Sex While Pregnant: Expectations and Realities

I’ve never had a very high sex⁠ drive. For a long time, due to experiences with sexual harassment⁠ and assault, I found having sex and being intimate really difficult, too. Any kind of intimacy was very activating for me for over a decade.

That changed about a year after I met my current boyfriend. I have always felt safe and comfortable around him, but still, trauma⁠ prevails.

When we decided to start trying for our first child in November of 2021, I was probably the most comfortable I have ever been with sex. I wanted to have sex, and I enjoyed the sex I was taking part in. I also really wanted to have a baby, and that elevated my sexual⁠ desire⁠ . To our surprise, we found ourselves pregnant not even two weeks after we first had unprotected intercourse⁠ . It was quick.

Expectations of partnersex

Since becoming pregnant my desire for sex has fluctuated massively, but I found the first trimester the hardest. My partner⁠ never pressured me, but I felt like we weren’t having sex enough. This is something else that my previous trauma makes difficult for me anyway so I definitely felt some additional guilt.

Clinical sexologist, therapist and pelvic floor biomechanics coach Ness Cooper, explained to me how tiredness alone can make it difficult for couples to plan physical intimacy. She says, “Often normal intimate routines are thrown off, and this can lead to some discrepancies as both parties try to form a new intimate routine.”

The first 12 weeks of pregnancy⁠ wiped me out⁠ . I was so overtired and grumpy all the time. I tried to cut myself some slack: my body was literally growing a placenta and a fetus⁠ ! But again, my thoughts got in the way. I’m not the only one.

When speaking to fellow pregnant people, a lot of them shared similar experiences. A friend of mine, Anu, says that the physical and hormonal changes have made it difficult for her to get in the right mindset for any kind of intimacy. This is her second pregnancy and it hasn’t been too physically demanding, but the thought of having sex is rarely on her mind.

My desire for sex began to climb again as I entered the second trimester, and by midway through I actually felt more sexual than I ever had before. A combination of hormonal changes and physical comfort had me feeling more alive and much more like myself.

My intimacy realities during pregnancy

This is just my experience, but I’ve found being intimate so different while I’ve been pregnant. Not only is having sex different physically, but for me it’s also been mentally challenging. While I’ve found myself quite chilled out — my pregnancy has been pretty easy physically — it’s still a whole new sensation having sex with a growing belly and what’s inside of it.

Around 20 weeks of gestation, my midsection had a huge growth spurt which made sex… interesting. My partner and I found ourselves experimenting with how to safely, and comfortably, manoeuvre each other without feeling like we were squashing our future child - even though this is not something that can actually happen. We’ve tried to make sex as physically comfortable for me, the person pregnant, so I don’t end up with an array of aches and pains in the midst of an intimate moment.

Anu feels that navigating sex during pregnancy was much more trying during their third trimester. At 30 weeks pregnant, Anu says, “As much as I would love to continue having sex with my partner, now with my bump so big, it’s interesting to try navigate in bed to get in the best position.”

For me, sex while pregnant has been uncomfortable, pleasurable and downright hilarious. Every part of my body (including my mind) has felt highly sensitive, which has often left us deciding to finish being sexual  together before either of us reaches orgasm⁠ . I just couldn’t take any more sensation or pressure physically a lot of the time. We’ve also had moments of laughter where I’ve found I can’t quite move in or out of a position that I could three weeks prior.

Likewise, I’ve found it a big mental challenge to push through sex when I can feel the baby moving inside of me. They are a real killjoy already. Don’t get me wrong, I love feeling my baby move. It is truly an amazing feeling, and I love seeing what my body can do. But, it isn’t exactly what I want to be feeling when you’re in the middle of sex. It does freak me out and majorly ruins the mood for me. Apparently this is a worry a lot of pregnant people have. Although having sex will not cause any harm to your baby, these fears can put you off the act all together.

Ness Cooper explains that another big fear for expectant parents is the idea of how their sex lives will change when the baby arrives. The realisation that soon there will be a baby in the mix can lead to “some couples trying to rush in all the sexual pleasure they can before the baby is born.” While this isn’t something I’ve experienced with sex in particular, I’ve certainly found myself trying to squeeze in date nights and nights out before the baby arrives.

Sexual pleasure on our own terms

My biggest piece of advice for expectant and pregnant people would be to find what works for your body, life and pregnancy. As with most of pregnancy, everyone will experience it differently. My body will feel different to how yours may.

There isn’t any right or wrong way to navigate sexual intimacy with a partner throughout pregnancy. It’s all about finding what feels comfortable for yourself, and your partner, physically and emotionally. Changes in sexual desire are normal and will usually occur at some point, but the changes — like greater or lesser interest in sex, or interest in new things — are entirely unique to you. Likewise, you might find yourself with plenty of energy, enjoying sex more than you did prior to your pregnancy. Or this could be the total opposite where you feel like you could sleep for a year and like sleep is all you really care about. I’ve definitely felt the latter. I’ve tried not to pressure myself to have sex if I’m just not feeling up to it.

While I certainly believe that every body, and every pregnancy, is different, I have found some good sources of information. I’ve tried to avoid reading tons of pregnancy and parenting books but I have enjoyed Emma Brockwell’s Why Did No One Tell Me?, where she gives a warm, honest and informative approach to pregnancy, birth and beyond. Likewise, charities such as Brook and Birth Rights share tons of brilliant online information for parents to be. [Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for information more inclusive of LGBTQ⁠ + pregnancy, check out this incredible resource list from Birthing Advocacy Doula Trainings!]

Speaking of beyond…

Postpartum intimacy is sure to be another hurdle to jump when we, eventually, reach it. Again, there are no rules about when to start having sex again after birth. You may receive advice from your medical team, which you should take into account. However you decide to deliver your baby, it’s likely that your body would have been through a huge amount of trauma. Even the simplest of labours are strenuous and physical postpartum recovery will take time. Adding in medical interventions such as cesarean sections and episiotomies will likely add to your recovery. It’s important to listen to your medical team as well as your body to assess when it is safe to have partner sex again.

When you are ready to have sex again after having your baby, you may find yourself feeling different emotionally and physically to how you did prior to pregnancy. Not to mention you’ll have a baby to plan sex around. Once again, your body has been through the wonderful journey of pregnancy and labour so it is perfectly normal for it to feel different. You may also find that your sexual preferences have changed, so make sure to have open conversations with your sexual partner⁠ about what you’re comfortable with and what pleasures you.All in all, pregnancy is a whirlwind that is diverse and individual to yourself - as are your sexual desires. Your sexual desires will always be your own, and that does not change when you become pregnant. There is plenty of professional, medical advice you can seek if you do have any concerns, however. Ensuring your own pleasure and comfort throughout sex is always the most important part of intimacy. While pregnancy may change how you feel, it certainly does not change your right to pleasure on your own terms.

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  • Sarah Riley

The term "prude" is such a heavily loaded, judgmental term that I'd really encourage you not to apply it to yourself or anybody else. The implications that come along with that are just not very helpful, so I'd suggest removing that from the way you're thinking about your situation.

There are lots of…