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Pregnancy

Relationships and sex

Pregnancy can greatly affect your relationship with your partner. Deciding to try for a baby can bring a new level of emotional closeness and intensity - and of course having sex is at the heart of becoming pregnant. One woman said her partner was disappointed she got pregnant so quickly as he had hoped for 'a long campaign' of frequent sex. Of course the fun of having sex can give way to anxiety and stress if a couple are having problems getting pregnant.

Several women had lost interest in sex once they became pregnant. In some cases this was partly for fear of causing a miscarriage, although there is no evidence that this is something to worry about (doctors may advise women who have had repeated miscarriages not to have sex in the early weeks to be on the safe side). Sometimes it was the male partner who worried about harming the baby (see NCT - National Childbirth Trust).

 

She was less interested in sex during pregnancy, but it was important to find other ways of...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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I mean the physical side of things changes, doesn't it? Was that something that concerned you at all or were you both?

No, I think it was more because my husband wanted me and [laughs] I wasn't bothered [laughs]. 

[Laughs] And how did he cope with that then?

He understands, you know, he knows and he understands. And I think what I'd say, as long as you, you have hugs and cuddles and you're nice to each other and, you know, share time with each other and you are loving with each other, then that's more important in that sense, so as long as he gets, you know, as long as you get your cuddles and that, then we're fine.

 

She felt less interested in sex during pregnancy, partly because she was worried about...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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Well, I suppose I definitely had a loss of libido. I wouldn't, you know, I just, but it was backed up by the fear of miscarriage because I had two miscarriages, you know, before I had this one. [baby noises] So, and I, so I just, it wasn't an issue. It wasn't even something I'd consider. I just sort of, it was 'No.' And I didn't really feel guilty about it or anything, so. Although I'm sure my husband would have had sex if it had been on offer, but he didn't push the subject, so.

And was that throughout pregnancy you felt that way? Or did it change?

No, I just, I felt that way the whole way, the whole way through. In fact I still probably feel that way now, actually [laugh].

I was saying that one thing that really annoyed me as well, my friend in the first preg-, with my first pregnancy bought me this book 'Everything you need to know about pregnancy, but only your best friend will tell you' or something like that. It was an American author. And there was a paragraph about sex, or a chapter about sex in it. And basically saying that you should be having, you should be having sex with your, sex with your husband and, you know, otherwise he's going to lose interest. And I felt so disgusted by what she'd written, I thought, you know, you've got to - in fact I was so disgusted I wouldn't read any more of the book. So like, I just, you know, I think it's up to the individual and not, she shouldn't be telling you whether, you know, you should or you shouldn't be having sex. 
 

Some women were keen to maintain a good sex life in pregnancy, although feeling tired or ill in the first few weeks could be a problem. Several women said they doubted if they were still attractive, but their partners tried to reassure them. One father felt strongly this was part of his role.

 

It is important for him to reassure his wife that she is definitely still attractive.

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Male
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One thing I never expected how quickly she would get enormous. It depends on the, on the woman but watching her changing and trying to comfort her and let her realise that it's fine. I think that's something that she didn't necessarily expect. I think she knew she was going to be pregnant, she knew her body was going to change, but I don't think she knew how she was going to react to that. I think that's something that I feel is very important as part of my role to let her know that A) it's natural, B) she is, she looks well, she looks happy, she is healthy, and that she is still attractive. She is definitely still attractive and that's an important part of, of my role I think to do that. 

 
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They continued to enjoy sex during pregnancy, and it reassured her she was still attractive. They...

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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I was keen to reassure my partner that being pregnant and having a baby didn't mean the end of our life together as it had been, and sex seemed to be a big part of that, so I did want to try to continue to have a good sex life as part of being pregnant. I was lucky that the first six months of my pregnancy were relatively straightforward. The only problem was that I was very tired and often sneaked off to bed very early in the evening. The tiredness only lasted for the first few months and then it felt like getting back to normal. I was concerned that sex might affect the baby, but my pregnancy book ('What to expect when you are expecting') was very reassuring about sex being safe and 'a good thing.' I don't remember much about sex in the first few months of pregnancy. I don't think it was quite as good as the 'getting pregnant' sex - that was especially fun. 

As my body began to change shape I found a continued sex life very important in terms of reassurance. It was good to know that I could still pass as attractive despite the unrecognisable body. There were a lot more logistical issues involved in having sex at 20 weeks. I was getting cramp and it seemed very easy to lose the circulation in my legs. Still, we tried hard and seemed to be able to find positions that worked. The odd time the baby kicked during sex was really odd. It was a reminder that there was someone else there and tended to ruin the moment. One good thing was that my body became increasingly sensitive as time went by which made sex more and more enjoyable. Everything changed at 31 weeks when I lost some blood and ended up in hospital. The bleeding had nothing to do with sex - more to do with a lot of dancing at a party - but the hospital recommended really slowing down and that included not having sex for the remaining period of the pregnancy. It was such a shock ending up in hospital that I don't think we thought much of this at the time. That was the end of sex during pregnancy for us.

