What You Should Know About Having Sex During Pregnancy

Many women (and their partners) have concerns about sex during pregnancy. For instance, survey research has found that 25-50% of pregnant women and 25% of their male partners have concerns about potentially hurting or "traumatizing" the baby by having intercourse [1]. Another common concern is whether there is a certain point during a pregnancy at which sexual activity should cease. These concerns lead many pregnant couples to have sex less often than they would like, or to have sex that is less satisfying than usual because they are distracted or anxious. So what does the research have to say with regard to these concerns? 

First, fears about hurting the baby are unfounded. It is nothing more than an urban myth that the fetus will be poked in the eye or traumatized in some way if the parents have vaginal intercourse. In fact, no scientific studies have reported an association between frequency of sexual activity/orgasm and premature birth or other such complications. As long as both partners are healthy and the pregnancy is not high-risk, it is usually safe for couples to have sex.

Second, it is not necessarily the case that sex should only be limited to certain stages of a pregnancy. A review of 59 studies concerning couple's sexual activity patterns during pregnancy revealed that sexual activity levels are typically unchanged during the first trimester, become highly variable during the second, and drop substantially during the third [1]. A majority of couples have intercourse up until about the seventh month, with about one-third having sex up until the ninth month. Only about 10% of women abstain from intercourse entirely after learning that they are pregnant.

It makes sense that sexual activity decreases over time, given that women typically report that sex becomes less and less enjoyable as the pregnancy goes on. For instance, research indicates that 75-84% of women report enjoying intercourse during the second trimester; however, this number drops to 40-41% by the third trimester [1]. This drop in satisfaction can stem from many factors, including pain during intercourse, difficulty finding a comfortable position, and changes in perceived attractiveness.  

In order to increase sexual enjoyment during pregnancy, the most common recommendation is to try different sexual positions. Many women find that the “female superior” (i.e., woman-on-top) and side-by-side (i.e., “spoon”) positions are most comfortable during pregnancy; however, some pregnant women prefer activities other than vaginal intercourse (e.g., clitoral stimulation, breast and nipple stimulation, oral sex, etc.). 

In short, people appear to be more worried about sex during pregnancy than is warranted. Again, having sex throughout a pregnancy is generally safe as long as the partners are healthy and the pregnancy is not high-risk.

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[1] vod Sydow, K. (1999). Sexuality during pregnancy and after childbirth: A metacontent analysis of 59 studies. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 47, 27-49.

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