A good friend of mine (who is 7 months pregnant) told me recently that she is concerned about her sex drive. I recalled that my sex drive dropped to almost zero when I was pregnant with both of my boys, so I assumed that this might be the case for her. Surprisingly, my friend’s experience was quite the opposite: she wanted it all the time. When her husband couldn’t help her out (and he was generally happy to do so), she felt compelled to masturbate. She was worried something might be wrong with her.
Her experience made me wonder why women have such very different experiences with sex drive during pregnancy. Scientific research tells us that specific hormones, such as androgens like testosterone, are strongly associated with sexual desire. For example, when women ovulate, their androgen levels increase and estrogen levels decrease, which subsequently leads to increases in sexual desire.1 So what happens to hormones during pregnancy? Estrogen and progesterone increase substantially, which causes a decrease in sexual desire. This drop in sexual desire happens when women take hormonal contraception as well (e.g., the pill), as the synthetic hormones in the pill essentially make the body think it is pregnant so the ovaries do not release an egg than can be fertilized. A review of studies published on sexual desire during pregnancy indicates that most women experience a decrease in sexual desire, particularly in their last trimester due to these physiological changes (i.e., increase in estrogen and progesterone).2 This, and the fact that I felt like a beached whale during most of my pregnancies, explains my experience. But what about Mrs. Insatiable?
Interestingly, sexual desire3 and satisfaction4 don’t change much during pregnancy for some (lucky) women. And, as with all studies, there are always those individuals (we call them “outliers”) who are quite different than the majority of others in the study. So while Mrs. Insatiable’s sex drive was out of the ordinary for her and many other women, there is nothing particularly concerning about her experience. Dr. Roy Baumeister has argued that women’s sex drive is much more flexible than men’s, in that compared to men, the female sex drive is influenced by more social and cultural factors than biological factors alone.5 Therefore, while Mrs. Insatiable may have many more female hormones circulating around that are associated with decreased sex drive, other things in her life may be influencing her desire, such as a husband that is still finding her sexually appealing rather than seeing her pregnancy as a nuisance. Maybe he even has a pregnancy fetish? I was shocked at how many men flirted with me when I was married and noticeably pregnant. I had always assumed that my voluptuous state would be a turn off, not a turn on!
I assured my friend that there is nothing wrong with her and to just enjoy the pleasure she is experiencing. I guess I am a little envious, as her experience sure beats the constant heartburn and discomfort I experienced for over 18 months of my adult life! My little boys were worth it, but pregnancy is certainly not the most comfortable experience for many like me!
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed.
1Regan, P. C. (1996). Rhythms of desire: The association between menstrual cycle phases and female sexual desire. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 5, 145-156.
2Regan, P. C., Lyle, J. L., Otto, A. L., & Joshi, A. (2003).Pregnancy and changes in sexual desire. Social Behavior and Personality, 31, 603-612.
3Chang, S., Chen, K., Lin, H., & Yu, H. (2011). Comparison of overall sexual function, sexual intercourse/activity, sexual satisfaction, and sexual desire during the three trimesters of pregnancy and assessment of their determinants. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8, 2859-2867.
4Pauleta, J. R., Pereira, N. M., & Graca, L. M. (2010). Sexuality during pregnancy. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 136-142.
5Baumeister, R. F. Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 347-374.
Dr. Jennifer Harman – Adventures in Dating… | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman’s research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.