There’s a scene in mom rom-com The Back-up Plan where Jennifer Lopez, newly pregnant, orgasms easily after only a little over-the-clothes action with her onscreen boyfriend. But this depiction of the joys of pregnancy sex did not ring true for Amy Kalerman, a Canadian mom who recently gave birth to her third child.
“I don’t enjoy sex during pregnancy,” says Kalerman. “I feel like a mom. It’s hard to make yourself feel desirable and attractive when your mind is preoccupied with motherhood.” Couple that with months of nausea, heartburn and vomiting, and almost the only between-the-sheets action Kalerman has seen throughout her pregnancies is some serious siesta time. And she’s not the only one.
Dr. Elisabet Joa, clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of British Columbia, says some women may experience changes to their sex drive due to pregnancy hormones. “The connection between libido and hormones is thought to be mainly through testosterone, and levels of this don’t really change much during pregnancy,” says Dr. Joa. “It has been shown, however, that women carrying male fetuses have higher levels of testosterone in the first trimester of pregnancy.” Other hormones such as progesterone and estrogen may also affect a women’s libido in different ways, such as increased blood flow to the reproductive areas, making them more sensitive.
Impending parenthood can either help or hinder a couple’s sex life, says Dr. Robin Milhausen, a sex researcher and educator at Ontario’s University of Guelph. “Some couples take that time to really connect and build a strong foundation, which improves their relationship, while some couples fear having sex will hurt the baby (a possibility in high-risk pregnancies).”
Body image can also play a huge role in a couples’ sex life. Dr. Milhausen says that during the first trimester, when women may feel they look more chubby than pregnant, they might be uncomfortable with their body. However, this may change once the pregnancy curves peak in the second trimester. “When the baby bump arrives, some women start feeling really desirable,” says Dr. Milhausen. Of course, this can fizzle out in the last month. “Some women feel sexy all the way through and some don’t.”
Dr. Milhausen says couples can connect by making weekly dates, holding hands, kissing or simply lying on the couch together. Couples can also get intimate without having intercourse. “Branch out to other activities you used to think of as foreplay and make them the main event,” she says. “You have to laugh, be open and talk about your needs. Avoiding the subject is harder,” says Kalerman. “We know that after this baby, it’ll go back to what it was. The good sex will come back.”
Research recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal says sex is safe during low-risk pregnancies. However, Dr. Tom Corbett, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton, says it might be deemed unsafe if the woman is experiencing vaginal bleeding or leakage of amniotic fluid, or if she has placenta previa (a complication in which the placenta is attached to the uterine wall close to or covering the cervix). Oral sex is fine, but Dr. Corbett cautions that partners should never blow air into a pregnant woman’s vagina, as this can lead to a life-threatening air embolism (a blockage of a blood vessel by an air bubble), causing the heart to arrest or breathing problems to occur.
If you are past your due date and are considering intercourse as a way to spur on labour, there’s little medical evidence that it helps move things along, says Dr. Tom Corbett. However, Winnipeg-based midwife Megan Wilton still encourages pregnant women to try it. “We know women’s orgasms release oxytocin, and oxytocin causes uterine contractions, which we hope would get someone closer to labour,” says Wilton. “There’s also a theory that prostaglandins found in semen can help ripen the cervix for labour.”
This story is part of our Parent’s Guide to Sex & Intimacy. Check it out for loads of advice—on how to manage, recharge and enjoy your sex life.