Your obstetrician just confirmed the good news: You’re pregnant! For you and your partner, the months leading up to your delivery will be consumed by preparations for your new life as a trio (or more) rather than a duo. Your commitment to one another perhaps has never felt so strong. Before the pregnancy, sex was the obvious way to celebrate and express that bond. But now that you’re expecting, you likely have a flurry of questions pertaining to this intimate act. Namely, is it safe and is there a chance it will hurt the baby?
The good news is that, unless you have a medical condition or complication that your obstetrician says expressly forbids sex, having sex while pregnant is completely safe. Of course, whether you’re actually up for getting busy will likely fluctuate throughout your entire pregnancy. Yet many moms-to-be are left second-guessing whether their sex life is “normal,” as doctors often gloss over this topic, leaving it at “sex is safe” or “sex isn’t safe” without elaborating on what to expect. But the more you know what may be in store, the more prepared you’ll be for getting on top of those potential changes in your body and the bedroom.
In the Mood for Love (or Not)
If you consult only with the popular media on what to expect when you’re pregnant, you’re likely to think that your sex life will be fabulously amazing. You’ll orgasm at the slightest touch and be raring to go three times per day. And then you’ll find some articles stating the opposite: Pregnant women who find the thought of having sex repulsive.
So what’s normal? Both—and everything in between. The truth is that every woman responds differently to sex during pregnancy and the highs and lows of your libido can change month to month. It can be mind-numbingly good or a complete desert of inaction. And for others, it might stay more or less comparable to their pre-pregnancy sex lives.
“It’s perfectly normal for some women to be very sexual and highly orgasmic during pregnancy, and for other women to be completely turned off,” says Lauren Streicher, author of “Love Sex Again” and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “That’s the biggest myth: that there is a single, normal response to expect during pregnancy.
”In general, many women don’t feel well during the first trimester of their pregnancy. They are often laid low with nausea and fatigue, which can understandably take a toll on their sex drive. The second trimester, when the “pregnant glow” sets in and the morning sickness subsides, tends to be the most promising for intimacy. During the third trimester, however, many women’s desire wanes again. “At 30 weeks and beyond, a lot of people say they feel so big that it’s hard to imagine having sex,” says Siobhan Dolan, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, and a medical advisor to the March of Dimes.
But moms-to-be aren’t the only ones whose sex life may be impacted by the third party in the bedroom. Some men respond strongly to the presence of their unborn child, especially in the second trimester when it becomes more apparent that there is a moving, living human being inside their partner. They might incorrectly worry that they are hurting the baby during sex, or falsely perceive that there is a child present in the room—both of which can be major turn-offs. In extreme cases, some might develop erectile dysfunction during the pregnancy. Men might also respond differently to their partner’s new figure; some find themselves turned on by the visible signs of pregnancy, while others experience the opposite reaction. “The whole dynamics of the bedroom are changing,” Streicher says. “They’re watching as their wife as a sexual [being] morphs into their wife as a mother.”
Pregnancy Sex: The Logistics
Before getting into the nitty-gritty, let’s first clear up a couple of obvious worries: No, your guy’s penis will not whack the baby in the head, and no, the baby does not somehow “know” that mom and dad are getting it on.
Now that that’s out of the way, know that your baby’s presence in the bedroom will likely take a toll on your normal routine, including your sex life. Even if your libido doesn’t change at all, your body will. Accommodating those physical changes might require some finesse.
No sex position is better or worse for the baby than others, but women might find some positions more comfortable and feasible than others. In general, lying flat in missionary tends to be ruled out as the pregnancy progresses because the pressure from the belly can be uncomfortable and can even decrease blood flow and cause lightheadedness. For those who insist on missionary, strategically placed pillows to prop you up are key. Spooning and doggie style (on hands and knees—not flat on your belly) tend to be popular, and sex toys—which are perfectly safe—can help a woman reach orgasm if her go-to position is no longer an option. For men, things might feel a bit different due to changes in angles of penetration, or even by the uterus pushing on his partner’s pelvic floor. “Expect that you might need to be creative and have a sense of humor and adventure,” says Rose Hartzell, a sex therapist at San Diego Sexual Medicine, a center for sexual health.
Also, some unsexy issues, such as incontinence and breast leakage, can also crop up while you’re getting down. Incontinence due to the pressure of the baby on the bladder might cause mild to severe loss of urine during sex (as well as during times when you’re not having sex). This is normal, but can affect a session in the sack, depending on how you both react to the situation—again, this is where having a good sense of humor really comes into play. A little breast lactation is also normal, but it might cause ripples in the bedroom. “Some men are disturbed and turned off by that, but some are very turned on by it,” Streicher says.
There is little evidence that sex or orgasms during pregnancy provide any strictly physical benefits. But the emotional benefits—intimacy, closeness, pleasure, feeling desired—are just as good as when you’re not pregnant. Additionally, those feelings of intimacy toward your partner might extend to your baby, too. When women orgasm they release oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone” that helps a mother and infant bond.
Even if a couple is not engaged in intercourse, it’s important to engage in intimacy, whether that’s oral sex, kissing or cuddling. “You’re setting the stage for what life is going to be like after the baby is born,” Hartzell says. “Sex and intimacy definitely keeps the relationship strong.”
When Abstinence Is Essential
In some specific cases, it is medically imperative that you refrain from sex while pregnant. Placenta previa, a condition that occurs in about one in 200 pregnancies in which the placenta grows in the lowest part of the mother’s uterus and covers all or part of the opening to her cervix, means an immediate no-no for sex. Women with unexplained vaginal bleeding, vaginal fluid leakage or premature dilation of the cervix should also stop having sex and be monitored by their doctor. Finally, sex for those with a history of premature delivery might be completely safe, but be sure to consult with your obstetrician first.
Pregnant women who don’t have a regular partner or whose partner has not been tested for sexually transmitted diseases should be extra cautious to wear a condom during sex. Contracting an STD during pregnancy can lead to problems with the pregnancy, including preterm birth.
If your doctor tells you not to have sex, specifically ask him or her if that also means no orgasms, too, as these are two separate issues. Women’s orgasms can cause contractions of the uterus. If a woman who is at risk for preterm delivery experiences an orgasm, there is a possibility that she might trigger labor. Although no scientific studies have been done to prove this (due to ethical constraints, researchers can’t ask 50 pregnant women to have an orgasm every day and 50 pregnant women to abstain, and then see who delivers first), doctors prefer to err on the side of caution.
But if your pregnancy is complication-free and you and your partner are game for a good time between the sheets, you can continue to have sex right up until delivery day.