Sex during pregnancy
Research suggests that the amount of sex you engage in during pregnancy is directly related to the amount of sex you had before you were pregnant (47). If your pregnancy is proceeding normally, you can have sex as often as you like. The hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy can play havoc with your sex drive. For some women, it becomes more like sex overdrive; for others, fatigue, nausea, and sore breasts make sex the last thing on your mind. As your pregnancy progresses, weight gain, back pain, leukorrheoa (vaginal discharge) and other pregnancy discomforts might dampen your enthusiasm for sex.
Your emotions are affected by hormones which may also affect your sexual activity. This hormonal rollercoaster can affect you both physically (sex drive) and by way of your emotional connection with your partner. Concerns about how sex might affect your pregnancy or your baby, or even how the whole situation will change your relationship with your partner might sit in the back of your mind, even if you planned your baby and you have a stable and loving relationship. Despite fears and myths about sexual activity during pregnancy, maintaining a couple’s sexual interactions throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period can promote sexual health and well-being and a greater depth of intimacy (48).
Will sex hurt me or the baby?
Although many couples worry that sex during pregnancy might cause harm to the pregnancy or the baby, sex isn’t usually a concern. A healthy developing baby in a well mother with a normally progressing pregnancy is protected by the amniotic sac, the closed cervix and the mucous plug. Sexual activity under these circumstances won’t affect your baby.
Keep in mind that as your pregnancy progresses that your ligaments will loosen up. This extra flexibility makes it easy to overextend your joints – these include hips, knees and shoulders! As the weeks go by, you may need to adopt a bit of a conservative approach and curb your enthusiasm to some extent to ensure you don’t do yourself an injury. Don’t forget the non- penetration options for sexual intimacy. These can be good practice for after baby is born and until you are ready to resume your regular sexual activity.
Options for sex
If you are comfortable, most sexual positions are OK during your pregnancy. As you get further along in your pregnancy, you may need to be a bit flexible and imaginative with your approach to sex and sexual intimacy. Late in pregnancy, lying flat on your back is not recommended due to the weight of your uterus on the blood vessel returning blood to your heart. Why not try laying on your side, on all fours, kneeling or being on top. Whatever is most comfortable for you.
Oral sex is safe during pregnancy. Anal sex might be uncomfortable if you have haemorrhoids. If this is a normal sexual activity for you, keep in mind that anal sex followed by vaginal sex can introduce bacteria into the vagina. This bacteria can cause infection and is one of the few ways that sex can harm your baby during pregnancy.
Sex toys can be a safe alternative for those who are concerned about their regular sexual activity. They are also an enjoyable and fun way for a woman to get to know her body, and for her partner to explore more buttons to push! This knowledge can come in very handy after the baby is born. There is a wide range of available toys – just be careful with size and their penetration capability.
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When should I not have sex during pregnancy?
There are a couple of circumstances during your pregnancy under which it is not advisable to have sexual intercourse. These include:
- Ruptured membranes – if you have broken your waters, the bag of fluid that protected the baby from infection is no longer there. Sex with broken waters dramatically increases the chance of infection for both you and your baby. If you feel the need to engage in sexual activity after your waters have broken, please don’t insert anything into your vagina.
- Known cervical shortening – there are two reasons it is not advisable to have sex under these circumstances. Semen contains prostaglandins – a natural hormone with the capacity to soften the cervix. Secondly, there is a higher chance that penetration during sex will cause your waters to break, resulting in premature labour. If this is your situation, you will be most likely under the care of a specialist. Please speak to your doctor about your risk and what is safe for you.
On the other hand, if you are nearing your due date, sexual intercourse has the potential to help bring your labour on. However, research disagrees as to how effective this method is to avoid induction in normal pregnancies (49, 50).
You can still catch sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during pregnancy and pass them onto others. These will affect the health of you and your baby. If your (or your partner’s) sexual activity puts you at risk of contracting an STI, please use condoms throughout your pregnancy.
Dr Janelle McAlpine (PhD), Clinical Midwife
Photo by And-One, used under license from Shutterstock.com