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Sex during pregnancy: a guide for expectant parents

Discover the most common questions, concerns of Mumsnet users and the benefits surrounding sexual intimacy during pregnancy.

By Rebecca Roberts | Last updated Aug 4, 2023

Sex during pregnancy, a guide

Sex during pregnancy can be a source of curiosity, confusion, and even concern for many couples. The idea of engaging in intimate relations while a baby is growing inside the mother's womb can pose various questions. It’s important to understand that sex while pregnant is generally safe, and can even have important physical and emotional benefits for both partners.

Sure, your sex life might change in some ways during pregnancy. Positions, changing libidos, lubrication (or lack of), and discomfort can all affect how often you engage in intercourse while pregnant. Sex might be the last thing on your mind, or suddenly be even more appealing to you. Whatever the case, the truth is that there’s no right or wrong answer. As your pregnancy progresses, make sure to only engage in sexual activity that is comfortable and safe for you (and your baby).

In this feature, we’ll explore the topic of sex during pregnancy, and have asked experts like Dr. Hana Patel, GP Expert Witness, Dr. Mel Davis-Hall, GP and Medical Director at The Lowdown and Lucy Rowett, Sex Coach at The Lowdown, to help us shed light on the most common concerns we see Mumsnet users have, and addressing misconceptions.

We’ll also discuss the physical changes you may experience during pregnancy, and how these might influence your sex drive. We’ll take a look at the potential benefits of sex when pregnant, and we’ll also explore the safety aspect - making sure to give you everything you need to know to ensure you are comfortable at all times.

Don’t forget to check out our guides to the best condoms and best lubes to make sex while pregnant even more comfortable. And if you’re averse to penetrative intercourse at the moment, here’s our guide to the best vibrators.

Scared to have pregnancy sex? You’re not alone

If you’re anxious about having sex during your pregnancy, don’t worry as you’re most definitely not alone. Pregnancy is a time of uncertainty, both good and bad. So, it’s perfectly natural to feel some sort of anxiety over the safety of intercourse during pregnancy.

In her search for advice, this Mumsnet OP shared, “I feel a bit silly, but I cannot imagine having sex this whole pregnancy because of nerves.” 

Of course, fellow users replied to help validate Essexgalhere, with one user sharing: “No you're definitely not alone. What worked for us was to gradually build up in intimacy - more kissing, snuggling, whatever, and let things take place naturally. 

“Putting pressure on myself made me massively withdraw.”

Is it safe to have sex during pregnancy?

Sex during pregnancy: is it safe?

It's normal to worry whether sex is safe during pregnancy

A common concern we see from expectant parents is whether sex during pregnancy is bad for the baby. Simply put: unless your midwife or GP has strict, specific reasons for you not to have intercourse, then sex is safe while pregnant - for you, your partner and your growing baby. If your midwife/GP just says “sex”, don’t be shy to clarify whether they mean penetrative only or all sexual stimulation.

As Dr. Mel explains, "it’s safe to have sex during pregnancy up until you go into labour unless a doctor or midwife has told you not to.

"You should still take precautions to protect yourself from STIs as they can be harmful to you and your baby. Use a condom if you have sex with a new partner during pregnancy, or if you or your partner are not monogamous."

Benefits of sex during pregnancy

Not only is it safe in general, but it actually has benefits for both you and your partner. So, as long as it’s comfortable - go for it!

Physical and emotional bonding

Engaging in sexual activity can strengthen the emotional bond between you and your DH. It allows you to connect on an intimate level, and helps to foster a sense of closeness and togetherness during this transformative period in your lives.

Stress relief

Pregnancy brings about a wide range of physical and emotional changes, which can understandably lead to increased stress and anxiety for some expectant parents. As we all know, sex releases endorphins - happy hormones! - which acts as a stress reliever, helping to provide a sense of relaxation and wellbeing.

Pelvic floor strengthening

Sexual activity can engage and tone your pelvic floor muscles, which may contribute to an easier childbirth and postpartum recovery. "It prepares the pelvic muscles and cervix for birth", according to Dr. Hana.

Improved sleep quality

It’s a well-known fact that pregnancy can disrupt your sleep pattern. In fact, we’d go as far as arguing that it's a baby's way of training you for their arrival and the inevitable night wakings. So, getting a good night’s rest even before your baby has been born can be difficult at times. Having sex before bedtime can help promote deep relaxation, releasing hormones like oxytocin, which can help contribute to better sleep quality overall.

