Sex During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know
Once you become pregnant, it’s natural to wonder about what is and isn’t okay for you and your growing baby, and that includes the issue of sex: Is sex safe during pregnancy? And how different is pregnant sex from sex when you’re not carrying a baby? Relax. We’ve got the info to help put your mind at ease.
Save for a few exceptions, it’s generally encouraged that you keep up the same healthy sex life that you had before you got pregnant (provided you’re feeling up to it, of course). “We want people to continue their sexual relationship during their pregnancy,” says Jessica Shepherd, MD, an ob-gyn at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. That’s true for sex during early pregnancy and for sex during late pregnancy. However, Shepherd points out, your growing belly might make certain positions uncomfortable near the end of your third trimester, so you may need to experiment with sex positions while pregnant to see which ones you feel the most comfortable with.
Is sex safe during pregnancy?
You’re not the only one with this question: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) lists it among their frequently asked questions about pregnancy. It’s safe to have sex during pregnancy unless your doctor tells you otherwise, ACOG says.
It’s rare that your doctor would tell you not to have sex while pregnant, but certain conditions can increase your risk of complications if you have penetrative sex. Those include placenta previa, a condition that occurs when the placenta partially or completely covers the cervix, a strong history of preterm labor or cervical incompetence (a condition that happens when the cervix isn’t able to stay closed during pregnancy), Shepherd says.
You might be wondering if it’s possible for your partner’s penis to hit your baby during sex, but luckily, the answer is no. “We get that question a lot,” Shepherd says. “But your cervix provides a protective barrier between your baby and your vagina.”
In general, no sex positions are considered unsafe, especially early on in the pregnancy, but doctors typically recommend that, from about 20 weeks onward, you should avoid positions where you’re lying flat on your back. That’s because your uterus is larger and heavier than usual, and when you lie on your back it puts pressure on your aorta (your main artery), and that can interfere with blood flow to the placenta. Instead, try spooning (your partner enters you from behind as you both lie on your sides), you on top or rear entry (having your partner enter you from behind while you support yourself on all fours). See here for a full list of positions that are best for sex during pregnancy.
Is sex healthy during pregnancy?
Just like having sex when you’re not pregnant, there are many benefits of sex during pregnancy. Oxytocin, often called the love hormone, is released when you orgasm, and that may have a positive effect on you and your baby, says licensed marriage and sex therapist Kat Van Kirk, PhD. “The warm sense of security and love experienced during sex may have a pleasant indirect effect of soothing the baby in utero as well,” she adds. Orgasming can also strengthen your pelvic floor and help your body heal postpartum, Van Kirk says.
If you’re fullterm and want to induce labor, orgasms (as well as the prostaglandins in semen) can encourage uterine contractions. When a woman is approaching labor, her cervix will start to soften and open, and prostaglandins in semen can help move this process along if she’s close to labor, Shepherd says. In healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies, the prostaglandins will not, however, actually push a woman into labor, she explains.
And, of course, sex during pregnancy is a chance to connect with your partner in a way only the two of you can share. “You don’t have to have sex during pregnancy, unless you want to, but if you’re in a relationship, you likely want to maintain the intimate side of your connection,” says Jess O’Reilly, PhD, creator of the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. Shepherd agrees. “Sex is a very important part of a relationship and a person’s normal life,” she says. “We definitely think it should be an integral part of a pregnancy if a patient so desires.”
Obviously every woman and every pregnancy is different. But some women may experience a change in their sex drive during pregnancy, Shepherd says. If you have morning sickness during the first trimester, you just might not feel like having sex as much as you did pre-pregnancy. But your libido typically rebounds by the second trimester as morning sickness tapers off, Shepherd says.
You also have higher blood volume in your body during your pregnancy, which raises blood flow to your genitals as well as other parts of your body. That, coupled with the hormonal shifts, can also increase your sex drive during pregnancy and ability to reach orgasm. But again, every woman is different. “Some women report sex during pregnancy feels different [and] some women say sex during pregnancy is more pleasurable,” says Rachel Needle, PsyD, a sex therapist and licensed psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida.
Spotting or bleeding after sex while pregnant can happen and, while it understandably may freak you out, it’s not necessarily cause for alarm. “Your cervix is very sensitive during pregnancy,” Shepherd says. Regardless, you should still check in with your doctor if you experience any kind of bleeding when you’re pregnant. If the bleeding is minimal (meaning you can almost get away without a pad) and stops within a few hours, your doctor may likely tell you it’s nothing to worry about. But if you need a pad and have to change it within an hour or less, or you’re passing blood clots bigger than a cherry, you’ll need immediate attention. No matter how much bleeding you experience, you shouldn’t have sex again until you see your doctor, just in case the bleeding is due to something serious, Shepherd says.
Some discomfort is normal, but you can often do something about it. Shepherd says painful sex during pregnancy typically derives from your position. “Pregnancy can change the tilt of the pelvic bone structure, and your muscles may become more sensitive,” she says. So try changing positions, Shepherd says, particularly to ones where you can control the depth and entry of the penis. If the pain persists or you experience it regularly during sex, call your ob-gyn and don’t feel weird about it. “You shouldn’t be afraid to talk about sex during pregnancy with your doctor,” Shepherd says. “We’re here to help.”
Being honest and open are especially important when you’re having sex during pregnancy. Keep these pregnancy sex tips in mind to get the most out of your experience:
• Try nonpenetrative sex if you’re uncomfortable with penetrative sex or just want to mix things up, Van Kirk says.
• Sensations may change for you during pregnancy, so have your partner go slow and check in with you on what feels good and what doesn’t, Van Kirk says.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, O’Reilly says.
• Know that you’re hot and embrace your curves. “Focus on what you love about your new body,” O’Reilly says.
About the experts:
Jessica Shepherd, MD, FACOG, is an ob-gyn and minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. She is also the founder of Her Viewpoint, an online women’s health forum that focuses on addressing taboo topics in women’s health in a comfortable setting. She received her medical degree from Ross University School of Medicine in 2005.
Kat Van Kirk, PhD, is a licensed marriage and sex therapist and the author of The Married Sex Solution: A Realistic Guide to Saving Your Sex Life. She received her PhD in clinical sexology from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco.
Jess O’Reilly, PhD, is a Toronto-based sexologist and the creator of the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. An award-winning speaker, O’Reilly has worked with thousands of couples from all corners of the globe to transform their relationships via her Marriage As A Business program.
Rachel Needle, PsyD, is a sex therapist and licensed psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida. She earned her Psy.D. in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
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