While some people found pregnancy strengthened their relationship, for others it created new tensions and in some it led to a break-up. One mother who had an unplanned pregnancy explained why she thought some women felt the need to get out of an unsatisfactory relationship for the baby's sake. She had read that domestic violence sometimes started in pregnancy, and wondered if this was because women became less tolerant and more challenging about their partner's behaviour.

 

Pregnant women want a safe, supportive environment for their baby. Pregnancy made her think again...

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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But I think I'm quite lucky that I didn't have really, really terrible symptoms during my pregnancy. I felt actually the happ-, the healthiest I've been for ages, and mentally I think it made me feel much more stronger than I would normally have felt [laughs]. So yeah -

Tell me about that, feeling stronger mentally, how?

Just like, I mean, for example I do think a lot of people say, “Women and their hormones”. And obviously because I was going through the whole thing of “Do I want to be with my boyfriend or not?” sort of thing, you know, a lot of people think it's just your hormones and stuff. And I do, I do believe that, yeah, your hormones make women more feisty - not feisty, but I think you, you're in a position, my theory is that women when they get, are pregnant, go back to cavewomen mentality. And it's not necessarily a negative thing. It's just that - because I believe that, because for most of the human existence we've actually been living in a kind of stone-age like way, and technology, a technological society for such a tiny time of our existence, that mentally we do revert to a sort of cavewoman thing. So, you know, you want have, you want things to be right. You want to know that when this baby shows up that you're going to be supported and things like that, you know. If things aren't very well in your life you want to make, you want to make sure that it's going to be well, basically. So I think, you know, so I think that's another thing that affects relationships with men generally. I think men are quite quick to say that you're having a “hormonal thing.” “Well, she's hormonal, your hormones are going wild,” and this and that. And it's not. I just feel it's that women actually know what they want more when they're pregnant, and they're quite happy to say what they want when they're pregnant. And instead of actually acknowledging that that's the reality, people are just prepared to say, “You're upset because of your hormones, don't worry”, to keep the status quo, when the reality is that maybe certain things need to be changing, justifiably and realistically, and people don't want to face that, so they just blame hormones.

 

Mothers may challenge their partner's behaviour and lifestyle. Some men may find the pressure and...

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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I read about domestic violence and stuff when I was at university. I did quite a few things about that. And it's been shown that most women who experience physical violence, the first time they're actually hit by their partner is when they're pregnant. That's quite a big time for when a lot of the physical violence starts for women. And I think part of it might be because women do get a bit more feisty. If you're with someone and they're not working or, you know, they're just hanging out with their mates all the time, or something like that - or they're behaving violently or whatever, or they're drinking - you're perhaps more likely to say, “Look, this is the deal,” or whatever. And perhaps, and obviously I think your hormones probably do make you more emotional, but I think that maybe that's the time when women will say, “De, de, de” a lot more, and might - a situation may occur in which a woman gets hit, you know what I mean? And I think there's that. And also I think as well that for a lot of men who haven't had very good childhoods, I think seeing a woman pregnant is a, makes them feel more stressed out than they might do normally. Because obviously if you've got a bad childhood behind you as a man and then you're confronted with a pregnant woman having your baby and then all the pressures that means on you then I think that can make men maybe more aggressive, in their unconscious way. And might lead to stuff like that happening. That's my theory. It's not something that's [laughs] been proven in real life or anything like that.

Another single mother had often felt angry during pregnancy and took this out on her family. Her GP gave her helpful advice. Her relationship with her partner also broke up.

 

She tended to get very emotional and angry with her family during pregnancy. (Played by an actor.)

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I hated everyone, didn't want no one near me, hated everyone. I actually had a fight in work, when I was pregnant, with my boss, because he, he cut me down from 32 hours a week to 16 and made me stand on a till. And I ended up having a fight with him and walking out because my emotions were high, my hormones were up the wall, because my body wasn't used to it. The slightest person would only have to say, 'Hello' to me and I'd bite their head off. Just stupid little things like that. Like my mum for instance, my mum would come in the room, go, 'Are you all right?' And I'd like swear at her or just tell her to get out of my face. And she knew I never meant it, but it was because I think it was my hormones up the wall. But that's what done my head in, because I was really angry-headed when I was carrying her, really. It was horrible, because I just used to flip for nothing. I used to just scream and shout at people and things like that. Like my brother, I battered my brother when I was pregnant. And my sister, because the pair of them just were getting on my nerves. They were just sitting there and they were like rubbing my belly and talking to the baby and because it done my head in, I flipped because it was just the way I was. I was too hot, I just wanted it over and done with, from start to end I wanted it finished with, I just wanted her out.

So it was doing my head in.

Are your brother and sister older or younger?

