How to keep sex sexy when you're trying to conceive, according to a sex therapist

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How to keep sex sexy when you're trying to conceive, according to a sex therapist
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • Sex with the sole goal of getting pregnant can take the fun and connection out of the experience.
  • Find ways to feel sexy without intercourse, sex therapist Ian Kerner said on the Pregnantish podcast.
  • Seeking sexual moments between ovulation windows can also lead to more relationship fulfillment.

Sex therapist Ian Kerner says there are three kinds of sex: recreational, relational, and procreative.

While the first can be fun and experimental and the second builds connection, the procreative type can be stressful, methodical, and often take the place of the other two.

"The move from relational sex to procreative sex can kind of strip out a lot of the other qualities that we're used to having in sex and introduce a sort of ... pressure and and a goal that creates all sorts of anxieties," Kerner told Andrea Syrtash on her podcast Pregnantish. "And anxiety is the number one enemy of sexual health and sexual function and sexual arousal."

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But there are ways to integrate intimacy and eroticism into your sex life while you're trying to conceive. Here's what Kerner, author of "So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex," told Syrtash he recommends.

Keep having sex or sexual moments when you're not ovulating

For heterosexual couples trying to conceive but not necessarily dealing with infertility, Syrtash, a sex and relationships writer who serves as editor-in-chief of the website Pregnantish, recommends maintaining intimacy even when the woman isn't fertile.

That way, "you can keep the sexual connection outside of that ovulation conception window ... so that it's not all about the goal [of getting pregnant],'" she said.

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Practically speaking, having sex outside of ovulation - a 24-hour window once a month - also means having it more regularly, and frequency matters, Kerner said. Studies have shown that couples who have sex once a week are most satisfied in their relationships. Any more doesn't make a difference, but any less is linked with poorer relationship satisfaction.

"Really making that effort to hold on to sex is important," he said.

Take 'intercourse discourse' off the table

Couples going through fertility treatments like IVF have different pressures when it comes to maintaining a satisfying sex life. They don't have to have intercourse to procreate, and one partner may rarely feel in the mood, thanks to hormones that cause bloating, discomfort, and pain.

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Add in the emotional toll of feeling like your body is betraying you, and getting busy in bed is an especially hard sell.

But Kerner says taking intercourse off the table and focusing on other ways to feel connected to and sexual with your partner. That can mean simply eyeing each other in the middle of the day and appreciating what makes the other one sexy, he said.

"I think it's absolutely OK to take sex off the table, but what I don't necessarily think is OK is to lose all sense of sexiness or eroticism, or what I call the erotic thread, which is sort of the the space between sexual events," Kerner said.

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Look for, or plan, willingness windows

Lower the bar for how you think you're supposed to feel before having sex. Rather than waiting until you're both super horny, be open to moments when you're simply willing to explore - again without intercourse necessarily being the end goal.

"You don't always show up with desire for certain things, but if you recognize that something is important, like your own sexuality or your sexuality with your partner, then you can show up with willingness," Kerner said. "Have the willingness to allow yourself to start to simmer and percolate some sexual cues."

As Kerner told Insider's senior sex and relationships reporter Julia Naftulin, this is what he calls a "willingness window,"

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During that time you could read erotic books aloud, watch ethical porn, take a shower, enjoy a makeout session, or look back through photos of earlier in your relationship when you felt sexy. You can do anything that truly sounds fun and sexy to you both, Kerner suggested.

"Once couples or once an individual starts to engage with their sexuality and starts to sort of build up that arousal runway, then it really does lead to desire," he said on the podcast.

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