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The pressures that arise from trying for a baby can often take away the spark of passion during sex, resulting in a more mechanical sexual experience that isn’t pleasurable for either partner.

Women can feel that their partner’s sexual interest is purely motivated by procreation, which in turn leads to emotional anguish than can have a negative effect on conception. Similarly, men can experience ‘performance anxiety,’ where the pressures of pregnancy can lead to difficulty ejaculating, or difficulty getting or sustaining an erection.

Combined with worries around sexual positions, timing and depth of penetration, sex can be an obstacle for many couples. We’ve partnered with Midwife, Fertility and Pregnancy Expert Zita West, to address some of the key questions that have an impact on both a couple’s happiness and the chances of conception.

How often should we be having sex?

Regular and frequent sex is essential for conception. The more sex you have, the greater chance of conception there will be. Couples who have sex 2-3 times a week have on average a 15% chance of conception whereas couples who have sex every day have about a 50% chance of conception. Chances will be lower for older women.

It is important for a woman to work out when her individual fertile time is, but remember that to optimise conception, you need a constant supply of fresh sperm ready and waiting to fertilise the egg. Ejaculating at least three time a week keeps sperm supplies at their optimum turnover. If you wait for the time you think you might be ovulating, the sperm may be past their best.

What is the ‘fertile window’?

During each menstrual cycle, a woman has about 6 days where conception can occur, known as the ‘fertile window’. This window comprises the day of ovulation itself (where the egg is released and will survive for 24 hours) and also the 5 days before ovulation where sperm can survive in the woman’s body awaiting the arrival of the egg. It is beneficial for couples to be aware of this fertile window and have sex throughout this time to give them more chances to conceive.

The exact timing of ovulation is not possible to predict accurately but a woman can look out for changes in her cervical secretions which become wetter, more transparent and stretchy around the fertile time. You can find out more about the female cycle and symptoms of ovulation here. (link to ‘your body’ section)

What are the best sexual positions for conception?

Bodies have some amazing ways to help sperm on its journey to the egg. Firstly semen is ejaculated at about 28 mph as a sticky fluid that is designed to attach itself to the surface of the cervix. Within minutes it liquefies to release the sperm that swim upwards. At that time, all that is lost from the vagina is ‘flow back’ and some dead or dying sperm.

There is no need to try gymnastic style sex positions to help sperm on its journey. Any position you feel comfortable and pleasurable is good, trying to ensure that penetration is deep.  If you get more pleasure from a 'woman on top' position then that is fine, you can try and roll over together after your partner has ejaculated so that you are on your back to keep the pool of seminal fluid against the cervix for a few minutes. Sex needs to be pleasurable for both of you.  If you have an orgasm, then that can help sperm on its way too – so the more passion the better. It makes sense to stay flat on your back for 10-15 minutes after sex, but no need for hips raised – the vagina has a natural angle which keeps the seminal fluid in contact with your cervix.

What are the main triggers for sex?

Start by ignoring the fact that you’re trying for a baby and ask yourselves what usually triggers sex for you. This is usually quite different between men and women. In men, the spontaneous desire for sex is common. Most men respond to visual stimuli, specific moods and feelings and others think more about fantasies and may need to enact them to become aroused. Women respond more to verbal communication and feelings of intimacy with their partner and of being loved and wanted. Women usually need to feel relaxed for arousal whereas men often use sex as stress relief.

What are the top tips to avoid sex becoming too mechanical?

Many couples find themselves falling into a ‘baby sex’ routine. Take some of the pressure off yourselves and try to stop thinking about having sex at ‘the right time’ and just let it happen. Try these tips to revitalise sex:

  • Think back to situations that used to get you in the mood for sex and try to recreate them. This could be taking a relaxing bath together or enjoying a surprise candlelit dinner at home. (Don't have the bath too hot – and if you have delayed conception or any sperm problems, the heat may not be a good idea)
  • Stop following your usual routine. Bring in an element of change such as an overnight break or weekend away to help rediscover how your relationship was before trying for a baby.
  • Make an effort to notice and comment on things you like about each other. Move towards the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives.
  • Have sex when it feels right. If you are tired at the end of the day then give yourself a break and have sex at other times rather than forcing it.
And what about relationships?

It is important for couples to share plenty of non-sexual but intimate time together, allowing for a loving relationship to develop. This can include all the pastimes that couples enjoyed together before the pressures of trying for a baby, such as listening to music, bike rides and reading the newspaper.  A weekend break or holiday can also be beneficial to allow partners to focus upon the aspects that first attracted them to one another.

Sex can often be difficult in such a work-orientated society, leaving couples unable to find the time to make love amidst job commitments and family ties. Sex can be representative of the problems faced by couples, especially when one partner desperately wants a baby whilst the other remains equivocal. This is where communication becomes a key aspect of a relationship, allowing each party to be in tune with the other. If couples find this difficult, it can be helpful to seek the assistance of a third-party, such as a fertility counsellor, to reopen the lines of communication.

Having a baby requires big changes to a couple’s lifestyle. The desire for a child can often become an end in itself for many men and women, especially if conception is proving difficult. Couples should imagine how having a baby would impact upon their lives, not only in terms of time but also the fundamental changes that would have to be made to their daily routine. Once this has been realised, it is easier to maintain the romantic side of the pregnancy dream whilst understanding the reality of having a baby and trying to conceive.

Zita’s tips on working together:
  • Physical contact doesn’t always have to lead to sex. Make more physical contact with your partner such as kissing, cuddling or stroking and explain to your partner why you’re doing and why it doesn’t always have to lead to sex.
  • Avoid putting pressure on each other – sexual problems arise from both the mind and body.
  • Open up about your sexual wants and be prepared to change your style if it will boost sexual desire.
  • Keep talking to each other, during sex and everyday life. Emotions play an important role and if feelings are suppressed then this can negatively affect your sex life.
  • Look at the way you live; what you eat, how much alcohol you drink, whether you smoke, how you sleep as these can all play a part in how your body responds to sex.

Medical information provided by Zita West, Midwife, Fertility and Pregnancy Expert.

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