Is it safe to have sex in pregnancy?
It is safe to have sex when you are pregnant unless your doctor or midwife has told you not to. Having sex will not hurt your baby and you do not need to limit how much sex you have. If you are having sex with a man, his penis cannot get beyond your vagina, and will not reach your baby. Neither will any sex toys you are using. Your baby is safe in the womb and cannot tell what is happening.
You may find that sex feels a bit different when you are pregnant because of your hormones. For example, your vagina may be a little dryer, which may cause some pain during penetrative sex. This is normal and a little bit of water-based lubricant can make it feel better.
Is it safe to have an orgasm when I am pregnant?
Will pregnancy affect my sex drive (libido)?
Your sex drive will probably change during pregnancy. You may find you want sex more or less than before your pregnancy. Everyone is different. Many women find that they have less sex as they go through their pregnancy.
Try not to get too concerned about your sex life. The thing that matters is keeping well in pregnancy and doing what is best for you.
What if I do not want to have sex during pregnancy?
It is fine not to want sex at all. There are many reasons why you may not want to have sex, such as:
- pregnancy symptoms, such as sickness or tiredness, are putting you off
- you feel physically uncomfortable during sex
- you feel self-conscious about your changing body or weight gain.
- you are worried that your partner may not find you sexy
- you feel anxious about childbirth or parenthood
- you worry that having sex will harm your unborn baby.
It is also very common to feel more emotional than usual during pregnancy. That is because of your pregnancy hormones, which can sometimes affect your sex drive and knock your confidence.
All these feelings are normal. But it is important to ask for help if negative feelings do not go away or they become too much to cope with. Up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy, or in the first year after childbirth. Low mood, anxiety and depression are common. Your midwives and doctors know how to spot and treat mental health problems and should be ready to support you. Talk to them if you have any concerns at all.
How will my partner feel about sex during my pregnancy?
Just like you, your partner’s sexual desire may go up and down during your pregnancy, for a range of reasons. For example, they may be feeling anxious about becoming a parent, or worried about hurting you or your baby.
This may not cause any problems if you are both feeling the same way and are open about it. But it may be stressful if one of you wants to have sex and the other does not. A lot of couples go through this. Talking honestly about how you are feeling may help ease any tension and make you both feel better.
You may also be able to find other ways of being intimate that do not involve sex, such as kissing, mutual masturbation and massage.
There is support available if you have any concerns about your relationship. You can get this support with your partner or on your own.
What are the best sex positions to try in pregnancy?
You may need to try new positions during pregnancy. Sex with your partner on top can become uncomfortable quite early on because your breasts may be tender or because of your bump getting in the way.
It may be better to lie on your sides, either facing each other or with your partner behind you (spooning). You could try being on top or being penetrated from behind while you are on your hands and knees.
"Sex certainly changed while I was pregnant, I still enjoyed being intimate, even if it meant getting a bit creative around the how. As the pregnancy progressed I felt less like having sex."
When should I avoid sex in pregnancy?
You may well be advised to avoid sex if:
- you have had any heavy bleeding during pregnancy
- you have any current bleeding even if light or spotting
- your waters have broken
- there are any problems with the entrance to your womb (cervix)
- you are having more than one baby and are in the later stages of pregnancy
- you have gone into premature labour before and are in the later stages of pregnancy
- you have a low-lying placenta
- your partner has a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
If any of these apply to you, talk to your midwife or doctor about the risks, and what your options are if you do have to avoid any kind of sexual activity.
Sex when you have a low-lying placenta
A low-lying placenta (also known as placenta praevia) is when the placenta attaches lower down and may cover a part of or all of your cervix (the entrance to the womb).
Because the placenta is in the lower part of your womb, there is a risk that you may bleed in the second half of pregnancy. This can happen after having sex. The bleeding may be painless but can be heavy, which may put you and your baby at risk.
If you have any vaginal bleeding during your pregnancy, with or without pain, it is important to get it checked out.
A low-lying placenta may also be picked up during your routine 20-week ultrasound scan.
If you have a low-lying placenta you may be advised to avoid having sex during pregnancy, particularly if you have been bleeding. It may also be best to avoid anal sex. There is only a thin wall of tissue between your vagina and your rectum (bottom), so anal sex may push against the placenta, causing heavy bleeding.
