No matter how your partner became pregnant, this journey started with sex and you’ve probably been wondering what the sexual forecast is going to look like while your partner is pregnant and, perhaps even more concerningly, after birth too. So, are there any rules and what is the temperature between the sheets going to look like over the trimesters? Man or woman, we all want to know. In an extract from his book How To Be A Dad: The Ultimate Guide To Pregnancy, Birth and Dirty Nappies, Dr Oscar Duke gets down and dirty with the questions that everyone wants the answers to, but many are too embarrassed to ask.
First, the brilliant news is that for most couples, sex during pregnancy is completely safe. If your partner is having an uncomplicated pregnancy, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have sex as much as she – with enthusiasm from you – desires. More on that bit to come.
In some circumstances, your healthcare professionals may recommend that your partner has a period of “pelvic rest” during pregnancy – this is really medical speak for no sex. It may be that this is just for a defined time period or for the entire pregnancy, so don’t beat about the bush – ask the specifics of what is and isn’t allowed. They won’t be embarrassed to discuss it – they do it every day – so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask. Reasons that you might be advised to avoid sex include a history of previous miscarriage or premature labour, a low-lying placenta (placenta praevia) – particularly if there’s been any bleeding – or a history of cervical incompetence, where the cervix can open prematurely during the second trimester without other signs of labour, putting baby at risk of infection. So, if you’re advised to abstain from sex, follow the medics’ instructions carefully – if you aren’t, then crack on.
Pregnancy hormones affect sex drive in many ways
Even when couples have no restrictions placed on their pregnancy lovemaking, it goes without saying that being allowed to have sex is very different from actually wanting it and this is where many people come unstuck. Let’s start with your partner, because after all, if she doesn’t want to have sex, then that’s where the conversation starts, and, pretty swiftly, ends.
During the first trimester, some women find their sex drive soars. Pregnancy hormones can have an aphrodisiac-like effect and some women report a sex drive like they have never previously known. The increased blood supply to the pelvis, particularly the vagina and clitoris, can heighten sensation and arousal, so much so that some women report experiencing orgasm for the first time or significantly heightened sexual experiences compared to their non-pregnant sex. As with all sex, physical and psychological factors are as intricately entwined as the copulating couple. For those for whom the process of becoming pregnant has been challenging, with constant period-app checking and regular urinating onto ovulation sticks and a sex schedule that’s more like a bus timetable than a spontaneous gesture of love and attraction, the sheer relief of having uncalculated sex can instantly restore the passion.
So that’s one end of the spectrum and you might be thinking that this sounds ideal. But a soaring sex drive and newfound orgasms are not the norm for many pregnant women. These women report no interest in sex whatsoever, particularly during the first trimester. Add this to the other symptoms of early pregnancy – nausea, exhaustion and emotional turmoil – and you can quickly see how any sexual desire may vanish completely, no matter how much love and attraction your partner may feel towards you. The increased pelvic blood flow that improves sex for some can make other women feel uncomfortable down below during sex and further kill the sexual flame. Couples also often worry that sex during the early stages of pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage. There’s no evidence that in uncomplicated pregnancies having sex will cause your partner to miscarry.
There’s really no way of telling which way things are going to go and, like most of pregnancy, it’s a rollercoaster that can change quickly with time. So, hold tight and communicate carefully. The good news is that for many, the arrival of the second trimester brings significant changes and sexual desires return once more.
It’s perfectly normal to have your own concerns
While your partner may or may not be wanting to have sex, there’s a huge misconception that as men, we are always “up for it”. It’s very common for male partners of pregnant women to have concerns about sex during pregnancy. And no, this isn’t normally related to your partner’s ever-changing body shape. While any change can take some getting used to, many men find the physical changes of pregnancy highly attractive. In fact, it’s often the woman herself who, despite heaps of reassurance, may be feeling insecure or lacking in confidence as a result of the changes her body is going through. For most men, reluctance arises from the psychological impact of having sex with a pregnant partner and, as we know all too well, anxiety does nothing for erections or libido.
Let’s dispel some of the concerns that may be weighing rather too heavily on your mind. First up, if you’ve been given the green light for sex, or rather not been told to hold off, you’re not going to cause any harm to your unborn child. Dads often ask about the potential for them to cause physical damage to the baby during sex. “Will I be ‘hitting’ my baby when I’m having sex,” or, “Am I damaging its head?” Remember, your baby is safely contained within the tough membranes of the amniotic sac, which in turn is protected by the muscular wall of the uterus. Your penis will only ever remain within the vagina – no matter how big it may or may not be – and it cannot enter the uterus or damage baby in any way.
Many men report a strange feeling, or psychological concern, that having sex with somebody who is pregnant feels somehow different. It may be the thought of their offspring “knowing” what’s going on, or the thought that the baby might be in some way “watching”, that men find a turn-off. This is of course not the case. Your unborn child is blissfully unaware of what is going on as they reside snugly inside your partner’s uterus. Be careful with anxieties such as this as pregnant women can mistake your reluctance for lack of interest due to her changing physical appearance. Careful reassurance and frank discussion about any concerns you may have about sex during pregnancy will help to break this potentially destructive cycle. If you are able to share all of your concerns as a couple in an open and fun way, you’ll find the romance soon returns.
