Pregnancy Sex Education

Answers to everything you wanted to know about pregnancy sex but were afraid to ask.

Couple lying in bed

Is Pregnant Sex Safe?

When my husband and I found out I was pregnant, I asked my ob-gyn, "Is there anything I can't do?" She reassured me that I was fine. "So, anything goes?" Eric asked with more emphasis, to which my doctor looked puzzled. Beet red, I finally blurted out, "Umm ... you know ... can we still have sex?"

Yes, she assured us, sex was fine. After she left, my husband and I looked at one another. What were we -- two mature adults or a couple of 16-year-olds?

We realized that sex is still a sensitive subject for doctors and patients. But it's a part of life, and for most of us, it's what got us pregnant in the first place! To shed some light on sex during pregnancy, we've tackled your top questions.

Quick Tips

First Trimester: You may feel very tired; take naps whenever you can, and if you have to, schedule times to be romantic together.

Second Trimester: Morning sickness should be gone by now, but your slightly-larger-yet-not-quite-pregnant-looking body may make you feel unsexy. Invest in flattering lingerie: camisoles can hide your larger stomach, and boy shorts look great on everyone.

Third Trimester: Don't attempt to hide your burgeoning belly. A tent dress will do nothing for either your husband's libido or yours. Pregnancy is its own kind of beauty; revel in the great hair and skin it can give you!

Are There Health Risks with Sexual Activity?

Good news: Sexual activity and intercourse are both normal and safe for most pregnant women because the cervix acts as a protective barrier between the penis and the baby. (Those with complications should consult their doctor.)

Of course, use common sense -- now is not the time to try swinging from the chandelier. And because pregnancy lowers a woman's immune response, you're vulnerable to infections, especially those of the urinary tract. Using the bathroom after sex can help flush out bacteria that may have been introduced during sex, thus decreasing your chances of getting a urinary tract infection.

Don't be alarmed by mild soreness in the vaginal area or spotting, which can result from sex during pregnancy. However, call your doctor if you have constant heavy bleeding with abdominal cramps or pain or a gush of fluid from the vagina but no pain or bleeding.

Are There Positions to Avoid?

Avoid lying flat on your back for long; this puts pressure on the vein that returns blood from your lower body to your heart. As you near the ninth month, think Missionary: Impossible. This position is dangerous late in pregnancy because it puts too much pressure on your stomach.

Be up front about what works for you and what doesn't. One night, after a few minutes of "ouch!", "sorry!", and "whoops!", we laughed ourselves silly -- it was as if I needed yellow police tape to block off sections of my body. We realized that we had to be straight about any newly sensitive or off-limits areas. And we found that having a few small pillows around was essential; I could prop myself up to make side positions really comfortable and to modify old favorites perfectly.

What If My Doctor Forbids Sex?

Preterm labor, previous preterm birth, placenta previa, infection, vaginal bleeding, and discharge of amniotic fluid may make sex off-limits. If your doctor says you can't have sex, find out if this means no intercourse or no orgasm. Don't make assumptions -- you don't want to endanger your baby or yourself.

Once you understand what you can and can't do, find ways to stay connected, like holding hands, hugging, or curling up on the couch to watch movies together. If no sex for a few months sounds daunting, try shopping for baby clothes or decorating the nursery. These activities helped us feel close without feeling sexual. Still need to cool off? Watch a labor video.

Anything Good to Look Forward To?

Absolutely! For starters, during the first trimester, the breasts outpace the rest of your body in getting bigger, so you may look like you've had a (free!) boob job. During the second and third trimesters, your body increases its total blood volume by about 50 percent, which means increased blood flow to all parts of your skin. The result: ultra sensitivity all over, including erogenous zones you may have forgotten about. In the third trimester, you'll have increased blood flow plus an engorged vaginal area, which means increased sensation and sensitivity right where it counts the most.

Can Sex Lead to Labor?

Sex is unlikely to bring on labor. Most couples have sex less frequently in the third trimester anyway, when worries may peak. We discovered that watching our future child kick, squirm, and occasionally press a hand against my stomach was exciting but definitely not a turn-on. In fact, such a potent reminder that you are about to be responsible for a tiny being can curb the libido.

Will I Want to Have Sex After Baby?

Recovery time varies, but it's usually fairly quick. A study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that 39 percent of women resume sex by 6 weeks postpartum, 67 percent by 7 to 8 weeks, 81 percent by 9 to 12 weeks, and 90 percent after 3 months. Again, there's no right or wrong. Go with how you feel, both mentally and physically.

Pregnancy provides couples with many challenges, but fear about sex doesn't have to be one of them. Enjoy this time together. Don't forget -- the new baby will bring plenty of challenges of his own; loving and supporting each other will help you weather the ups and downs.

Katharine and Eric Cole are writing a book about pregnancy. They have two children.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, January 2007.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

Updated by Eric Cole
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