Better communication

As a woman’s body undergoes various changes to accommodate the growing baby, open communication and increased intimacy becomes essential. Engaging in sex while pregnancy encourages honest conversations about desires, concerns and expectations - promoting a stronger emotional connection between you both.

Natural pain relief

During orgasm, the release of oxytocin (which acts as a natural pain reliever) can help provide some relief from pregnancy-related discomforts, albeit temporarily. Dr. Hana explains: "Sex during pregnancy helps increase oxytocin levels, and it is often suggested to pregnant women, particularly those who have already reached the ninth-month mark."

Positive mood and self-esteem

Feeling desired and connected with your partner physically can help boost your self-esteem and positively impact your mood during pregnancy overall.

Easier orgasms

A benefit of sex during pregnancy that isn’t often discussed is the possibility of reaching orgasm more easily. Due to increased blood flow and hormones, pregnant women might actually find it easier to climb Mt. O. Your genitalia may be a lot more sensitive, which can be more pleasurable and you may also feel a little extra wet, as it’s common for increased secretions and more lubrication to occur while pregnant as your body fights bacteria.

Sex in the first trimester

Sex in the first trimester

Sex can vary as you progress through your pregnancy

It’s natural to experience a decline in penetrative sex in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. This can be because of fear or anxiety, but there are also several other things that might cause a drop in your sex life during this period, including:

  • Nausea/morning sickness

  • Tiredness

  • Fear of miscarriage or harming the unborn baby

  • Lack of interest/lack of libido

  • Discomfort

  • Physical awkwardness

  • Fear of infection

  • Fear of membrane rupture

The most important thing to remember is that it’s no wonder pregnancy can affect your sex life. After all, there’s a lot going on.

On the flip side, some women find that they have a higher sex drive than before. So, there’s no knowing what you’ll experience.

Sex in the second trimester

Arguably, the second trimester is the best time to engage in sexual activity while pregnant. Mainly because the worst of morning sickness is (usually) over, and your pregnant belly isn’t in the way too much. Dr. Hana confirms, sharing that a woman's "sexual desire and habits vary in the second trimester.

"During this stage, couples might fin that they rekindle their sex life."

So, if you’ve lost interest in sex during your first three months, you might find it coming back again as you near the middle of your pregnancy. For many expectant mothers, the second trimester often heralds a shift in sexual desire. With hormonal changes stabilising, physical discomforts easing for some, and your pregnancy curves growing, this phase can bring newfound intimacy and excitement.

As Lucy Rowett confirms: "The second trimester tends to be when people feel their best– in terms of energy and also physical abilities. Many people report an increase in their libido or feeling really horny."

But don’t worry, you can rest assured that your growing baby won’t be able to hear any dirty talk.

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Sex in the third trimester

While interest in sex might remain for your DH during your third trimester, sexual activity most likely decreases. "In the third trimester, a lot of women are worried about orgasms making their uteruses contract", Dr. Hana explains. Physical changes, increased discomfort, and anticipation of the impending arrival of your baby may influence your sexual desire and preferences during this time.

Dr. Hana continues: "Many women find sex more difficult during this time due to the discomfort of various sexual positions, pelvic congestion and their baby’s engagement in the pelvis."

Overall, couples are less likely to use ‘on top’ positions, instead choosing side-by-side or rear entry positions. While some women may continue to feel a heightened libido, others might experience a decrease due to things like tiredness, a larger belly, or pelvic pressure.

If intercourse is off the table during these final weeks, couples can still explore other ways of connecting. Non-penetrative sex can still be explored, as well as massages, foreplay, or simply spending quality time together.

What does sex during pregnancy feel like?

Sex while pregnant: what it feels like

Don't be averse to trying other ways to be intimate together

Intercourse while pregnant feels different for different individuals, and can vary throughout the different stages of pregnancy as we’ve described above. There are, however, common experiences that you may have also:

  • Heightened sensations and increased sensitivity in your breasts, genitals, and erogenous zones, leading to more intense pleasure during sex.

  • Extra vaginal lubrication thanks to pregnancy hormones, making sex more comfortable and pleasurable.

