It’s a time-worn cliche: “oh, you’re having a baby? Say goodbye to your sex life!”
There’s something about the sleep deprivation of welcoming a new baby, mixed with the wholesomeness of family life, that seems to put the kibosh on sex in popular imagination. Well, guess what? Parents like to have sex.
What’s especially amusing is the way society regards mothers and sexuality, post-baby. “Wait, you’re a mom, but you still like sex?” Um…how do you think the baby got here? Yes: moms enjoy sexual pleasure. So do fathers, and queer couples, and straight couples, and monogamous parents raising children, and polyamorous/open parents raising children. Pleasure is for everybody, and that’s a beautiful thing.
It is the case, though, that sex as a parent requires intentionality. That’s because childbirth itself causes changes (think hormone levels), and raising a child introduces new time constraints. The person who gave birth might also be adjusting to body changes, and the feeling that their body is leased out to someone else… the “someone” being tiny, adorable, and insatiably hungry. Meanwhile, supporting partners might be just as sleep-deprived, overwhelmed by the arrival of a new life form, and not quite sure how to reconnect sexually. It’s a lot!
So to navigate the changes, here’s a quick guide to parental sexy times, both immediately before and immediately after the baby. Playtime is possible—it just takes a bit more creativity…
Sex During Pregnancy
Just like the baby’s development, parents also change during pregnancy. Let’s talk about trimesters!
During the First Trimester of Pregnancy
We won’t sugarcoat it: the baby-carrying individual will probably feel exhausted.
- That’s because their body is not only growing a new person but an entirely new organ (the placenta)—which requires LOTS of energy. They may also experience morning sickness, breast tenderness, and an aversion to foods they previously loved. But mostly, they’ll feel unbelievably tired.
- Here’s something cool though: blood is starting to flow like crazy to a pregnant person’s nether regions. The result? Many pregnant people report intense sex dreams, and you’ll probably loooove masturbating right now. (See: blood rush.) Supporting partners: the first trimester is fantastic for giving oral sex, *hint hint.*
- Now is also a great time for orgasm-inducing missionary, and all other sex positions that allow the pregnant individual to conserve energy.
During the Second Trimester of Pregnancy
Some energy returns!
- Body changes are more noticeable now (aka the “bump”), but things are relatively comfortable. Many pregnant individuals feel their best during this trimester, especially since you’ve got some sex things working in your favor…
- A white vaginal discharge called leukorrhea will appear, and this increases vaginal lubrication. Also! The clitoris and vagina become more engorged, enhancing the effect of orgasms. Score.
- However, you might start noticing backaches and heartburn, as the baby grows bigger and bigger. Sex standing up can be especially hot here, as can back massage and temperature play. Sucking on ice: soothing for heartburn, lovely for oral.
During the Third trimester of Pregnancy
Things are starting to get crowded.
- This is a time many parents worry that vigorous sex could induce pre-term labor. Not to worry: having sex won’t induce delivery until your body is ready.
- Because the bump is turning into a full-blown baby, this is a time many pregnant individuals start sleeping on their side…and having sex on their side.
- Spooning is a perfect option in the third trimester, and if you’re up for it, reverse cowgirl. Both positions allow freedom for the belly, while still allowing for optimal penetration.
For all trimesters, the bottom line is that most sexual positions can still work—but if it doesn’t feel right, stop and try something else. Also, a few safety tips: don’t have sex if your water has broken (chances are sex will be the last thing on your mind, but doing so could send bacteria to the vaginal canal), take precautions with anal (as in, wash thoroughly after anal, before transitioning to vaginal intercourse), and don’t have a partner blow into your vagina during oral. Something called an “air embolism” can occur, which in lay terms, means air bubbles. Specifically, bubbles that block blood vessels, which can restrict blood flow to baby carrier and baby. No bueno!
As long as you’re safe and communicative, sex during pregnancy can be lots of fun – and yield lots of benefits: stress reduction, pain relief, and lower blood pressure, to name a few. But what about sex after the baby has arrived?
Sex After Baby
Congratulations! Your baby is here, and you’re officially a parent. Are you excited to have sex?
If you were the one who gave birth, chances are…no. At least, not right away.
Whether your baby arrived via vaginal delivery or c-section, it is 100% normal (and expected) for there to be a period of time where your body simply heals, as you care for your teensy human. In fact, one study showed that 62% of vulva-owners experienced pain during penetrative sex, up to three months postpartum. The reasons for this are two-fold: first, labor and childbirth create minor traumatic injuries, and the skin is healing. But secondly, hormone levels aren’t necessarily encouraging penetration right now: estrogen and progesterone drop considerably, so the vagina is producing less lubrication. It’s as if the body is saying: “hey, I need you to focus on baby right now.” Roger that, hormones.
If your baby arrived via adoption or surrogacy, guess what? Hormone levels can still be thrown off-kilter, largely due to sleep deprivation and new baby anxiety. HOWEVER… these changes are temporary. Your body will heal, your hormone levels will return to their previous state, and you will sleep normally again. Promise!
Here’s how to navigate all the sex things, postpartum:
Be open and honest with your partner about your sexual desire—or lack thereof.
It really is OK to change the way you connect for a little while. At the end of the day, both partners may feel tired from baby-care, and breastfeeders may feel “touched out.” Remind yourselves that this won’t last forever.
Your hormone levels are changing.
Breastfeeding and postpartum affect your hormone levels, and this could put a damper on your sex drive for a while. But it’s also normal! And while this isn’t necessarily anything you need to “fix,” you might find it beneficial to bring in some backup. Foria’s Intimacy Sex Oil is a fantastic addition, as it uses CBD to enhance arousal and ease discomfort. The CBD increases blood flow (a vital part of arousal) and relaxes your muscles, which is incredibly beneficial after putting your body through the miracle of childbirth.
Your body might look different.
For some birth-givers, this is a source of anxiety. The solution? Give yourself permission to focus on the things your body and mind need to feel good. This could take the form of exercise, nourishing food, or exposure to role models. We’re in a moment of normalizing and celebrating things like stretch marks and cellulite, which is amazing and, frankly, overdue. Don’t be afraid to cultivate a system of support, including but not limited to your partner. Ask for what you need to get to a body/mind place that helps YOU thrive.
Now for the fun stuff…
Back to the sex part! This is a nice period to enjoy kissing and cuddling, the “comfort foods” of physical intimacy. Start here, and see if arousal occurs. Have lube handy, and when you’re ready for sex again…take it slow. Once baby settles into a sleep routine, you can carve out more time for sex in ALL of its forms: penetration, oral, digital.
Need sexy inspo? Queue up one of our favorite hubs for ethical porn, Bellesa. If your visual field includes mostly baby animals and primary colors right now, it can be downright thrilling to watch something, anything else. Like hot sex, for example.
I’ll leave you with one more piece of encouragement: a 2018 survey found that 40% of moms and 47% of dads reported zero change in their sex life after kids, and for some people (13% of moms and 10% of dads in the survey)—the quality of sex actually improved!
As a parent who is a proud member of the “improvement” camp, I can tell you confidently that having children helps you set boundaries, hone your communication skills, and get very clear on what’s important to you. Sex is a long game, and so is having a child. Both can offer enormous opportunities for growth, play, and evolving into a version of yourself that knows exactly what you want.
Tolly Moseley is a writer and content contributor for Sex With Emily. She is a storyteller and board member for Bedpost Confessions, has written for The Atlantic and Salon, and loves listening to all the sex podcasts. When she’s not writing, she’s doing aerial.