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Sex During and After Pregnancy

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Pregnant women and mothers are often desexualized in our society, yet women are sexual beings at all stages of their lives. Pregnancy is a time of change and adjustment that affects all aspects of a woman’s life, including her sexuality. As these changes happen there are many ways for pregnant women to experience sexual intimacy including touching, kissing, licking, massage, masturbation, intercourse and oral sex. Communication between partners is key to making sure that sexual relationships are comfortable and satisfying, especially during pregnancy.

Is it safe to have sex during pregnancy? 

Yes. Sexual activity during pregnancy is healthy and safe, unless your healthcare provider has told you otherwise. You may be advised to abstain from vaginal intercourse if you:

  • have previously miscarried
  • experience bleeding in the first trimester
  • have a low-lying placenta
  • have a history of premature labour
  • have a lot contractions in the last month of pregnancy

Even if you are advised to abstain from vaginal sex, there are many other ways to be intimate with your partner.

It is also important to think about protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV during pregnancy. If either partner has a STI, is HIV positive or has had other sexual contact outside the relationship, practicing safer sex is recommended.

Another precaution that should be taken is to avoid blowing air into the vagina as this can cause an air embolism. This can be fatal, as the air can pass from the vagina into damaged veins in the wall of the uterus, potentially leading to complete obstruction in the heart¹,²,³. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information about the safety of sex during pregnancy.

Does sexual desire change during pregnancy?

It can. Physical and emotional changes during pregnancy can affect pregnant women’s desires and comfort levels. Every woman is different and every pregnancy is different. Some women feel more attractive and enjoy sex more during pregnancy. Others have little or no interest in sex during pregnancy. A woman’s partner may experience changes in desire as well. It is important for partners to talk about these changes and how they feel.

What are some common changes that might happen?

First Trimester

  • Parts of a woman’s body, such as her breasts, can become more sensitive. Some women find this increased sensitivity uncomfortable while other women find it pleasurable.
  • Morning sickness, feeling tired and feeling physically uncomfortable can make women less interested in sex.
  • First trimester symptoms may carry over into the next trimester(s).

Second Trimester

  • Pain and discomfort such as backaches, soreness and tenderness around the breasts and belly may affect sexual desire.
  • For many women, sexual desire increases during this stage of pregnancy: increased lubrication and swelling of the vaginal tissue can stimulate reactions similar to those that occur during typical sexual arousal.
  • Stimulating the breasts can cause colostrum to come out. This is normal.
  • A variety of sexual positions or activities can be explored to discover those that are most comfortable and pleasurable.

Third Trimester

  • Feeling tired, feeling “big” and having concerns about giving birth can decrease sexual desire.
  • A woman might feel the fetus move after the she has an orgasm.
  • As the foetus moves into the pelvis in the 9th month, vaginal penetration may be uncomfortable. Shallow and slow penetration or sex play without penetration may be more pleasurable.

Can having sex cause me to go into labour?

Pregnant women often experience mild contractions during arousal and orgasm, but these contractions are not powerful enough to start childbirth unless it is time. Nipple stimulation and intercourse are sometimes used to help start labour when a baby is overdue. Sperm contains a small amount of a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin, which softens the cervix and may help start labour. Women who are at a high risk of going into early labour may be advised to avoid orgasm, nipple stimulation and intercourse, or to use a condom for intercourse to avoid putting the uterus in contact with sperm. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information.

My partner is pregnant. What should I do? 

Ask your partner about her comfort level, be gentle with her and respect what she wants at each stage of the pregnancy. Your own interest in sex might also be affected by the pregnancy so you may find it helpful to talk with your partner about your feelings. This can make it easier for both of you to deal with your concerns about sex and pregnancy and to give and receive pleasure.

When is it okay to start having sex after the baby is born?

This depends on the desire and comfort level of each woman. Interest in sex may decrease and sex may be painful for some women after childbirth because of:

  • feeling tired as a result of caring for a newborn
  • physical discomfort
  • less vaginal lubrication
  • hormonal changes and fluctuating emotions

Some types of sexual activity can resume a few days after birth if a woman is comfortable and interested. Healthcare providers often recommend waiting about 4-6 weeks before having intercourse. When bleeding (lochia) stops, it shows that the cervix has closed and that, physically, intercourse is safe. It is also important to wait until any tearing or caesarean section incisions have healed. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open between partners. A woman should do what feels right and not feel rushed.

What else do I need to know about sex and intimacy after childbirth?

Breastfeeding: breastfeeding can cause feelings similar to sexual arousal or orgasm. Sometimes breastfeeding causes vaginal dryness and less lubrication when aroused. Using a water-based lubricant can make vaginal stimulation more enjoyable.

Birth control: you can get pregnant soon after giving birth, so it’s important to think about birth control. Some birth control methods can be used post-partum (after birth), even by women who are breastfeeding. It’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about post-partum birth control before the baby is born, so you have time to think about your options and make arrangements to have a method in place.

Relationship building:

The birth of a baby can be difficult for the couple. It can be a challenge to keep the relationship as a priority when the couple is struggling with new roles and demands on their time. Communicating with your partner and taking time together as a couple are important ways to continue to build your relationship.

1. Hill, B.F., Jones, J.S. (1993). Venous air embolism following orogenital sex during pregnancy. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine: 11(3).
2. Kaiser, R.T. (1994). Air embolism death of a pregnant woman secondary to orogenital sex. Academic Emergency Medicine: vol. 6.
3. Truhlar A, Cerny V, Dostal P, Solar M, Parizkova R, Hruba I, Zabka L. (2007). Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest from air embolism during sexual intercourse: case report and review of the literature. Resuscitation: 73(3).

Updated May 12, 2008

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