I was recently interviewed on the topic of how to have better sex while trying to conceive and was asked to share tips to reduce raw stress associated with baby-making. I’ve shared the interview summary below and believe these stress-reducing strategies are relevant regardless of whether or not you’re trying to get pregnant:
Sex can be both a source of stress and a remedy to assuage tension in relationships. The associated stress often occurs when you worry about frequency, quality or issues of compatibility. If you’re not have sex as often as you’d like (or you’ve stopped having sex altogether), a lack of time, a perceived lack of privacy, breakdowns in communication, body image and shame issues and mismatched libidos are often to blame.
Couples who are trying to get pregnant face the added pressure of worrying about conception and oftentimes this detracts from pleasure, intimacy and experimentation. It is not uncommon for seduction to be unnecessarily reduced to clinical terms (e.g. “I’m fertile. Let’s have sex.”) and for sex play to be limited to quick missionary in the dark. There is, however, no reason for this to be the case. Even if you’re using a fertility app, you can still share the excitement of seduction and experimentation.
Putting a little extra effort into sex while trying to conceive is well worth it, as it can detract from the associated stress and pressure.
As you approach orgasm, the body erupts in a cascade of hormonal changes that can have a sedative effect on the mind and body. This is why so many of us (especially men) pass out right after sex.
PET scans of the brain during sexual activity and orgasm reveal that sex is both a physical and emotional experience, as the amygdala, which controls emotion as well as the area which manages muscle function are activated. Brain studies also explain why sex is so pleasurable from a chemical perspective, as the areas related to dopamine release become hotbeds of sexual activity resulting in increased levels of this feel-good neurotransmitter. And as the pituitary gland is activated, the release of endorphins, oxytocin and vasopressin promote pain reduction, intimacy and bonding.
Research confirms that you don’t have to reach orgasm to reap these stress-reducing rewards. When couples touch one another with warmth and care, they experience a reduction in stress hormones and blood pressure alongside an increase in oxytocin levels.
If you’re looking to de-stress and make sex more fun and frequent, consider these approaches that begin outside of the bedroom:
Touch often. Don’t reserve physical affection for the bedroom, as you won’t always have the time, energy or desire for sex and you don’t want to let the intimacy disappear too. Sneak in a 15-second hug every time you part ways and greet your partner with a big smile and a warm kiss even when you’re not in the mood. Studies suggest that even short periods of affection can reduce stress, deepen your connection and eventually lead to more satisfying sex.
Follow the 45-second rule. Each evening when you return home, stop for 45 seconds to decompress and let go of the stress from your day. Most of us have a tendency to take our frustrations out on the ones we love and this can take a serious toll on our relationships. During the 45-second timeout in the car or on the bus, remind yourself that your partner (and kids) have nothing to do with the stress you experienced at the office, in the community or in traffic throughout the day.
Do 60-second favours. You don’t need grand gestures to let your partner know how much you care. Small favours on an ongoing basis will have more of an impact. Here are a few ideas: gas up their car, warm up their socks in the morning, fix them a coffee, pick up a favourite snack, iron a shirt, turn down the bed, light a candle, massage their hands, wrap them in a towel after they shower, pack a lunch or leave a love note in their purse/briefcase. Sixty seconds is all it takes. If you can’t find one minute per day, you’re not trying hard enough.
Perform a role ritual at the end of each day. You likely wear a variety of different hats on a daily basis; you’re a mother/father, a friend, a daughter/son, a community member, a professional, a co-parent, a roommate and more! But if you have a partner, you’re also a lover. Perform a short ritual every night to remind yourself (and your partner) that you’re loving partners as opposed to just roommates or co-parents. This role ritual, which can be as simple as pouring a glass of wine, changing out of your work clothes, playing a song, dimming the lights or shutting down your electronic devices, is a signal that talking about work, schedules and children is off-limits. It’s time to relax and just be together.
Share responsibilities. Whether it’s at work or in the home, dividing up your to-do list helps to reduce conflict and resentment and increase the likelihood that you’ll be intimate with your partner. When it comes to household chores, many couples find that making a list or downloading an app helps to ensure a happy division of labour — and if you have kids, there are a number of apps that frame chores as part of a game using point systems and rewards.
Sharing responsibility is of equal importance if you’re trying to conceive. When tracking fertility cycles and initiating sex falls solely on one person’s shoulders, it can be stressful and can lead to resentment, so share your fertility tracking app and get creative with seduction and props (e.g. blindfolds, scarves, lube, toys, chocolate sauce, massage oil, candles). Now is the time to spend more time on foreplay to emphasize the pleasure element over conception alone.
Sex should be fun and pleasurable regardless of whether or not you’re trying to get pregnant, so start talking about your desires with your partner today. Share one thing you’d like to try (or something you’d like to try again if it’s something you did in the past) and ask your partner what you can do to heighten their pleasure. If you can have sex, you can talk about it and I promise it will be well worth-it.
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