Along with the physical and emotional upheavals of pregnancy come changes in sexual desire. You might have been romping along at a rate of three times a week and now find your libido's gone limp, or maybe you were content with infrequent intimacy but now can't get enough. Any response is normal, say experts, whether it's your first pregnancy or your fourth.
Changes By Trimester
In general, there's a down-up-down trend in sexual appetite throughout pregnancy, says Heidi Murkoff coauthor of What to Expect When You're Expecting. Fatigue during the first trimester can put the brakes on your sex drive. And though swollen breasts may be a turn-on to your partner, it's difficult to enjoy foreplay if your breasts are aching or you're feeling queasy.
The news isn't all bad, though. Increased blood flow to the genitals and pelvic area can make for more intense orgasms, and even increase your chances of having multiple ones. (Of course, engorgement affects each woman differently: Some expectant moms find their orgasms are duller.)
Sex tends to be the most enjoyable during the second trimester, when nausea usually subsides and breasts are less tender and more touchable. And since your body is curvier and your skin and hair may be more radiant, you may feel more desirable. Adding to this lusty mix: a surge in hormones, especially oxytocin, which is thought to increase sexual arousal.
By the time you're in the homestretch, your interest may taper off again. The size of your belly can make it difficult to maneuver into a comfortable position or to stay that way for even a short time.
The emotional changes of pregnancy can affect your drive as dramatically as the physical symptoms do. You may feel ambivalent about impending motherhood, worry about bringing on a miscarriage or (later on) labor, or just think you're too big. It's perfectly natural to feel different about yourself from day to day.
It's also normal to underestimate how attractive you are to your partner. If he seems somewhat tentative during lovemaking, it may be because he feels strange about the baby-to-be between you. "Many men are so used to thinking of their wives as lovers, and now there's someone else in there," says Linda Steinhardt, a certified nurse-midwife and clinical teaching associate in midwifery at Brown University. Or he could be anxious about hurting the baby. If so, reassure him that the fetus is protected inside the uterus and by the amniotic sac that surrounds it.
Just try not to let your fluctuating emotions go unspoken. It's important that both of you are honest about what you need sexually—and extra sensitive to each other's feelings. "Each of you realizes that your identity and relationship are about to change dramatically, so take the time now to sort through these issues," says Murkoff.
Remember, too, that intimacy can be expressed in many ways. So if one of you doesn't feel like having sex, try a massage, a relaxing bath, a romantic dinner, or just lounging around, touching, and talking. Whatever you do (or don't do), let this be a time to revel in the pleasure of being with each other.
Anne Torpey is a freelance writer.