In the later stages of pregnancy, many dads worry that sex may bring on early labour. This myth isn’t helped by the common advice given to couples as the due date approaches to have sex to help speed things along. Semen contains the hormone prostaglandin, which, in very high doses – much greater than the small amount contained in semen – can be used by your healthcare team to bring on, or “induce”, labour. There’s no evidence to suggest that sex will bring on labour before the body is naturally ready to start the process, so another unfounded worry dispelled. For uncomplicated pregnancies, sexy time won’t bring on baby time – relax.
It’s not just mums who feel the effects of hormones changing their sex drive during pregnancy. Doctors are beginning to understand more about the hormonal changes that take place in dads-to-be. The hormone prolactin has been found to increase as birth approaches and is thought to be associated with an increase in responsiveness to the cry and needs of your baby. Interestingly, levels of the male sex hormone testosterone fall around the time of birth, and with this, men may find their sex drive also decreases. It’s thought that this may be a developmental response to encourage men to stay and nurture their family rather than to leave them in search of another mate. Whatever the truth, biology may well be involved with your changing sexual appetite too.
Talk and listen to each other
When you’re both in the zone and have cast aside your pregnancy-related physical and psychological anxieties, what’s the reality going to be? Pregnancy hormones may lead to an increase in vaginal secretions and depending on what you’re up to you may notice a change in both their smell and taste. The increased lubrication may change the sensation both you and your partner experience during penetrative sex – some will love it, others may find it less stimulating than before. Sometimes hormonal changes mean there isn’t enough lubrication, so if everything’s a bit uncomfortable and dry it’s perfectly safe to use a water-based lubricant to smooth things along.
Beware of the boobs. Forewarned is forearmed. Breast tenderness, particularly in the first trimester, may well mean your partner doesn’t want you going anywhere near them – for some that will be a huge disappointment as the ever-increasing size makes them increasingly tantalizing. Be guided by your partner and as pregnancy progresses, especially in the third trimester, don’t be surprised if nipple stimulation during sex leads to a discharge of a small amount of early milk, called colostrum. An entertaining surprise and best to just laugh about together rather than focus on the bizarre reality that you may just have inadvertently breastfed from your partner.
As you reach the final weeks of pregnancy sex, it’s worth considering some of the new symptoms that your partner may experience. Apart from the potential change in sensation, orgasm may be followed by some light, cramping, pelvic or abdominal pain. The increase in blood flow at orgasm can actually promote some very mild uterine contractions. These aren’t dangerous and are completely normal, but can be uncomfortable, so a bit of post-coital lower back massage may come in handy here. However, if your partner experiences any bleeding after sex, or any cramping pains that don’t settle on their own, she needs to contact her healthcare team. It may be nothing to worry about but shouldn’t be ignored. The changing blood flow at the time of orgasm can also cause the baby’s movements to increase or decrease. Both are normal and as long as normal foetal movements return shortly afterwards, there’s no need for alarm – and no, it’s not your baby protesting about what mum and dad have just been up to.
Your sex life may well change – but not for the worse
Getting a group of men talking, honestly, about their sexual experiences is normally a challenge. But the groups of new dads I’ve talked to have surprised me with their honest and open approach to the topic. The occasional beer may have played a part but, in reality, I think having a baby gives sex a different perspective. From the outset there’s a change from the pleasure-seeking lovemaking to the evolutionarily purposeful baby-making. Once their partners became pregnant, most felt that the main change came from their partner’s altered self-esteem. Changes in body size and shape made many women feel less sexually attractive even if the dads-to-be told them otherwise. During the first trimester, the nauseated hangover of morning sickness and my wife’s utter exhaustion certainly dampened the flame in my relationship. But it didn’t seem to matter; we both had a sense of purpose and maybe even sexual achievement that our bodies had “completed” the act and conception had occurred.
As with many things, the second trimester brought with it happier times. I must confess, though, long before the pregnancy bump was noticeable, I worried about the damage sex might cause. Despite having researched it extensively and understanding the science, and knowing that it would do no harm, just the knowledge that my child was lurking within was always on my mind. Once the bump is visible, most dads said they worried about positions that might put pressure on their growing baby. However, they found innovative ways to avoid this. Upper arm and core strength were felt to be vital for dads-to-be, with “the plank” providing enough of a gap in the earlier days, but with a more active press-up being required as the weeks passed and the bump continued to expand.
As the weeks progress, your partner may find lying on her back makes her feel lightheaded. The pressure of the baby on the major blood vessels in her abdomen reduces blood flow to the heart, giving it less blood to pump out with each beat. So, without providing you with a pregnancy-based Kama Sutra, I’ll leave you and your partner to adapt your own individual style to suit her changing physical needs in private. I have no doubt your combined imaginations will be up to it. Leaking breastmilk came as a sexual shock to dads-to-be (and their partners). The overwhelming advice has to be not to focus too much on this. As with all sexual satisfaction, the psychology has such a great impact on the physical success and so most men decided to ignore the occasional nipple spurt in favour of keeping everyone’s mind on the job.
Reassuring your partner about the love that you continue to have for her during pregnancy is so important. Most dads told me that, despite the fact that their affection towards their partners actually increased during pregnancy, their partners were convinced that they must be less physically attractive. Reassuringly, the dads felt that while obviously there were physical changes, they’d expected these and didn’t find them the romantic turn-off that their partners seemed to be so preoccupied with. So, it seems that men may actually have been undeservedly stereotyped for generations.
How To Be A Dad: The Ultimate Guide To Pregnancy, Birth and Dirty Nappies by Dr Oscar Duke is published by Octopus Books.