By: Shania Lane
A quick Google search, “sex during pregnancy” and the first thing that shows up is,” It's perfectly safe to have sex during pregnancy unless your doctor or midwife has told you not to. Having sex will not hurt your baby.” And I think to myself, seriously? In 2021 are we STILL having to tell people that the very act that literally got them pregnant, isn't going to hurt them? (At least in the case of around 75% of people; let’s never leave out fertility treatments and same sex couples!) This is such a low bar for sex during pregnancy, and only speaks volumes to the super low bar set by our Sexual Education programs and Mental Health programs throughout the world.
Not only is sex during pregnancy absolutely safe, it can be extremely beneficial for all parties. It’s a great way to connect deeply with your partner, get in some light movement, relieve some of the tension and pain of pregnancy (thank you oxytocin!), improves your sleep (which you need A LOT of during pregnancy), improve your pelvic floor muscles, plus it’s a chance to do something with those surging hormones running through your body at all times!
I’ll just come right out and say it, once the nausea and cramping stop around the second trimester, most pregnant people want to have sex every waking minute that they aren’t feeling totally exhausted and before the heaviness of the end of pregnancy hits. This is thanks to your increased levels of estrogen; and the extra blood flowing to your breasts and vulva helps increase the amount and intensity of orgasms you’ll have.
Of course this doesn’t occur for everyone, as pregnancy can be extremely stressful and can come with its side of complications or crappy symptoms (ie. boating, nausea, fatigue, trauma). But if you’re experiencing an average pregnancy, you’ll probably want to have sex more and maybe even more often than before conceiving!
So now that we’ve covered why you might want to have more sex than ever and assured you that you should go right ahead, lets talk about how to safely achieve those big O’s.
As long as you have the green light from your care provider and feel good doing it, your regular positions are probably not off limits. Of course, you’ve got to consider your baby when getting into certain sexual positions. If you’re not into the standard side lying, doggy style, or being on top, just try to remember that sex during pregnancy is ultimately a great time to really connect with your partner and focus on your passion for one another! Also those extra hormones will make the positions you may have left behind for more intricate ones years ago, way more intense now. The main focus when choosing positions is to keep weight and impact off of your baby and your back. So feel free to use your imagination to find positions that do that and go for it! You know your body, you know what feels right.
As far as the sexiness about sex during pregnancy? I mean if you and your partner don’t believe you’re ethereal and hot as hell during pregnancy, you’ve both got some serious personal work to do. There is nothing more sacred and honourable than growing another human life and bringing it earthside, and that's just that!
This isn’t to say that there may not be some real mental growth work to do during pregnancy; we all have past traumas and issues. For some people, uncontrollable weight gain may trigger feelings linked with eating disorders and general fatphobia. But just like you work to move past these traumas every day, you do have the power to move past them during pregnancy. Keeping things light about your changing body and finding ways to appreciate your body and celebrate it (for example, by having sex) is a great way to push past some of those negative feelings that are unfortunately a result of our harsh society’s conditioning.
I always tell people, the changes happening both physically and mentally are preparing you for the changes after birth. Things are never going to be the exact same, don’t expect them to stay the same. That is life. Life involves changes. It ebbs and flows, those that push hard against that miss out on the magic of it! Try to find ways to welcome the change in your body, even embrace it if you can.
Now on the flip side, let’s talk about sex postpartum, when the baby has been born but the body has shifted and morphed into something new.
As a society, we are fed this idea of “snapping back” which adds a lot of postpartum anxiety (PPA) and depression (PPD) to a lot of birthing people's lives. The reality is that your body will most likely look a lot different postpartum and comparing your journey to anyone elses is a waste of your precious energy! Your hips will expand, your belly will still be round for a while without a baby in it, your libido may temporarily drop off, your vagina and anus will be sensitive, and this may cause some weariness and anxiety surrounding anyone touching these places.
Coming back to sex after pregnancy should be just as sacred of an act as when you commenced the process to conception. There should be a really honest and respectful understanding between yourself and your partner about where you’re at both mentally and physically. For some people, they feel ready both physically and mentally around 3 months, for others it takes much longer. Trauma caused during a birth experience and the support one has postpartum will often determine how long it takes for you to feel ready to engage sexually postpartum.
If sex used to be the highlight of your day prior to having a baby, try not be concerned or hard on yourself if this shifts. Instead, I highly recommend considering what is making your favorite activity feel like such a burden or obstacle, and getting support with that FIRST. Remember your new feelings are not excuses, they are very valid responses to a radical shift in your life. But listen to these feelings and validate them by finding solutions to them.
