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Sex during pregnancy is sort of a wild card. It may feel liberating (no need to worry about birth control!) and can be even more exciting because of all the amazing changes in your body. Or it may be the last thing on your mind if you're dealing with morning sickness or any other physical discomforts of early pregnancy. Maybe it's both. Wherever you are on this grand adventure, here's what you need to know to have fun and stay safe.
Is it safe to have sex during pregnancy?
In most cases, yes! As long as you're having a normal pregnancy without complications, you can continue to have sex right up until your water breaks or you go into labor.
Don't worry: Your baby is protected by your uterus and a layer of muscles, and is safely cushioned by the surrounding amniotic fluid. The mucus plug inside your cervix also helps guard against infection.
Though if you're not in a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, always use male or female condoms to protect yourself – and your baby – from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Are there any benefits to having sex during pregnancy?
Besides having sex during pregnancy just for the sheer fun of it, other possible benefits include:
- Staying active. Having sex burns calories, which could help you and your partner stay active and keep fit.
- Better orgasms. Increased blood flow to your genital area during pregnancy often means better orgasms.
- A boost in happiness. Having an orgasm releases endorphins that can make you feel happy and relaxed.
- Closer bond with your partner. Having a healthy sex life during pregnancy is a good way to maintain a close emotional connection with your sexual partner – especially important in a time of so many changes.
Is it ever not a good idea to have sex while pregnant?
In some circumstances, you may have to skip certain activities or positions, or stop having sex entirely for part or all of your pregnancy. Your midwife or doctor will let you know whether you have – or develop – any complications that make sex a no-go.
Your provider may tell you not to have sex if you have:
- Placenta previa
- Premature labor (or a history of premature labor)
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding or abnormal discharge
- Cervical insufficiency
- A dilated cervix
- Ruptured membranes (your water has broken)
- An outbreak of genital herpes, or oral herpes (cold sore) if you're receiving oral sex
- Other sexually transmitted infections
Your provider may advise you to not have sex in other situations as well – like if there are signs you might be at risk for preterm delivery.
If you're uncertain, ask your provider.
Will sex feel different now that I'm pregnant?
Most women say that sex does feel different for at least part of the pregnancy. You may find it more pleasurable at times but not really enjoy it or feel up to it at other times.
Certain physical changes can also make sex during pregnancy feel different. Increased blood flow to the pelvic area can heighten sensation that may add to your pleasure during sex. You may have more vaginal lubrication, which could also be a plus.
On the other hand, more sensitivity in certain areas may feel uncomfortable or even unpleasant. You may also have some mild abdominal cramps or contractions during or immediately after intercourse or orgasm, which can be worrisome even though they're aren't uncommon.
Your breasts may feel tingly, tender, and unusually sensitive to touch, particularly in the first trimester. The tenderness generally subsides, but your breasts may remain more sensitive. Again, you may be turned on by this, or you may find it too intense and prefer that your breasts not be touched at all.
Let your partner know if anything feels uncomfortable, even if it's something you're used to doing together.
I've had a low sex drive since I got pregnant. Is this normal?
When it comes to sex drive during pregnancy, there's a wide range of individual experiences. Some women want more sex during pregnancy; others, not so much. In general, sexuality is different for every woman and depends on how you're feeling physically and emotionally – which changes a lot during pregnancy!
You may feel too tired, moody, or nauseated for sex, especially in the first trimester. It's also not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the physical and emotional changes you're going through. But you may find that your libido returns in full force once you reach the second trimester, when morning sickness and fatigue typically ease up.
Though don't be surprised if your desire fades again in the third trimester, especially in the last month or two. At this point, you may be too big, achy, or exhausted to even think about having sex. You may also feel self-conscious about how your body has changed or be preoccupied with upcoming labor and birth.
If you feel like being less physically affectionate than usual, try to share your feelings and reassure your partner of your love. Keeping the lines of communication open will help you support each other as best you can while you go through these changes together.
Will my pregnancy affect my partner's sex drive?
Most partners find their pregnant lover as attractive as ever, or even more so. But pregnancy worries can also affect your partner's desire. For example, your partner may be anxious about the reality of parenthood, and that can affect sex drive.
Also, guys often become more tentative about sex during pregnancy because they're afraid it will hurt the baby. But rest assured – if you have a male partner, his penis doesn't go past your vagina during intercourse, so it can't harm the baby.
What if I don't feel like having sex?
Even if you can't have intercourse, or if you're turned on but not enjoying penetration, you can explore other ways of expressing your love:
- Make out
- Massage each other
- Give and receive oral sex
- Masturbate (on your own or with your partner)
And never underestimate the importance of simply sharing your feelings with each other as a way to feel close. Open communication can defuse a lot of tension and allow you to relax, enjoy each other, and find ways to be intimate, whether or not you're having sex.