  • Changes in orgasms, like the intensity and frequency.

  • Physical discomfort as your growing belly leads to things like backache or pelvic pressure.

Can having sex start labour?

Just as sex is safe to have during pregnancy, it’s equally as safe to continue having intercourse throughout your ninth month up until the beginning of labour (unless your waters have broken already, as we’ve mentioned above).

Some individuals might even use sexual intercourse to help initiate labour, as the hormone oxytocin is exactly what your body needs to fuel labour and delivery. Of course, it’s not clear if having sex actually does induce labour, but it’s always worth trying.

Sex during pregnancy: frequently asked questions

To reassure expectant parents who may have questions, we asked Dr. Hana Patel, to help us answer some of the most common questions asked about sex while pregnant.

1. Will penetrative sex hurt the baby?

No, penetrative sex is unlikely to hurt the baby. As Dr. Hana explains, "the developing baby is protected by the amniotic fluid in your uterus, as well as by the strong muscles of the uterus itself.

"Sexual activity won't affect your baby, as long as you don't have complications such as preterm labour or placenta problems."

2. Will pregnancy sex cause miscarriage?

No, pregnancy sex is generally safe and does not cause miscarriage in a healthy pregnancy. Miscarriages are typically caused by genetic or developmental issues in the foetus.

"There is no evidence that sexual intercourse causes miscarriage", Dr. Hana says. "But it can be pragmatic to advise women with threatened miscarriage to avoid intercourse until after the bleeding has completely resolved so, if miscarriage does occur, the couple does not feel that they may have triggered or exacerbated events."

3. Is bleeding after sex something I should worry about?

Bleeding after sex should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. "While bleeding after sex while pregnant is common and is often nothing to worry about, it can be a sign of a serious problem, especially during the later part of your pregnancy.

"So, you must always tell your doctor or midwife", Dr. Hana confirms. Prompt medical attention can provide proper diagnosis and peace of mind, and as Dr. Hana explains, "obviously, the more you know about something, the better prepared you are to deal with it."

4. Is it normal for sex to hurt during pregnancy?

Sexual discomfort during pregnancy is not uncommon due to hormonal changes, increased sensitivity, or physical changes. However, persistent pain should be discussed with a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying issues.

"Sex with your partner on top can become uncomfortable quite early in pregnancy", Dr. Hana says, "not just because of the bump, but because your breasts might be tender.

"It can also be uncomfortable if your partner penetrates you too deeply. It may be better to lie on your sides, either facing each other or with your partner behind."

5. Is it normal to have orgasmic dreams at night while pregnant?

Yes, it is normal to experience orgasmic dreams during pregnancy. These dreams can be a result of hormonal changes and increased blood flow to the pelvic area. They are a natural part of pregnancy and usually not a cause for concern.

6. When can I start having sex after birth?

It's generally recommended to wait until your postpartum check-up, usually around 6 weeks after birth, before resuming sexual activity. However, "there are no rules about when to start having sex again after you have given birth", Dr. Hana confirms. "You'll probably feel sore as well as tired after your baby is born, so don't rush into it. If sex hurts, it won't be pleasurable".

Individual healing and comfort levels vary, so consult your healthcare provider for personalised guidance based on your specific recovery and health.

Sex while pregnant: real stories from Mumsnet users

Sex while pregnant

"Unless you've been told otherwise, it's completely fine and won't harm baby! I'm due next week and we're at it to try and get the babe out." ZEWatson

"I found during my last pregnancy my libido and sex drive had a huge increase. First few weeks I was cautious as worried what impact I could have to the pregnancy (which it doesn't) and had. in my mind originally that I shouldn't during the pregnancy.. But then I hit a point where I just got more and more frustrated and gave in. The strangest things would quickly get me really turned on. I probably had more orgasms during pregnancy than the previous few years lol! I actually felt most comfortable getting relief masturbating rather than sex as less physical." JulieS1

"I have also had losses and in my one successful pregnancy I was too scared to go near DH from the moment I got the positive test. I think if your partner is decent they should understand and support you - mine never pressured me once!" salemsongbird

"I’ve also had three miscarriages and worried about this but like pp said it’s perfectly safe. I’m 23 weeks now and usually have pink when wiping after sex but it’s very pale and one wipe and it’s gone." TheFoz

"Very little sex here also. 24 weeks and I think we have done it max four times since being pregnant. Now that we know we are having a girl my partner seems a bit freaked out about having sex and knowing there's a baby there." willithappen

Read next: How long after birth can you have sex? Find real stories from women

Sex positions for couples to try (and avoid) during pregnancy

For sex while pregnant, stick to positions that keep the pressure and weight off your growing belly, and also keep you off your back, too. These will be more comfortable, and will avoid potential blood flow compression.

