Women who are considered at low-risk for complications during pregnancy are generally given the green light for sex throughout their pregnancy. Sometimes right up until the start of labor. Whether the desire for sex is present is a whole different matter. Well-known symptoms like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and breast soreness can easily lower any woman’s libido. The good news is that many of these symptoms lessen by the second trimester. In fact, many women experience increased desire during this middle period of pregnancy when there is increased blood flow to sexual organs. The third and last trimester offers its own set of sexual challenges. An expanding belly can make finding a comfortable position difficult and sex often takes a backseat to preparing for the baby’s arrival.
Therefore, it’s perfectly normal for there to be changes in desire throughout the 40 weeks of pregnancy. Each woman also experiences pregnancy differently. Communicating regularly and openly with your physician and significant other during your pregnancy is the key to handling the many changes you and your body will experience.
While sex is considered safe for normal or low-risk pregnancies, there are a couple of situations all pregnant women should avoid. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be harmful to both mother and baby and can cause premature labor. Women should avoid sex or use a condom with a partner who may be infected, or whose sexual history is not known. Oral sex can also pose a danger if your partner blows air into your vagina. An air embolism or air bubble can result which can block blood vessels, and be fatal to both the mother and baby.
There are certain situations when a doctor will advise against sex during pregnancy. If you have a history of preterm labor or birth, an incompetent cervix, or more than one miscarriage, your doctor may advise against having intercourse during your pregnancy.
Other situations that may develop during pregnancy and require abstinence include vaginal bleeding, an amniotic sac that breaks, or placenta previa when the placenta covers the cervical opening. Some physicians may also recommend avoiding or limiting sex during the last weeks of pregnancy or when carrying more than one fetus. When asking your doctor if there are any restrictions on your sex life, ask for clarification on what is meant by sex—whether it’s intercourse, orgasm, or other restrictions.
One of the most common pregnancy sex myths is that the baby will know that the parents are engaging in sex, or that the baby will somehow feel it. The truth of the matter is that the baby is safely in an amniotic sac, protected by uterine muscles and further walled off by a mucous plug in the cervix that doesn’t allow for semen to enter the womb. Not only is the baby unable to see or know what is happening, no memory will be formed. It is not uncommon to experience increased fetal movement after sex, which is a normal reaction to released hormones and uterine activity.
Another fear is that orgasm will cause premature labor or miscarriage. While orgasm does cause uterine contractions, they are different than those experienced during labor. In a normal pregnancy, orgasm contractions do not pose a risk.
Women will experience a variety of symptoms, feelings, and physical sensations during their 9 months of pregnancy. Sex during this time is different for every woman, and may even change from pregnancy to pregnancy. Having a sex life during pregnancy is achievable. It requires honest communication between couples to determine what works sexually for them, and a good relationship with their physician to ensure the safety of all involved.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
March of Dimes
Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Bleeding during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq038.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120614T2021321955. Updated August 2011. Accessed February 23, 2016.
A father's guide to pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq032.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120614T2019057199. Updated April 2013. Accessed February 23, 2016.
Sex during pregnancy. The March of Dimes website. Available at: http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/159_516.asp. Updated June 2015. Accessed February 23, 2016.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 5/6/2014