Is it safe to have oral sex during pregnancy?
It is safe to have oral sex in pregnancy if you or your partner do not have cold sores. These can be passed on and cause genital herpes.
Oral sex might be a good option if your doctor or midwife has advised you to avoid vaginal or anal sex if, for example, you have cervical weakness or a low-lying placenta.
Having oral sex (and reaching orgasm) will not bring labour on. Call your midwife or maternity unit if you have any bleeding after oral sex.
To avoid passing on an STI when you have oral sex you and your partner could use condoms and dental dams. Dental dams are very thin, soft squares made of latex or polyurethane. They cover the anus (bottom) or female genitals during oral sex. Like condoms, they act as a barrier to help prevent STIs.
You can buy dental dams online, in sex shops and from some pharmacies. You may also be able to get them from some sexual health clinics.
Air embolisms (in the vagina) caused by oral sex
If your partner is giving you oral sex, they should be careful not to blow air into your vagina. This can cause an air embolism, which is when an air bubble to block one of your blood vessels. This is rare, but it can be fatal for you and your baby.
Even though air embolisms are rare, it is best to ask your partner to try gently kissing and licking your clitoris and the lips around your vagina (labia) rather than blowing into it.
Call 999 if you have any of the following symptoms before or after sex:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- symptoms of a stroke.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common cause of unusual vaginal discharge. It is caused by a change in the natural bacteria in your vagina. Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection but it can be triggered by sex.
You are more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis if:
- you are sexually active
- you have changed sexual partners
- you use perfumed soaps in or around your vagina (it is best to use plain water and soap to wash your genital area).
You may get more vaginal discharge than usual when you are pregnant. But talk to your GP or midwife if you are unsure about any increase or change in your vaginal discharge.
Bacterial vaginosis can be treated with antibiotics.
Can I use sex toys during pregnancy?
It is safe to use sex toys during pregnancy unless your doctor or midwife has told you not to. If you have been advised not to have sex, you should ask your midwife or doctor if that includes not using sex toys.
Keep sex toys clean because this will protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and vaginal infections, such as chorioamnionitis or bacterial vaginosis. An untreated infection can lead to health problems for you and your baby, such as premature birth.
Always try to:
- clean sex toys with warm, soapy water after every use
- rinse and dry them thoroughly
- store them in a clean, dry place
- use different sex toys for your vagina and anus
- cover sex toys with a new condom each time they are used.
Try to avoid sharing sex toys with partners. If you do, use a condom for each partner or between penetration of different body openings. This will also protect you against sexually transmitted infections.
Can I still have sex if myself or my partner have a sexually transmitted infection?
If they are not treated, some STIs such as chlamydia, can:
- cause health problems for you and your baby during and after pregnancy
- be passed to your baby
- cause infertility.
Most STIs have no symptoms or only have mild ones. Many people who have an STI will not know they are infected and can pass it on to their sexual partners.
You will not be tested for most STIs during your antenatal care. So, if you are concerned that you or your partner may have an STI, you both need to get tested, to protect yourselves and your baby. The best place to go is a sexual health clinic.
There is no need to be embarrassed about getting tested for an STI when you are pregnant. Most STI treatments are safe in pregnancy.
It is safest not to have sex if you or your partner has an STI.
Using condoms in pregnancy
When they are used properly, condoms can help prevent STIs. Use condoms to help prevent any undiagnosed STIs if:
- you have a new partner
- you or your partner are having sex with other people during your pregnancy.
Some infections can be transmitted by mouths, hands, fingers, and mutual masturbation. Wash your hands before and after sex and use a dental dam if there is any chance you could catch an STI.
Find out more about infections in pregnancy and STIs.
Can having sex start labour?
Having sex late on in pregnancy may be difficult and there is no evidence that it will help start labour. But there is some science behind the theory. Semen contains a hormone-like substance called prostaglandins, which may help soften the cervix (the lower part of the womb).
So, if you are having a low-risk pregnancy, there is no harm in trying to start labour by having sex. But do not have sex if your waters have broken because this can cause infection.
Find out more about if there is anything that can bring labour on.