Having spent the majority of my life actively trying to avoid pregnancy, I can tell you that trying to conceive was a surreal experience. My first child was far from planned. (He was the byproduct of a drunken Halloween night. Thanks, friendly neighborhood bar and your cheap drinks.) But after a few years had smoothed over the painful realities of childbirth, my kid was out of diapers, and I began to feel this deep desire to give my son a sibling, my partner and I decided it was time to be purposeful about the whole getting knocked up thing. 

Three miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy later, what I had assumed would be a straightforward sperm-meet-egg transaction was anything but. Sex became stressful; a “chore”; tainted by the very real possibility that I had secondary infertility and could not, no matter how hard I tried, bring another baby into the world. 

Of course, my experience is far from abnormal. Studies have shown that couples trying to conceive experience higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression. And these negative mental health outcomes are often exacerbated with stigma and feelings of shame, the result of cis-hetero couples inability to do what society often expects of them: procreate. Simply put, when you feel like your body has failed you, and a culture obsessed with pregnant bodies validates that feeling, it’s hard to feel anything remotely positive about the human meat sack that carries your brain around. Trying to conceive can make you hate your body and feel awful existing in it.

Given that I certainly didn’t feel great about my body when I was trying to conceive, treating sex like just another thing to check off my to-do list certainly didn’t help. I didn’t feel celebrated by my partner — I felt like another obligation he had to fulfill before the end of the day, or at least the end of my ovulation cycle. I missed sex. Hot sex. The kind of sex that got me knocked up with my first child. 

So, in an effort to get back to the good parts of baby-making, my partner and I tried to incorporate the following things back into our sex life. These small-yet-significant changes didn’t make everything magically better overnight (that’s not a thing!) and they certainly can’t guarantee conception or ensure someone will get pregnant. But after another year of trying (and simply enjoying one another!), I ended up pregnant with my second son — and I got to enjoy multiple orgasms, too. 

1. Masturbate 

You can do this alone, of course, or you can also masturbate in front of or in tandem with your partner. Your partner will enjoy watching you get yourself off, you’ll enjoy pleasuring yourself without focusing on conception, since that’s not possible, and when you’re both ready, you can then finish with penatrative sex. You still get to work towards having a baby, but the majority of your time together isn’t spent focusing on that outcome alone. 

2. Use Toys 

On yourself. On each other. Before sex. During sex. I mean, the sky is truly the battery-operated limit. Studies have shown that using sex toys can help improve body image, help people sleep better, and as Dr. Chris Donaghue, PhD., LCSW, CST, licensed sex and relationship expert, tells Bustle writer Amanda Chatel in a 2018 article about the mental health benefits of sex toys, Americans who sleep with men who use sex toys report a 90 percent satisfacation level. “As for those men who shy away from toys and don’t use them, that satisfaction level is 76 percent,” Chatel writes. 

3. Watch porn 

There’s plenty of things to be said about the ways in which pornography is problematic, especially porn that features men abusing women or simulating rape and instances of physical and sexual violence. But porn can also be great! And super hot! And a great turn-on! So if you don’t want to contribute to the ways in which porn desensitizes viewers to sexual violence and ignores important aspects of a healthy sex life, like consent, you can check out this list of feminist-friendly porn sites, via Allure

4. Get it on mid-day 

Or right away in the morning. Or in the afternoon, when the kids finally went down for their nap. Changing up the time of day you have sex can add a bit of mystery and excitement to an act that, when trying to conceive, can feel so painfully planned. So whether it’s an afternoon delight or some morning sex, in your laundry room or on the couch with the curtains drawn (you won’t make that same mistake twice!), inject a little spontaneity into your sex life. 

5. Try a new position 

Everyone has their favorites, of course, but you don’t know what you don’t know, either. So break out the kama sutra (is that even a thing anymore?!) or take a page out of one of those feminist porn site’s books, and try a new position that can be just as exciting as it is stimulating. And try to ignore any old wives tales that swear you’ll conceive if you are positioned a certain way, with one leg here and another leg there, essentially morphing you into a human pretzel (unless that’s your thing!). You do not have to be nor should you feel you have to be uncomfortable in order to get pregnant. Sex should be fun! Even the sex we hope will lead us to a positive pregnancy test. 

6. Take a break 

Do something that has absolutely nothing to do with sex. Don’t talk about sex. Don’t discuss ovulation cycles, or  “windows,” or anything remotely adjacent to conceiving a child. Because sex is great, but have you ever sat in front of your television and re-watched Grey’s Anatomy? Or dumped your kids on your partner and sat in a bubble bath with a decent book and a better glass of wine for an hour? When trying to get pregnant begins to consume our lives, it’s best to focus on the things we can control and the other aspects of who we are that makes us awesome, regardless of whether or not we end up pregnant.

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