs.  Guys don’t get as much out of hugging and kissing as sex, but when you’re starving, you’ll settle for crumbs just to survive.

Just try to remember he’s going through a massive transition as well. Because almost no one else is going to have that thought, and he’s going to be going through it absolutely alone while you get all the support.

Final Thoughts

Finally, I want to say in order not to give the wrong impression, having children is an amazing blessing; I highly suggest it.  It’s a life full of sacrifices, but the rewards far outweigh them.  I like to say that your kids will destroy your life … but in the best possible way. In many ways, I think you don’t really grow up until you have children. I know a lot of couples with no kids who really are still children themselves, regardless of age. I’m not saying all of them, but too many not to notice a pattern.

Also, looking back (I’m adding this quite a few years after the original post), there are some marriages that have the reverse dynamic. Some wives want to remain highly sexual, and some husbands do not. If you’re in that group, I suggest checking out this post.

Your Turn

Have you been through this?  What was your experience?

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