What are the best positions for sex during pregnancy?
As your belly grows, you may have to experiment to find the positions that work best for you. For example, the missionary position gets increasingly difficult as your pregnancy progresses and is nearly impossible in late pregnancy.
Check out our slideshow for more ideas and information on the best positions for sex during pregnancy. You'll find helpful suggestions and tips for making sex positions comfortable (and enjoyable!) at every stage of pregnancy.
Is oral sex safe when I'm pregnant?
For the most part, oral sex is safe. That means licking is fine, but not blowing into your vagina. Forcing or blowing air into the vagina could form a bubble of air that gets into your blood circulation (embolism). This very rarely happens, but it can be life-threatening for you or the baby.
It's also not safe for you to receive oral sex during pregnancy if:
- Your partner has an active outbreak of oral herpes or feels one coming on. And during the third trimester, if your partner has ever had oral herpes, you should not receive oral sex at all, whether or not your partner has symptoms.
- You don't know if your partner has HIV or an STI. In this case, use a dental dam (a sheet of latex that you place between your genitals and your partner's mouth). There's some evidence suggesting that a person may be able to transmit HIV, as well as STIs such as herpes, gonorrhea, and HPV, through microabrasions or tiny cuts in the mouth.
Editor's note: The CDC recommends that pregnant women abstain from vaginal sex and anal sex in addition to oral sex (or use condoms during these activities) with a partner who has been diagnosed with Zika virus, or who lives in or has traveled to an area where Zika is being transmitted by mosquitoes.
Is anal sex safe when I'm pregnant?
In most cases, yes, although there are exceptions. Anal sex during pregnancy may not be a good idea if you have:
- Hemorrhoids. These are unfortunately common during pregnancy and tend to get larger as you get closer to your due date. Not only is anal sex probably pretty uncomfortable if you have hemorrhoids, but if they're bleeding, you could lose enough blood to cause a potentially dangerous complication.
- Placenta previa. If your placenta covers all or part of your cervix, anal sex could damage the placenta. In this case, check in with your provider about whether it's safe for you to have anal sex.
- A risk of preterm labor. Just as when you're not pregnant, never go from anal to vaginal penetration before your partner washes his penis (or changes condoms). Otherwise you put yourself at risk for bacterial vaginosis (an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina), and there's some concern that this can make your water break early.
Can we use sex toys during pregnancy?
Sex toys during pregnancy are fair game, with a few general precautions (and as long as your provider hasn't advised against them):
- Clean all toys before and after you use them, especially after anal sex.
- Stop using sex toys if you have pain, cramping, or discomfort.
- Don't use them if you have bleeding, are at risk for premature labor, or have a low-lying placenta.
- Don't use them after your water breaks.
Is it safe to have sex in the third trimester of pregnancy?
Sex during the third trimester is safe if you're having a healthy, normal pregnancy. Though as your third trimester progresses and you get bigger, you may have to get creative about positions.
That said, sex during the third trimester may not be safe if you have:
- Placenta previa. If your male partner's penis comes in contact with your cervix, or if you have contractions as a result of orgasm, it can injure the placenta and cause bleeding that could endanger the pregnancy.
- Vaginal bleeding
- Preterm labor
- Cervical insufficiency
And don't have sex once your water has broken – after that, your baby is no longer protected from infections.
Can having sex trigger labor?
No, not if you have a normal, low-risk pregnancy. Sexual stimulation or orgasm cannot start labor or cause a miscarriage. Orgasm may cause mild contractions (as can nipple stimulation), but these are generally temporary and harmless.
Some pregnant women, midwives, and doctors claim that having sex near the end of pregnancy might give you the boost you need to get labor started. One theory is that the hormones in semen (prostaglandins) and the contractions of orgasm stimulated the cervix, but studies show no such link.
But as long as your pregnancy is healthy and uncomplicated, you can have as much sex as you want, right up until your water breaks. Just don't expect it to jump-start labor!
When should I call my doctor or midwife?
Don't hesitate to contact your doctor or midwife any time you have any questions or concerns, especially if you aren't sure whether you should be having sex during pregnancy, or you're worried about your baby's health or safety.
Call your provider any time you have any unusual symptoms during or following intercourse, including:
- More than mild cramping that doesn't go away after a few minutes
And if your provider does tell you to stop having sex, make sure you ask whether this means you need to avoid specifically intercourse, or whether you shouldn't put anything in your vagina or do any activity that could bring you to orgasm.