Younger, younger. But no, I had to, they just drove me up the - it was my hormones. I actually went to the doctor and asked the doctor about it and the doctor just said to me, 'It's your hormones. Because your body's not used to carrying the baby because you're only young yourself,' he said, 'your hormones are all up the wall' he said. 'So that's why you're biting everyone's head off' he said. 'Just try and relax. If you think you're going to bite someone's head off, go for a little walk or go outside and have some fresh air or something' he said. 'And try and like take deep breaths and calm, count to ten' he said. 'Try and do anything to relax you, go and have a bath or anything' he said. 'Just don't be flipping,' he said, 'because you're going to need everyone around you'. I don't know. But it's my hormones. I still blame them to this day, that it's my hormones.

 

She split up from her partner when she got pregnant, because she could not cope with him as well...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Was anything else going on?

Not really, no. Me and my partner split up, me and the baby's dad, that upset me.

When, how far along into the pregnancy did that happen?

I think I was, I think I was about five months. He'd gone on holiday with his brother and I'd gone for my second scan when I found out I was - I asked them, could they tell me what the sex was? They told me I was having a little girl. And I tried to phone him all day to let him know that he was having a little girl, and I just couldn't get no answer. And then when I finally got in contact with him in the night he was like dead funny with me and dead weird and things like that. So I told him he was having a little girl and he just went, 'Oh, that's nice' and put the phone down. And then it was like a week or so after, when he come off his holiday, that I thought, 'I can't cope with you no more, you're just, you're really str-, you're acting like a big kid, you're really stressing me out'.

Did he not care?

You see he does care, but it's just, I think he was a bit, I think he felt a bit jealous because I live with my mum and my stepdad. So I think he felt a bit jealous because they were doing everything for me. If I needed something they'd go and get me it, and if I needed something for the baby they'd like say, 'Give us the money, we'll go and get it'. I think he felt a bit pushed out at first. But I told him not to be, but it was, it wasn't working for a while, we had all bickering for a while. I think to be honest with you we were really staying together just for the baby, just for the fact that I was pregnant and the baby's sake. But we had a good long talk about it and I says, 'Well, you can see the baby when you want. I'm not going to stop you. But, please, do me a favour, don't ask me to get back with you because I couldn't cope with you. I've got enough.' I said, 'I've got the baby, you're like a big baby yourself'. But I was thinking he was jealous or he felt pushed out, one or the two.

How much older is he than you?

Six years.

So he was 24?

Yeah. So he's still a big kid himself.

How long had you been together when this happened, when the pregnancy happened?

Two and a half years.

Right, so a good while?

Two and a half years we'd been together. I still see him now like, but, no, couldn't, couldn't go back down that lane. You know, two and a half years we were together. It was nice for about two years, and then that half a year it just started going down the pan, started arguing over everything and bickering, and I moved out and come back home and things like that, because I just couldn't, couldn't cope with him.

Another mother found it difficult to maintain a relationship with her partner when she discovered that her baby had a diaphragmatic hernia and was unlikely to survive. Relationships do sometimes break down after stressful experiences like this; as she said 'you can't support each other because you're too busy with your own grief'.

 
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The stress of knowing the baby was so ill strained her relationship with her partner and she lost...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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I think men don't understand how invaded you are by a force that you can't control. So it's natural for you to become more anxious and need more reassurance and need more consistency, so when we start wanting to know what you're doing, where you're going, what's happening [laughs], where everything is, you know, it's just that you want reassurance. You're just trying to make everything secure and you're nesting, and I think men don't understand that you're taken over by a hormonal force that's primitive, which is about making your environment safe. So therefore you want to know where your partner is, if they're safe, if they're okay, all those kind of things, and they need to understand that. 

And did the physical side of the relationship just kind of drop off the scale for you or was it still an important issue? For both of you, I suppose?

I found once I found out I was pregnant, oh, that was enough for me. I was like, “Right, I've got my baby, I'm pregnant”, and I sort of lost interest in the physical side. But then once once we found out there was something wrong with Oscar that just completely shut down anything sexual about me at all. 

It, it's like every, everything else, everything about me just disappeared, I was just this Mum carrying a, a sick baby and sort of I suppose I was not wanting to do anything that would disturb him, I suppose. I don't know, I suppose all that, those thoughts just disappeared, really. All, it's like my personality disappeared. I remember after - I mean, this might be something to do with grief - but I remember I forgot what my favourite food was, I forgot what I liked to eat, I forgot what my favourite movie was, I forgot what my favourite pastimes were. And I didn't know what I wanted to wear, I didn't know what I wanted to eat, didn't know where I wanted to go, and I remember I just was numb, to everything. All my favourite music didn't touch me. I normally loved dancing and I just didn't feel the need to, or urge to. I think my, I got subsumed in this experience.

Amanda was upset she was taken by a social worker to get contraception on her way home from giving birth to her daughter. (See Learning disability and pregnancy).

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated
May 2017.

 
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