Sometimes You Just Don't Feel Sexy
When I was pregnant with our son, my husband, Rob, got an earful of progressively creative "sorry honey, not tonight" excuses. Among them: "I can't, I have to massage my stretch marks with cod liver oil. My linea negra is showing. I have areolae the size of saucers." (Suffice it to say, they were not my cup of tea.). Rumor has it that some women experience "the best sex ever" during pregnancy, thanks to surging hormones and increased blood flow down below. Sure, there were times over the nine months when I enjoyed a bedroom romp. But typically, doing it was just another item not crossed off my to-do list.
Mine is certainly not an unusual case. In a recent study of 150 pregnant women published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, the researchers found that sexual satisfaction declined as the women's pregnancies progressed. But it's worth overcoming the common hurdles, like exhaustion, awkwardness, and anxiety. "Couples who don't make intimacy a priority now are only going to find more excuses when the baby comes home," says Yvonne K. Fulbright, Ph.D., a sex educator and coauthor of Your Orgasmic Pregnancy. "The happier you are in all aspects of your relationship, including your sex life, the better parent you'll be." Tackling these bedroom issues will allow you and your mate to fully enjoy the pregnancy, and each other.
The Common Excuses
"I'm too tired."
Fatigue is a classic symptom of early pregnancy and one that can quickly derail your sex life. After all, who has the desire to make bedroom eyes when you can barely keep them open? "Getting your body ready for pregnancy is a huge energy draw," says Roger Harms, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. Late hours at work before maternity leave, sleepless nights, frenetic nesting, and carting around 30 (or so) extra pounds can also take their toll. Do your best to slow down and get the recommended eight hours of sleep. If you still don't have the energy for intercourse, use this time as an opportunity to explore other activities that give you pleasure, whether that's massaging, kissing, or oral sex, says Dr. Fulbright.
"I feel unattractive."
For some women, it's hard to channel your inner sex kitten with an alien belly that screams "incubator." Though your shifting shape can take getting used to, you're probably your own worst critic. Try to focus on your best assets. If you've got great legs, show them off with skinny jeans and hide your bigger behind with a tunic. Or focus on your hair, it's most likely never looked better. Of course, taking care of you on the inside, through exercise and nutrition, also boosts self-esteem. And why not try a positive attitude on for size? "When I was pregnant, I really started to love my body and appreciate what it was able to do," says Wendy Altschuler, a Chicago mother of two. "I was growing and supporting a life, and this made me feel confident and sexy."
"I'm afraid sex will harm the baby."
Carrying a little living being inside of you can make it tempting to slap on a "Handle With Care" label before lovemaking. But doctors agree that getting frisky is perfectly safe. "In a normal, healthy pregnancy, there's no risk to having intercourse," says Elisabeth Aron, M.D., an ob-gyn and author of Pregnancy Do's and Don'ts. The most common complications that can preclude sexual activity are placenta previa (a condition in which the placenta covers the cervix), premature rupture of the membranes, and signs of preterm labor. Otherwise, couples are typically given the green light for the entire pregnancy. That includes the first trimester, when fear of losing the baby causes some couples to fret needlessly about their bedroom behavior. "Miscarriages aren't provoked by sex," says Dr. Harms. Second-timers, like Kindra Kirkeby of Richmond, Virginia, have an intuitive grasp of this, making their sex life less inhibited. "It wasn't this new thing that we needed to be careful about," she says.
Relaxing (and improvising!) are key to successful lovemaking during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester when you have an out-to-there belly. During this stage, Dr. Fulbright recommends the side-by-side position or woman on top, which places no pressure on the abdomen. I, for one, plan to strike a few new poses and otherwise shake things up a bit more in the bedroom if I get pregnant again. Rob, consider this fair warning.
How Mommies-to-be Can Get Their Groove Back
BUY MATERNITY LINGERIE
Flaunt your new curves with intimates that are functional and pretty. Some of your pre-pregnancy favorites may come in maternity cuts.
BOOK A "BABYMOON"
Sometimes a change of scenery is all you need, so consider a last-fling vacation. Babymoonguide.com and babymoonfinder.com round up options by location, from Alabama to the UK.
POSE FOR A PORTRAIT
Getting your photo taken may help you see your pregnant body in a new and more flattering light. Jennifer Loomis, a family and maternity photographer whose work is showcased in Portraits of Pregnancy: Birth of a Mother, recommends scheduling the session six to ten weeks before your due date, when your belly is clearly visible but you're not too close to delivery.
Originally published in the November 2001 issue of Parents magazine.