Sex in pregnancy

It’s safe to have sex when you’re pregnant unless your doctor or midwife has told you not to.

Is it safe to have sex in pregnancy?

It’s safe to have sex when you’re pregnant unless your doctor or midwife has told you not to. Having sex won’t hurt your baby. If you are having sex with a man, his penis can’t penetrate beyond your vagina, so it won’t reach your baby. Your baby is also well protected in the womb and can’t tell what’s happening.

You may find that sex feels a bit different when you’re pregnant because of your hormones. For example, your vagina may be a little dryer, which may cause some pain during penetrative sex. Don’t worry if this happens. You could try using a water-based lubricant to ease any pain.

Is it safe to have an orgasm?

If your pregnancy is normal with no complications, having an orgasm is perfectly safe. It will not increase your risk of going into labour early or having a miscarriage.

Later in pregnancy, sex and orgasms may cause Braxton Hicks contractions. These can be uncomfortable but won’t harm you or the baby.

Some women may find that their orgasms get stronger and more intense during pregnancy. Others may find it harder to orgasm as their pregnancy progresses.

What will happen to my sex drive?

Your sex drive will probably change during your pregnancy. Some women find that their sexual desire gets higher, for others it goes down.   

As a very general guide, most women find that their sexual desire goes down in the first trimester, goes up again in the second trimester and then goes down again in the third trimester.

Just remember that everyone is different, as is every pregnancy. Try not to get too concerned about it. The most important thing is to focus on your health and wellbeing, follow your midwife’s advice and do what’s best for your individual situation.

What if I don’t want to have sex?

Just as it’s natural to feel sexier in pregnancy, it’s also fine not to want sex at all. There are many reasons why you may not want to have sex, including:

  • your pregnancy symptoms, such as morning sickness or tiredness, are putting you off
  • you feel physically uncomfortable during sex
  • you feel self-conscious about your changing body, such as weight gain
  • you’re worried that your partner doesn’t find you sexy
  • you are feeling anxious about parenthood.

It’s also very common to feel more emotional than usual during pregnancy because of your pregnancy hormones, which can sometimes affect your sex drive and confidence.

All these feelings are normal. But it’s important to ask for help if you are having negative feelings that won’t go away or that are 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 not unusual. Midwives and doctors are aware of this and should be ready to support you. Talk to them if you have any concerns or worries.

Find out more about your mental wellbeing in pregnancy.

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, too. This can be for lots of reasons. For example, they may be feeling anxious about becoming a parent or worried about hurting you.

This may not cause any problems if you are both feeling the same way. But if one of you wants to have sex and the other doesn’t, this may cause some stress. Try to remember that if there are any tensions, you are not the only couple to go through this. It may help to have an open and honest chat about how you’re both feeling. You may be able to ease any tension and reassure each other. You may also be able to find other ways of being intimate with each other that don’t involve sex.

If you’re still struggling, you could think about getting some support (either together or individually).

Find out more about relationship problems in pregnancy.

What are the best sex positions to try in pregnancy?

Sex isn’t always easy during pregnancy and you may need to find different positions. Sex with your partner on top can become uncomfortable quite early in pregnancy, not just because of the bump, but because your breasts might be tender.

It may be better to lie on your sides, either facing each other or with your partner behind (spooning).

When should I avoid sex in pregnancy?

You will probably be advised to avoid sex if:

If any of these apply to you, the safest thing to do is to avoid any kind of sexual activity, including anal sex, masturbation and using sex toys.

Sex and a low-lying placenta

A low-lying placenta is when the placenta attaches lower down and may cover a part of or all the cervix (the entrance to the womb). 

Because the placenta is in the lower part of the womb, there is a risk that you may bleed in the second half of pregnancy. This may 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 bleeding in pregnancy you should always contact the hospital.

A low-lying placenta may also be suspected 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. This includes anal sex. There is only a thin wall of tissue separating your vagina from your rectum so anal sex may push against the placenta, causing heavy bleeding.

Is it safe to have oral sex?

It’s safe to have oral sex in pregnancy. In fact, it may be a good alternative if your doctor or midwife has advised you to avoid vaginal or anal sex (for example, if you have cervical weakness or a low-lying placenta).