Pregnancy sex positions to try

  • Sex from behind (aka doggy style)

  • You on top (aka cowgirl)

  • Spooning

  • Reverse cowgirl

  • Standing

  • Seated pregnancy sex

  • Oral sex

  • Anal sex

  • Side-by-side sex

For extra comfort, invest in a sex pillow, lube, and sex toys. After all, sex doesn’t require penetration for maximum pleasure.

Pregnancy sex positions to avoid

  • Missionary position, as it compresses blood flow to mum and baby

  • Prone positions (lying flat on the stomach)

When to stop having sex during pregnancy

When to stop having sex during pregnancy

Always seek advice of your GP or midwife if you're concerned

While sex during pregnancy is generally safe for most couples, "there may be times when your midwife or healthcare professional recommends avoiding sex", explains Dr. Mel.

High-risk pregnancies

If a woman is considered to have a high-risk pregnancy due to things like the risk of preterm labour, vaginal bleeding, placenta previa, or a history of miscarriage, it is advisable to abstain from sexual activity. In such cases, following the guidance of your healthcare provider, midwife or GP is essential.

Certain medical conditions

If either partner has a medical condition that could be exacerbated by sex, such as a history of premature labour, cervical insufficiency, or a placental-related issue, it is crucial to consult with your midwife and/or GP regarding safe sexual practices.

Increased discomfort

As your pregnancy progresses, your body is undergoing changes that may affect your comfort during sex. Physical discomfort, like back pain, hip pain, or shortness of breath, might limit certain sexual positions or activities. If this is the case, it's worth exploring alternative ways to maintain intimacy with your partner.

Heavy bleeding after sex

During pregnancy, your cervix becomes more sensitive and can be easily irritated, leading to bleeding. You might notice spotting after sex, when you wipe, and possibly the next day. However, if spotting comes and goes over some time during your pregnancy, it might be a sign of placenta previa. If you have any other symptoms, like sharp pain, rectal pressure, or inconsistent bleeding, speak to your midwife/GP.

Other risks and reasons to avoid sex while pregnant include:

  • Broken waters, as it can increase the risk of infection

  • Any problems with your cervix, as you might be at a higher risk of going into early labour or a miscarriage

  • If you’re having multiples, and you’re in the later stage of pregnancy

  • A history of going into labour early and you’re late into your pregnancy

Make sure you use a condom or another form of barrier protection if you or your partner are having sex with other people while you’re pregnant. This will provide protection for you and your baby from sexually transmitted diseases.

How else can couples connect intimately during pregnancy without PIV?

"PIV isn’t the only sex," explains Lucy Rowett. "There are many ways to be intimate without penetration, there are so many possibilities. You can give or receive oral sex, manual sex, masturbate, or cuddle.

"You can also explore things like sexting, flirting, dancing together, eye gazing and synchronised breathing, a massage or foot rub.

"It can be as simple as a cuddle in bed, going for a walk holding hands, or giving each other love notes."

The information provided in this guide is for general informational purposes only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider, your midwife or GP for personalised guidance and treatment.

About the author

Rebecca Roberts is a writer, editor, and content marketing expert hailing from Leeds. Here at Mumsnet, she commissions, writes, and edits to bring parents content designed to make life easier. After birthing and breastfeeding two babies in two years, Rebecca knows first-hand how hard it can be to reignite intimacy. From condoms, to lubricants, to sex toys - she’s on a quest to find the best ones, with the help of Mumsnet user recommendations.

Beyond her role as an editor here at Mumsnet, Rebecca can be found balancing life as a working mum of two toddlers and when she’s not at her desk, you’ll likely find her at a local playgroup, in a nearby coffee shop, walking the dog, or hiding from her neighbour as she attempts to buy condoms during her weekly “Big Food Shop”.