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Sex in pregnancy and the antenatal stages

Discover how your sex life may change when you are pregnant. Read about sex during stages of pregnancy, changing libido, induced labour and more.

Pregnant women may have a number of questions and concerns about sex during pregnancy and you may experience a number of changes as your pregnancy progresses. This article covers the different stages of pregnancy, including sex in the first, second and third trimesters, and natural induction.

During pregnancy some women may feel more sensitive due to increased levels of pregnancy hormones (progesterone and oestrogen) circulating in the body, plus increased blood flow to 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. Hormonal changes can give these secretions a stronger smell and taste. 

Sex in the first trimester

Even though your pregnancy won’t necessarily show during the first few months of pregnancy, huge changes are taking place and these can have an effect on your libido and sex in pregnancy. You may go off sex because:

  • you’re very tired as this is a time of rapid development for your baby,
  • your breasts are larger and more tender (similar to how they may feel before a period) as your body begins to prepare for breastfeeding or
  • you’re suffering from morning sickness (which, despite the name, can strike at any time of day) – either vomiting or simply feeling nauseous.

On the other hand, you may find that even though you’re suffering from some health niggles that you still feel really sexy. Follow whatever your body is telling you.

Sex in the second trimester

For many – though not all – the middle months of pregnancy see a return of energy levels and can signal an end to nausea if you’ve been suffering from it. You may find that hormones now make your skin glow and your hair shine – this is the ‘blooming’ stage that others often notice. Your pregnancy shape may become more visible and you may feel able to be more public about the fact that you are pregnant. Many women feel more relaxed as they leave the first trimester behind and the risk of miscarriage falls, and you may begin to feel more confident in your pregnancy.

Of course, not all women feel super-sexy during pregnancy. For some, nausea, tiredness, or a low libido can continue. If this is the case, don’t give yourself a hard time. Resting and taking care of yourself can help you feel more relaxed and good about yourself and your body.

The second trimester is the period during which you may have various antenatal tests, such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis. It’s likely that you’ll be advised to rest for a couple of days after these tests and to avoid sex.

Sex in the third trimester

During the last three months, as your bump becomes larger, it is likely that there will be times when you will feel very tired. The extra weight you’re carrying, plus the physical changes of pregnancy – such as backache, swollen ankles, and heartburn – may make your sex drive fall too. If so, that’s fine; don’t feel you have to and keep talking to your partner about how you're feeling. If you love your bigger bump and still feel sexy, then you can carry on having sex. All women are different so do what feels right for you.

If you are still enjoying penetrative sex, you may want to try some new positions. Tender breasts or your large bump late in pregnancy may make some positions uncomfortable, so it’s a perfect chance to experiment. You could try:

  • Spoons where you lie on your side with your knees up towards your bump and your back towards your partner, so that he can enter from behind. He can’t go too deep in this position, and your bump can rest on the bed.
  • You on top with your partner on his back, sit astride him and lower yourself onto him. You can rock gently and so control the amount of penetration yourself.
  • From behind where you get down on your hands and knees so that your partner can enter from behind. If penetration is too deep, ask him to hold back.
  • Side-by-side where you lie facing one another with your leg over your partner’s side. He won’t be able to penetrate too deeply, and the bed will support your bump.

Later in pregnancy, contractions (known as Braxton Hicks contractions) can be set off by an orgasm or sex. If this happens, you'll feel the muscles of your womb and your bump go hard. This is perfectly normal and there's no need for alarm.

Natural induction

At full term, when your baby is ready to be born, sex is sometimes suggested as a way of bringing on labour. A combination of the prostaglandins in semen (which soften the cervix) and the hormone oxytocin (triggered by orgasm) may set off contractions. The role of sexual intercourse in triggering labour is uncertain but artificial prostaglandins are used in hospital to induce labour so you may want to give it a go.

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