To avoid infection, it's also sensible to use protection if either of you have any cuts or sores in or on your mouth and lips. Or you could use a dental dam. This is a latex or polyurethane (very thin, soft plastic) square, of about 15cm by 15cm, which you can use to cover the anus or female genitals during oral sex. It acts as a barrier to help prevent sexually transmitted infections passing from one person to another. You can get these from a genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic, sexual health clinic, your GP or a young people’s clinic.

You can find details of local GUM clinics by contacting the Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123 or the Family Planning Association

Air embolisms

If you're receiving oral sex while pregnant, your partner should be careful not to blow air into your vagina. It is extremely rare, but it is possible for an air bubble to block one of your blood vessels. This is known as an air embolism, and it can be potentially fatal for you and your baby.

Again, this is rare. But if you have any worries, you can ask your partner to stick to gently kissing and licking your clitoris and the lips around your vagina (labia).

What is bacterial vaginosis and why do I need to be aware of it?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common cause of unusual vaginal discharge. It’s caused by a change in the natural bacteria in your vagina. It is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but you’re more likely to get an STI if you have BV.

BV can be triggered by sex. You’re more likely to develop it if:

  • you’re sexually active
  • you’ve changed sexual partners
  • you use perfumed soaps in or around your vagina.

A woman can pass BV to another woman during sex.

Bacterial vaginosis and pregnancy

Bacterial vaginosis doesn’t cause any problems in most pregnancies. But there is a small chance of complications, such as premature birth and miscarriage.

If you are having sex with a man, don’t switch from anal to vaginal sex unless your partner washes his genitals and changes condoms (if he’s using one) first. Not doing this can put you at risk of BV.

You may get more vaginal discharge than usual while you’re pregnant. But talk to your GP or midwife if you notice any of the following:

  • unusual vaginal discharge that has a strong fishy small, particularly after sex
  • a change to the colour and consistency of your discharge – for example, if it becomes greyish-white, thin and watery.

50% of women with bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms.

Can I use sex toys during pregnancy?

It’s 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, it’s best to avoid sex toys too.

It’s important to keep any sex toys clean because this will protect you against vaginal infections, such as bacterial vaginosis. This is important because an untreated vaginal infection may increase the risk of premature birth.

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.

It’s also best to avoid sharing sex toys with any 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 I or my partner have a sexually transmitted infection?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from one person to another through sex or genital contact. They are sometimes known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

If they are not treated, some STIs, such as chlamydia, can:

  • cause infertility
  • cause health problems for you and your baby during and after pregnancy
  • be passed on to your baby.

Most STIs have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Many people who have an STI will not know they are infected and can pass it on to any sexual partners. You will not be tested for most STIs during your routine antenatal care.

If you have any concerns that you or your partner may have an undiagnosed STI, it is important to get tested. The best places to go are a genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic, sexual health clinic, your GP or a young people’s clinic.

Condoms are the only contraception that can prevent STIs, so use them if:

  • you or your partner have an STI
  • if you have a new partner
  • you or your partner are having sex with other people during your pregnancy.

Be aware that some infections can be transmitted by hands, fingers and mutual masturbation. Wash your hands before and after sex.

Find out more about infections in pregnancy, including STIs.

Can having sex start labour?

Having sex when you’re heavily pregnant may be difficult and there’s 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).

If you’re having a low-risk pregnancy, there’s 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’s anything that can bring labour on.

 

Sources

NHS Choices. Sex in pregnancy.  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sex-in-pregnancy/ (Page last reviewed: 30/01/2018 Next review due: 30/01/2021) 

Gökyildiz S and Beji NK (2005) The effects of pregnancy on sexual life. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 2005 May-Jun;31(3):201-15.

NHS Choices. Genital herpes. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/genital-herpes/ (Page last reviewed: 06/09/2017 Next review due: 06/09/2020) 

Hill BF & Jones JS (1993) Venous air embolism following orogenital sex during pregnancy. The American Journal of emergency medicine 1993 Mar;11(2):155-7

NICE Guidelines (2008) Antenatal care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph27

NHS Choices. Inducing labour. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/induction-labour/ (Page last reviewed: 06/11/2017. Next review due: 06/11/2020)

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    Last reviewed on December 12th, 2019. Next review date December 12th, 2022.

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