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Sex during pregnancy: questions and concerns

Read for answers to questions about sex during pregnancy including: will sex hurt my baby, what does pregnant sex feel like and going off sex in pregnancy.

During pregnancy you will experience emotional and physical changes which are likely to affect your sex life. Changes occur at each stage of pregnancy, and so you may have some specific questions and concerns. This article covers:

Can sex in pregnancy harm my baby?
Will sex feel different during pregnancy?
What if I don't want to have sex?
What about my partner's feelings about sex in pregnancy?
Can I use a vibrator when I'm pregnant?
Are there times we should avoid penetrative sex?
Sexually transmitted infections
Further information

Can sex in pregnancy harm my baby?

Wondering whether pregnant sex can harm your baby is common but there is usually no need to be concerned about this. Movements and sounds from outside and from your body are an everyday part of your baby’s world, so there’s no sense in which she can ‘know’ that you are having sex.

Your baby is cocooned inside the amniotic sac (a balloon of warm fluid that cushions her) and this prevents her seeing or feeling anything during penetrative sex. Also, the neck of your womb, or cervix, is sealed by a mucus plug that keeps your baby’s environment sterile so ejaculation, for instance, can’t harm her. 

You may feel your baby move when you have sex, but this movement is due to the rocking she feels and the increase in your heart rate, rather than her being in distress. In fact, if you orgasm your blood flow also increases, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients being delivered to your baby. During orgasm your bump may also harden because the act of orgasm causes contractions in the muscles of your uterus.

There may be some circumstances when you are advised to avoid penetrative sex (see below).

Will sex feel different during pregnancy?

During pregnancy some women may feel more sensitive due to increased levels of hormones (progesterone and oestrogen) circulating in their body, plus increased blood flow to their breasts and genitals. Some women experience their first orgasm, or even multiple orgasms, during pregnancy. This can be because of the extra blood flow, or because you’re trying different techniques and receiving more direct clitoral stimulation. You’ll also notice vaginal secretions increase and hormonal changes can give these secretions a stronger smell and taste.

What if I don’t want to have sex?

It is important to keep a sense of togetherness through pregnancy, but if you don't feel like having sex, then you don't have to. When you are pregnant, sex may not be at the forefront of your mind.

Remember that penetrative sex isn't the only way of expressing how you feel and creating that sense of togetherness. You could explore oral sex and talk to your partner about what you want.

For your partner (especially before the visible signs of pregnancy emerge) it may be hard to understand how much your feelings about sex can be affected. If you do go off sex, then try to make time to just be together, such as:

  • relaxing on the sofa together,
  • a walk in the park,
  • having a cuddle in bed,
  • talking over a meal or
  • taking a bath together.

Once the baby comes you will have less ‘couple time’ so make the most of it now.

What about my partner’s feelings about sex in pregnancy?

Some men might find out a lot about pregnancy by reading about it before the baby is born while others might not and therefore not fully understand what to expect. It may help you both if you can talk about how your feelings about sex might change during pregnancy, and the fact that this is normal. Sometimes you’ll just want to cuddle (especially when you’re very tired).

To help your partner you could also explain that hormonal and physical changes can put a temporary hold on love-making. Reassure him that it’s not because he’s fulfilled his role and made you pregnant (a worry for some men). Try to talk through any related worries such as coping with parenthood, or medical or financial concerns.

Of course, men’s feelings and desires will vary too. Seeing you as a ‘mother’ may make your partner view you as ‘mumsy’ rather than ‘sexy’. Or he may find your developing body alarming. For other men, desire deepens, and the womanliness of your pregnant body may make him want you all the more. The important thing is to keep talking to each other about how you are both feeling.

You may find that this is a good time for your partner to discuss with you any concerns that he may have about childbirth, and about your physical relationship after the birth. Some men may worry about having penetrative sex again after a vaginal birth, are shocked at how much the vagina stretches during the birth to accommodate the baby, or are unprepared for the sight of blood or mucus. Talking together now can give both of you the chance to air any concerns or worries you may have.

Can I use a vibrator when I’m pregnant?

If for any reason you are advised not to have penetrative sex, you should not use a vibrator when pregnant for penetration either. But otherwise a vibrator is fine. All sex toys come with instructions about use, and it is important to read and follow the instructions.

Are there times we should avoid penetrative sex in pregnancy?

Although penetrative sex in pregnancy is generally safe, there are times when you may be advised to avoid it:

  • If you’ve had miscarriages before, or bleeding during this pregnancy, talk to your midwife or doctor who may suggest you refrain from sex, depending on the number and timing of previous miscarriages. However, remember that early miscarriage is very common and unavoidable, usually due to a pregnancy that is not developing normally, and there is no evidence to suggest that it is caused by sex. Tell your midwife or doctor if you have signs of infection – such as itchiness, an unusual or smelly discharge, or if there is pain when you have sex.
  • Cervical dysfunction or weakness (when the entrance to the womb doesn’t hold tight shut) may cause miscarriage or premature labour after the third month of pregnancy, so you may be advised to avoid sex if you have experienced this in a previous pregnancy.
  • If you are expecting twins (which often come early), or have previously had a premature baby, some consultants may advise avoiding sex late in pregnancy in case it sets off labour.
  • If at any stage you think your waters may have broken, contact your midwife to assess the situation. To reduce the risk of infection avoid intercourse and seek advice immediately if you think you may have an infection.

If you are worried about anything, always talk to your midwife.

Sexually-transmitted infections (STI)

If you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) talk to your doctor about being tested, as many tests are offered at antenatal appointments. Or, if you prefer, you could self-refer to a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. It’s important to be tested because STIs can affect your baby:

  • Syphilis can cross the placenta and infect baby before birth.
  • Gonorrhoea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and genital herpes can be transmitted during birth.
  • HIV can be transmitted in the womb, during birth, and while breastfeeding.

If an infection is known about, appropriate treatment can decrease the possibility of your baby being affected.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

NHS choices has a short article on sex during pregnancy