Oh, Those Hormones
What’s with the sudden loss of sex drive with pregnancy? It seems logical that this happy time would bring you closer together, but your hormones may actually work against this. “Women go through a wide range of hormonal changes during pregnancy and for some lucky couples this can actually cause their sex lives to become even hotter,” says Patty Brisben, intimacy expert and author of Pure Romance Between the Sheets. “However, this isn’t always the case with everyone—many find that the fluctuation in hormones actually creates a negative effect on their intimate life.”
Since hormone levels vary with each trimester, your desire for sex may be nonexistent sometimes, while other times you’re more in the mood. “For my first pregnancy, the ‘sex slump’ happened during the first and third trimesters,” says Sue* of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “The morning sickness and probably all of the changing hormones were throwing my body and brain for a loop. I was just really nauseous and definitely not in the mood.”
Sun Kim of Shasta, California, had a similar experience. “These phases went on and off throughout a lot of the pregnancy,” she says. “In the first trimester [it is] with the bodily adjustments, morning sickness, and fatigue. When the energy picks up in the second trimester, a lot of attention has to go toward all of those things that were neglected during the lethargy of the first (work, home, other kids).” Then comes the third trimester, when your size may make sex uncomfortable or impossible.
And while a sex slow-down might not seem like a big deal—pregnancy is temporary, after all—many couples find it hard to get things started again if they take too long a break. “It’s so important to stay connected during pregnancy, because the more connected you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be to deal with the significant changes that take place after having a baby—you’ll be a team!” says Sara Holliday, a licensed marriage and family therapist and president of Fit by Sara. “On the other hand, the less connected a couple is during pregnancy, the harder it will be to come back together, especially intimately, after having a baby.”
The Male Side
It’s not just women who can experience libido loss during pregnancy. Men, too, may have concerns or fears that make intimacy difficult. “It’s been my experience that men sit in two camps when their partner becomes pregnant,” says Dr. Trina Read (aka Dr. Trina), a sexologist and author of Till Sex Do Us Part. They are either really turned on by the pregnancy or really turned off by the pregnancy, she says.
The latter seemed to be the case with Alisa Bowman’s husband. “For the first time ever, my husband was disinterested,” says the Emmaus, Pennsylvania, resident. “I would suggest sex, and he’d say, ‘Oh I’m tired (sick/have a lot of reading to do/was looking forward to watching Grey’s Anatomy…). Can I have a raincheck?’ He basically wanted a raincheck that came due after the baby was born. He says he was worried about hurting the baby, but I honestly feel as if he just wasn’t as attracted to me.”
Worrying about hurting the baby is a common concern for men, and not one that you can always change his mind about. “At this point in time he intellectually understands but emotionally might not feel comfortable having intercourse,” Dr. Trina says. “It’s important to respect his apprehensions even though logically you know they are unfounded.”
Whether or not hurting the baby is really what your husband is worrying about, talking things out is the most important thing. Thankfully, Bowman and her husband eventually worked things out, but she admits it didn’t happen until long after the delivery. “I wish we would have communicated more during the actual pregnancy,” Bowman says. “But at least we did it eventually.”
Form New Habits
One thing that can really put a damper on a sex life during pregnancy is the idea that “intimacy” equals intercourse. Putting the actual act aside and thinking about why you want to be close to your spouse in the first place can really help.”Pregnancy is a great time to form new habits around a couple’s sexuality,” Dr. Trina says. “Too many couples view sex as intercourse when it actually is a time to share, nurture and be close to one another—if intercourse happens, great; if not, that’s OK too.”
Kim agrees. “One important component to remaining close was to not have sex when I didn’t feel like it,” says the mother of three. “I learned this in my first pregnancy when I was trying to be everything—including a sexy mama, corporate worker and can-do woman—and I was losing my connection with myself.”
Instead, the mother of three found other ways to stay close to her spouse. “I could still have sweet hugs and long cuddles with my husband, but if I didn’t feel like sex, I just didn’t,” Kim says. “I’d lovingly explain, of course. And if I didn’t feel like sex at the moment, I knew another moment would come when I did.”
Just the act of being physically close is important. “Pregnancy is a great time for a couple to form new and better sexual habits—focusing on ‘outercourse’ rather than intercourse,” Dr. Trina says. “What makes intercourse feel so special is we are physically close, touching and (hopefully) giving our partner our undivided attention.”
What are some ways to keep the fire burning, even if sex isn’t on the program? Think back to your dating days and how you kept things hot then. “Keep flirting,” Holliday says. “Text message, call each other’s cell phones, caress, kiss each other often. Deep kissing is especially important because it’s very intimate.”
Massages can be very sexy. “Often, after such massages (usually 45 minutes to an hour), I was completely in the mood to make love,” Kim says. “So was he.”
Bathing or showering together can be an intimate treat, too. “We took showers together, which felt very sensual,” Sue says. “I also tried to stay in the moment and not worry if I found that I couldn’t continue that particular sexual experience.”
Brisben has two final suggestions: “From the second you realize you are pregnant, you should be talking with one another and emphasizing how important it is to you to maintain intimacy throughout the first, second, and third trimesters—all the way until the baby is born and beyond!” she says. “Also, make sure that you are not just talking about the baby all of the time. You and your partner have a relationship that is separate from the relationship you will have relative to your child, and you need to make sure that you nurture that as well!”
* Last name withheld to protect privacy.