Some common reasons you may not feel ready to engage sexually:
“I’m just too tired right now.”
Okay, this is super valid and most likely very true. Firstly, if you’re breastfeeding, you’re actually producing a hormone that makes you tired, Prolactin. It’s common for people to want to have sex while their baby is sleeping, so usually thats right after a feed. However, because you’ve just increased your prolactin hormone drastically, you may be feeling super sleepy as well. Try taking a shower, hydrating and having a quick snack first. Your baby will probably sleep for 2-3 hours so you have time to focus on yourself and let your hormones regulate a bit prior to jumping right into it!
Of course, you could be super tired because you truly aren’t sleeping enough. This is an important time to ask yourself and your partner if you are sharing responsibilities 50/50. If your partner is back to work, this may not mean they are helping during night feeds, but how are they helping in the afternoon or evening? Being a new parent is a full time job for both people involved, not just the one with the work leave.
And at the end of the day, the best way to help yourself recover from being tired is to get HELP. Hire a postpartum doula or a nanny, call a friend or family member. Even two hours without the full responsibility of your baby can help you get some rest and have a major mental reset.
“I’m too afraid to insert anything down there still. It might hurt.”
Once again, let’s start with validating this. And then let’s move into the realities of what actually occurred to your vagina and how resilient it is. The vagina is made up of special tissues, three layers actually, designed to stretch significantly and recover. But if you’re feeling scared to allow anything inside, remember that sex isnt just about inserting objects and penises! Start out really slow with sex after birth. Start with touch in other areas like the nipples, butt, clitoris, moving slowly until you are totally ready for penetration again. And don’t forget, lube and moisturizers are your friends. Not only will they help reduce discomfort, they will help heal those vaginal tissues.
“I’m feeling self conscious. What if I’m not tight enough anymore.”
Once again, the vagina is full of muscles that relax for childbirth and will in fact tighten back up just days after the birth. It may take up to six months for your vagina to be recovered, and the appearance may slightly differ, but the tightness will most likely return to its previous tightness prior to pregnancy. You may feel looser in the first few months, but remember this is also your pelvic floor. A part of you that had to relax A LOT to let a baby come down through your pelvis. Thanks to the relaxing hormone you were producing for months to prepare you for labour, things will feel different for a while. But if this is something that is mentally taking a toll, you can always try pelvic floor physio, and I recommend it even if it’s not just for mental security. Childbirth is hard work, we usually compare it to running a marathon. Just like how many runners attend physiotherapy, after a big race, you too may need some extra help recovering fully after birth. And your pelvic floor is a great place to start.
“I just don’t want to. I have no sex drive.”
This is by far the most common yet least normalized issue after having a baby, and let me tell you, it is completely normal. In most studies, about 40% of birth people claim to have little to no desire whatsoever to have sex up to 9 months after giving birth. This is just how normal it is.
Between the lack of sleep, and crazy hormone levels, there are many reasons you may not want to engage sexually. In the first six weeks, your estrogen levels are actually so low, they are in the menopausal range, leaving your vagina dryer than usual with little natural lubrication, making sex oftentimes painful. It’s important to be patient with yourself here, it is not within your control. If you cannot find any other factors other than just not wanting to, it is most likely your hormones, and time will most likely fix this.
A reminder that the oxytocin once produced from your partner is now being sourced from your new child. So it is common for the parent spending more time with the new baby to feel satisfied as far as affection and love goes, oftentimes even what we call ‘touched out’: a feeling of being over-stimulated and touched too much aka having too much intimacy surrounding you. This is common and can be helped but make sure both parents are getting in lots of baby time and once again, sharing the load!
There are so many more personal reasons sex may be difficult during pregnancy or after having a baby, and they are all totally ok to feel. I can’t tell you when or what will spark your desire to engage again. But remember that taking time for yourself, being patient with your body, preparing to try new things, welcoming change to the best of your ability, and communicating all of your feelings with your sexual partners should always be the starting points.
Shania Lane is a full spectrum birth worker currently residing on the land of the sngaytskstx tum-xula7xw (Sinixt) Peoples. She is passionate about low barrier, inclusive birth work, and is currently leading one of the few no-cost birth doula programs in Canada alongside Apple Tree Maternity. You can find her on Instagram @aloudoula