Endless Love

Pregnancy and parenthood don't have to mean your sex life is over.

fitp2094023751_0.gif Photo: shutterstock.com

My libido increases greatly when I’m pregnant, and I try to have sex as often as possible.” — Judy T., mother of three

“Seeing my wife’s changing shape and knowing that the baby in her belly was a product of our love made my desire for her grow.” — John K., father of two

“When I’m pregnant, I feel more womanly, feminine and sexual. I like being full and round. Luckily, my husband likes me that way, too.” — Abby C., mother of four

Not exactly the conventional views of sexuality during pregnancy, are they? Far more often we hear — and recount — the negatives and complaints: too big, too nauseated, too tired, too focused on the unborn baby. In reality, though, many pregnant women not only feel particularly sensual, but many men also desire their pregnant wives more than ever. “Childbearing and parenting can take a couple to new heights of intimacy and eroticism,” says Libby Colman, Ph.D., a social psychologist specializing in support programs for parents and co-author with Lamaze International co-founder Elisabeth Bing of Making Love During Pregnancy (Farrar Straus & Giroux, out of print).

For one thing, freedom from having to use birth control can mean greater spontaneity. For another, many women find that all of their senses are heightened, which naturally makes sex more enjoyable. And the hormonal changes — increases in estrogen, progesterone and even testosterone — are similar to those that occur during sexual arousal. Blood flow to the genitals increases, making a woman more responsive; in fact, many women have their first orgasms during pregnancy. “Some pregnant women can hardly wait for their husbands to come home,” says Bing.

And it’s not just one-sided; a surprising number of men find their wives’ pregnancies very arousing. Some enjoy the physical changes — larger breasts, rounder curves, glowing skin. For others, masculine pride in getting their wives pregnant or the thrill of creating a new life acts as a turn-on.

Turn challenges into opportunities Pregnancy isn’t always a bed of roses, of course; it can pose formidable obstacles to an active sex life, especially in the first trimester. “It’s hard to get in the mood when you’re nauseated and exhausted,” says Abby, the mother of four. “Later, your size can make sex difficult, and leg cramps can make it impossible. But when it all goes right — wow!”

A burgeoning belly can make your regular sex positions uncomfortable, sometimes unmanageable. So what? Have fun exploring new ways to enjoy each other’s bodies. The woman-on-top position allows her to control the man’s thrusting depth and speed, while “spooning” — when the man moves in from behind — eliminates the big-belly barrier. Don’t forget alternatives to intercourse, such as stroking and oral sex. And if all these are unappealing, you can still express your love for each other in nonsexual ways. “It can be as simple as giving a massage or going on a late-night ice cream run,” suggests two-time dad John.

Another barrier is some prospective parents’ fear that penetration or orgasm may cause premature labor or somehow hurt the baby. According to Bing, however, sex is generally considered safe throughout pregnancy unless there is a risk of miscarriage or early labor. Discuss your concerns with your doctor or midwife; his or her reassurance may help free you from your inhibitions.

In fact, relaxing about sex in general will help. “The many changes to the body and body image make for a lot of anxiety about sex during pregnancy,” says Colman. “Communication is key, because while a couple may have been able in the past to come together nonverbally through sex, now they may need to communicate verbally.” Relax, talk it over, and experiment so sex is enjoyable for both of you, John advises. “If you do this throughout the pregnancy,” he says, “your sex life will be even better after your child is born.”

Birds and "be's" for new parents As with pregnancy, the period after giving birth presents for new parents its own challenges to a couple’s sex life. Here are some ways to unlock postpartum passion:

Be patient. Even after six weeks, some women aren’t ready to make love, especially if they’ve had an episiotomy, Cesarean section or difficult birth. And both partners may be tired and preoccupied with the baby. So don’t force it. In the meantime, do your Kegels: They help strengthen the pelvic muscles surrounding the vagina and can enhance sexual pleasure for both of you. When you do have sex, spending more time on foreplay and using lubricants can help with the vaginal dryness estrogen decreases can cause.

Be nurturing. Your new child isn’t the only person in the house who needs babying. You may feel tired and overwhelmed. Your husband may feel lonely or even jealous of the baby. Take care of each other. Sex will follow.

Be creative and spontaneous. Just as your pregnant shape meant finding new positions for sex, your new baby means finding different times and places. Enjoy a rendezvous on the couch or bathroom floor, or catch a quickie while Grandma takes the baby for a walk. Who knows when such a magic moment will occur again?