What to know about sex during pregnancy
As her belly starts to grow bigger, a woman may discover that certain positions are more comfortable for her. Talking openly about sex can help both partners to enjoy sex throughout the pregnancy.
In this article, we examine safety issues and risks and look at tips for sex during pregnancy. We also discuss when to avoid sex, and how sex may change during the second and third trimesters.
Is it safe to have sex while pregnant?
Sex will not harm the baby at any stage during a typical, uncomplicated pregnancy. The baby is protected by strong uterus muscles, amniotic fluid, and a mucus plug that develops around the cervix.
Some people believe that sexual activity or orgasms might damage the baby, increase the chances of a miscarriage, or induce early labor. However, in a healthy pregnancy, none of these are true.
Can sex trigger labor?
Vaginal sex during pregnancy has no links to an increased risk of a premature birth.
Many studies have concluded that vaginal sex during pregnancy has no links an increased risk of preterm labor or premature birth. However, if a doctor considers someone to be at high risk, they may recommend that the person avoids sexual intercourse during the pregnancy or just in the later stages.
It is possible that an orgasm or sexual penetration could induce Braxton Hicks contractions late in pregnancy.
Braxton Hicks are mild contractions that some women experience towards the end of their pregnancy. However, these contractions do not indicate or induce labor so should not be a cause for concern.
During the later stages of pregnancy, people should choose positions that do not put pressure on the pregnant belly, such as the missionary position. If a woman lies on her back, the weight of the baby might put extra pressure on her internal organs or major arteries.
A pregnant woman might feel more comfortable in positions where she can control the depth and speed of penetration.
Comfortable positions may include the pregnant woman being on top of her partner, side-by-side spooning, or sitting at the edge of the bed.
Oral and anal sex
Oral sex is perfectly safe to continue throughout pregnancy. However, a partner should avoid blowing air into the pregnant woman's vagina as this can cause an air embolism, where an air bubble blocks a blood vessel. Though rare, an air embolism could be life-threatening for both the woman and the baby.
Anal sex will not harm the baby, but it may be uncomfortable if a person has pregnancy-related hemorrhoids. People should avoid anal sex followed by vaginal sex, as this could cause bacteria to spread from the rectum to the vagina resulting in infection.
When to avoid sex
A midwife or doctor may advise a woman to avoid sexual intercourse during her pregnancy if she has experienced the following:
- problems with the cervix that could increase the likelihood of miscarriage or going into early labor
- pregnancy with twins
- placenta previa, where the placenta partially or entirely covers the entrance to the cervix
- cervical incompetence, where the cervix opens prematurely
- a history of going into premature labor
- substantial blood loss or unexplained vaginal bleeding
- leaking amniotic fluid
- the waters have broken, which may increase the risk of infection
It is essential that a pregnant woman protects herself and her baby from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This means using barrier contraception, such as condoms or dental dams, during all sexual activity with new sexual partners.
Stay in the know. Get our free daily newsletter
You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers. Expert, evidence-based advice delivered straight to your inbox to help you take control of your healthYour privacy is important to us.
Effects of pregnancy on sex drive
A boost of hormones may increase a person's sex drive, particularly in the second trimester.
Pregnancy affects people's sex drives in different ways and there is no typical response.
A boost of hormones and increased blood flow to the genitals may increase a person's sex drive, particularly in the second trimester.
Other people may experience a decrease in their sex drive caused by fluctuating hormones, feeling less comfortable in their body, decreased energy levels, or physical pains.
Pregnancy can also affect the sex drive of a pregnant person's partner. Some people may experience an increased attraction to their pregnant partner due to the changes in their body shape, such as an increase in breast size.
In some cases, the worries and strains felt by both partners can make them less interested in sex. It is essential to be open about sex to make sure both partners are comfortable.
Benefits of sex during pregnancy
Sex during pregnancy can have some benefits for a pregnant woman and her partner. Possible benefits include:
- Better orgasms. Increased blood flow to the genitals could mean an increased number of more powerful orgasms for pregnant women.
- Keeping fit. Sex burns calories and can help to keep both partners fit.
- Bonding between partners. Some couples find that sexual activity during pregnancy brings them closer together.
- A boost to the immune system. A 2004 study found that sex increases IgA which is an antibody that helps keep colds and other infections at bay.
- Increased happiness. Orgasms release endorphins that can help mother and baby feel happy and relaxed.
Sex after giving birth
All new mothers need time to heal and recover after giving birth. They should allow time for the body to recover, the cervix to close, postpartum bleeding to stop, and if applicable, their C-section incisions or vaginal tears to heal.
Women can return to sexual activity whenever they feel they are ready to do so. The exhaustion and energy spent looking after the new addition to the family might mean that a woman does not want to have sex for some time after childbirth.
When to call a doctor
In a healthy pregnancy, sex is not associated with any risks to the mother or baby. Whether related to sex or not, if a woman experiences any unusual pain or bleeding during pregnancy, she should contact her doctor right away.
In most cases, sex during pregnancy poses no risk to the mother or baby. Some positions might become more or less comfortable as the pregnancy progresses.
A woman may experience changes in her desire for sex during and after pregnancy. Speaking openly and honestly with sexual partners can help people to continue to have a healthy sex life throughout pregnancy.