Sex can be so much fun that it’s easy to forget intercourse serves one major purpose: continuing the species. No pressure or anything. If you’ve decided to embark upon the trying-to-conceive journey, your feelings about sex can change for the worse, especially if it’s taking some time. This can spiral into your sex life becoming tense, completely centered around having a child, and generally disappointing. “I see this all the time,” Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale Medical School, tells SELF. “It’s extremely common.” But you don’t have to settle for it. Here, some guidance.
1. First and foremost, remember that getting pregnant takes some time.
If you’ve spent most of your life until now trying desperately to avoid pregnancy, this might blow your mind: It’s actually not that easy to get pregnant, at least immediately. “Don’t expect to get pregnant in the first month of trying,” Minkin says. Even if you’re in perfect health, all the biological stars need to align.
“In one month of trying, only 20 percent of healthy couples having sex every other day around the time of ovulation will get pregnant,” Minkin says. After six months, around 50 percent will be pregnant, and after a year, around 80 percent will have conceived. If you’re healthy, under 35, and have been trying for less than a year, do your best to relax into the knowledge that your experience is normal. “When you get to that year mark, then it’s time to talk to your doctor about what you can do to optimize getting pregnant,” Minkin says. Fertility declines as you age, so if you’re 35 or older, Minkin recommends checking in with your ob/gyn after six months of trying.
2. Recognize whether tracking your fertility is hurting or helping your cause.
You’re most fertile in the four days before you ovulate, on the day of ovulation when your ovary releases the egg, and the day after that. For some people, tracking their fertility gives them a sense of control that helps them feel more optimistic and comfortable while trying to conceive. If you think you’re one of them, Minkin recommends using an ovulation predictor kit to figure out when you’re most fertile. “If you know when you’re ovulating, it helps you time sexual activity,” Minkin says. “It doesn’t mean if the test is positive and you’re in Paris, you have to fly home to have sex, but it can be helpful.”
But for other people, tracking their fertility can add even more stress to an already strained situation. It can imbue every sexual experience in that fertile window with a sense that if it doesn’t work this time, you’ll have to wait a whole month before being this fertile again. “I encourage people not to use [fertility trackers] if it’s going to stress them,” Minkin says. “But if it’s going to make you less stressed, then do it.”
3. You don’t need to have a specific amount of sex in order to get pregnant.
This is especially helpful knowledge if you’re foregoing fertility tracking. It might seem like the more you do it, the higher your chances of conceiving. On the flip side, you might surmise that if you only have sex once a week, you’re going to get a bunch of especially strong swimmers when you do. Neither is true.
Minkin recommends having sex at least every other day if you’re trying to get pregnant, and you can boost that to daily around your most fertile window. If you want to have sex more than that, have at it—just know that your partner’s sperm count might not be as high after the first go-around each day.
4. And consider the effect scheduling sex might have, both good and bad.
“Often times, people who are trying to conceive might put sex on a schedule,” Lexx Brown-James, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist, tells SELF. “That can take some spontaneity out of it or make it feel like an obligation or chore.” Alternatively, it could flood you two with giddy excitement to know that tonight, you’re definitely trying, and you could definitely end up pregnant. It’s about what works for you.
5. If you’re not getting aroused by sex, lube can help.
Lube is great in all situations, but it’s especially handy when the TTC stress is getting to you. “Pressure kills the libido,” Brown-James says. It can take the wind out of your partner’s erection sails, and it can turn you into a “spectator” during sex. “That’s when people’s minds and bodies aren’t focused on arousal and pleasure, they’re more focused on things outside of that moment,” Brown-James says. Sure, you’re trying to conceive, but the sex should still be pleasurable—feeling like a spectator makes that much harder.
Feeling stressed about having sex can also make it tough for your vagina to get lubricated, Minkin explains, so she suggests using lube to facilitate the action. Just make sure you don’t pick a lube that contains spermicide or makes it harder for sperm to travel egg-ward. Minkin recommends Pre-Seed. “It does not hinder sperm motility,” she explains.
6. Remember that sex is about connection, not just conceiving.
“Not all sex needs to be penetrative all of the time,” Brown-James says. Yup, even when you’re trying to get pregnant. To keep your sex life from becoming rote, don’t just focus on the ins and outs of it. “Every time you have sexual play, you can switch up what you’re doing,” Brown-James says. You can spend time making out like insane, hormone-fueled teenagers, kick things off with a full-body massage, indulge in more oral sex than usual, whatever. Incorporate activities that make sex feel like an opportunity for you two to bond and feel good in addition to getting pregnant.
7. If you’re freaking out, talk about it.
Stifling your feelings helps no one. Whether you’re sad about how long it’s taking to conceive, dealing with conflicting emotions about how much your life might be about to change, or any other issue, bring it up. When you do, Brown-James recommends using “I” statements: “You could say, ‘I’m feeling some anxiety around this,’ or ‘I’m really fearful about that,’ or ‘I don’t want to keep putting pressure on our sex life.’” If you’re having trouble talking this through on your own, you two can see a counselor or therapist to help start the discussion.
8. Have the sex you like, not the sex you think you “should” be having.
If the term “making love” gives you full-body chills, but not in a good way, don’t try to do it just because you want to get pregnant. “People sometimes think they have to abstain from things like bondage and subscribe to a narrative of what sex is supposed to be,” Brown-James says. But your kid won’t be scarred just because you happened to conceive them on a night where you spanked each other instead of whispering sweet nothings. If that’s what you like, go for it—that way, even if you don’t immediately get pregnant, at least you’re still getting good sex out of it.
9. Relax. You have time.
“When people start too early, they maybe haven’t achieved the things they want to [before having children],” Minkin says. But putting it off too long can make it much harder to get pregnant, thus making the entire experience—including its impact on your sex life—more stressful in general. “You want to try to time it appropriately so you have a good window of getting pregnant,” Minkin says. She suggests starting to try before you hit 40.