The Truth About Sex During Pregnancy
Each year there are an estimated four million births in the United States. The majority of these pregnancies start with sex, yet continuing a sex life during pregnancy is seldom mentioned. When sex during pregnancy is discussed, it often includes many preconceived notions and myths that somehow manage to persist. So what’s the truth about sex during pregnancy?
Having a Sex Life While Growing a Life
Women who are considered at low-risk for complications during pregnancy are generally given the green light for sex throughout their pregnancy. Sometimes right up until the start of labor. Whether the desire for sex is present is a whole different matter. Well-known symptoms like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, breast soreness, and a need to urinate frequently can easily squelch any woman’s libido. The good news is that many of these symptoms diminish by the second trimester. In fact, many women experience an increased desire during this middle period of pregnancy when there is an increased blood flow to sexual organs. The third and last trimester offers its own set of sexual challenges. An expanding belly can make finding a comfortable position difficult and sex often takes a backseat to preparing for the baby’s arrival.
Therefore, it’s perfectly normal for there to be fluctuations of desire throughout the forty weeks of pregnancy and each woman experiences pregnancy differently. Communicating regularly and openly with your physician and significant other during your pregnancy is the key to handling the many changes you and your body will experience.
Playing It Safe
While sex is considered safe for normal or low-risk pregnancies, there are a couple of situations all pregnant women should avoid. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be harmful to both mother and baby and can cause premature labor. Women should avoid sex or use a condom with a partner who may be infected, or whose sexual history is not known. Oral sex can also pose a danger if your partner blows air into your vagina. An air embolism or air bubble can result which can block blood vessels, and be fatal to both the mother and baby.
There are certain situations when a doctor will advise against sex during pregnancy. If you have a history of preterm labor or birth, an incompetent cervix, or more than one miscarriage, your doctor may advise against having intercourse during your pregnancy.
Other situations that may develop during pregnancy and require abstinence include vaginal bleeding, an amniotic sac that breaks, or placenta previa when the placenta covers the cervical opening. Some physicians may also recommend avoiding or limiting sex during the last weeks of pregnancy or when carrying more than one fetus. When asking your doctor if there are any restrictions on your sex life, ask for clarification on what he or she means by sex—whether it’s intercourse, orgasm, or other restrictions.
Pregnancy Sex Myths
One of the most common pregnancy sex myths is that the baby will know that his or her parents are engaging in sex, or that he or she will somehow feel it. The truth of the matter is that the baby is safely in an amniotic sac, protected by uterine muscles and further walled off by a mucous plug in the cervix that doesn’t allow for semen to enter the womb. Not only is the baby unable to see or know what is happening, he or she will have no memory of it. It is not uncommon to experience increased fetal movement after sex, which is a normal reaction to released hormones and uterine activity.
Another fear is that orgasm will cause premature labor or miscarriage. While orgasm does cause uterine contractions, they are different than those experienced during labor. In a normal pregnancy, orgasm contractions do not pose a risk. In fact, a study in the February 2001 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that intercourse and orgasm late in pregnancy reduced the risk of preterm delivery for healthy women. The study also mentions that late pregnancy sex may still be risky for women who are susceptible to preterm delivery.
Keeping an Open Mind
Women will experience a myriad of symptoms, feelings, and physical sensations during their nine months of pregnancy. Sex during this time is different for every woman, and may even change from pregnancy to pregnancy. Having a sex life during pregnancy is achievable. It requires honest communication between couples to determine what works sexually for them, and a good relationship with their physician to ensure the safety of all involved.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
March of Dimes
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Eisenberg A, Murkoff HE, Hathaway SE. What To Expect When You’re Expecting. New York, New York: Workman Publishing; 1991:164-169.
Frequently asked questions about having a baby in the 21st century. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org. Accessed on August 6, 2003
Sex during pregnancy. The March of Dimes website. Available at: http://www.marchofdimes.com. Accessed on August 4, 2003.
Sex late in pregnancy not associated with increased risk of preterm delivery. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org. Accessed on March 17, 2008.
Last reviewed March 2008 by Ganson Purcell Jr., MD, FACOG, FACPE
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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