Once a couple realise they are pregnant it's perfectly natural for them to worry about the safety of sex and the impact on the baby of intercourse and orgasm, you might even worry that the baby could be poked or disturbed by the penis. The good news is that there's no evidence at all that sex is unsafe in a healthy pregnancy, and no physical reason why you shouldn't continue to enjoy an active sex life together. Your baby is safely sealed in a protective bag of waters that provide support and prevent infection, then sealed in the safety of the strong womb via the mucus plug at the narrow cervix: It's physically impossible for the penis to disturb the baby and even near the end of pregnancy your baby will have no idea what is happening. If your baby is very active after sex it's because of your increased heart rate, not because he's upset or uncomfortable.
There are, however, some special circumstances that may lead your doctor to suggest that you avoid sex as a precautionary measure, including if you have a history of miscarriage or premature labour, and placenta praevia. You can find out more about circumstances in which it's usually recommended that you avoid sex here.
Obviously any sexual practices that aren't safe in normal circumstances are no safer in pregnancy.
In early pregnancy you probably won't notice any difference in which sexual positions are comfortable and which aren't. But as your bump gets bigger it will make some positions, such as the missionary position, uncomfortable or simply impractical, and you'll need to experiment a bit to find out what works for you both. Here are some ideas worth trying:
What's different about sex in pregnancy?
- Woman-on-top - This can be a good position for several reasons. Your bump isn't in the way and will have a degree of support from your partner, meaning that you don't have to take all the weight. You will be able to control the degree of penetration and the speed of movement so it's most comfortable and pleasurable for you - many women find it easier to reach orgasm in this position. What's more, the position allows for plenty of eye contact and your partner will probably appreciate the view.
- Spooning - If you lie on your side with your partner lying next to you, facing your back and entering from behind, your bump will be both supported (you can use pillows to support your bump if need be) and out of the way. The position isn't good for maintaining eye contact, but is good for allowing manual stimulation along with intercourse. Despite the lack of eye contact the position is very intimate and well-suited to loving, gentle sex.
- Perching on the bed - If you prefer a man-on-top position then try using the bed or something similar as a support. If you lie on your back with your bottom at the base or edge of the mattress your bump won't get in the way. Your partner will able to stand or kneel to enter you - it might help to prop yourself up with a cushion or two under your lower back for height. If you find it uncomfortable to lie on your back as your bump gets heavier then this position won't be for you.
- Sitting - This will also take the weight off your bump and allow you to control penetration. You can sit on your partner on the edge of the bed or on a comfortable chair, just make sure it's sturdy!
Besides accommodating the obvious bump, pregnancy involves other physical changes which can affect how sex feels for you. During pregnancy you have more blood flowing around your body and consequently more blood in your pelvic area. This increased blood can engorge your genitals, making them more sensitive and responsive. For many women this is a source of increased sexual pleasure during pregnancy, heightening the sensations of stimulation, and some women experience orgasm or multiple orgasms for the first time when pregnant. If you usually only reach orgasm through manual stimulation you may find that this changes during pregnancy. However, the same engorgement that usually increases pleasure can also give an uncomfortable sensation of fullness after sex or orgasm.
It's quite common to experience abdominal cramps during or after intercourse because orgasm releases the hormone oxytocin which stimulates contractions. This may be slightly uncomfortable, but you needn't worry that sex will stimulate labour, as your womb practices contracting throughout pregnancy and this is perfectly usual. In a normal pregnancy sex will only bring on labour contractions if labour is imminent anyway.
Changes to your breasts during pregnancy are likely to leave them more sensitive and they may at times be tender or sore. If fondling your breasts is a favoured part of foreplay for your partner then you may need to suggest that he is more gentle or avoids the area completely.
There are also non-physical changes during pregnancy that may affect how sex feels. The emotional intensity of sex may be deepened by the realisation that you are going to have a baby together, and become a family, making sex a richer and more rewarding experience. What's more, some couples may find it very liberating to make love free from the pressure to conceive or not to conceive. On the other hand, adjusting to the impending reality and responsibilities of parenthood may also throw water on your sexual fire for a while.
Will my sex drive change, and if so, how should we handle it?
The flood of pregnancy hormones, morning sickness, tiredness, emotionally adjusting to a new reality and your physically changing self can all have a strong impact on your libido. It's quite common for women to go off sex during the first trimester, as their bodies and brains adjust to being pregnant. The second trimester is often a time when women feel at their best and most energetic during pregnancy, and many experience a resurgence of interest in sex and may find it particularly pleasurable. In the third trimester, as the bump becomes more unwieldy and tiredness usually returns, it's common for interest in sex to slump. That said, every woman and pregnancy is different, and you may find you have a very different pattern of changing libido or go off sex for the entire pregnancy.
And it's not just women's sex drive that pregnancy can affect, your partner may also experience changing levels of sexual desire and even go off sex altogether. Your partner is also coping with adjusting to the new reality of becoming a father, and all the emotions that entails: He may be given a positive boost by the proof of his virility or he may struggle to come to terms with his new responsibilities.
He may also be affected by the physical changes to your body" While some men find pregnant women's more womanly shape very sexy, others may find the pregnant shape a complete turn off, or be too worried about possible effects on the baby to be comfortable with sex.
However your sexual desires fluctuate as a couple, the chances are there'll be times when you're not in synch with each other. The best way to navigate through potential problems is to make sure that you communicate as openly and honestly as possible, though it's wise to avoid hurting each other's feelings with unnecessary bluntness - now is probably not a good time to tell your pregnant partner that you find her fat, puffy and unattractive! (No time is good for that, just in case you were wondering).
If one or other of you is off sex then it's important that you use other ways of preserving the intimacy between you. It might be going out or staying in for a romantic dinner, taking a soak together in the bath, giving each other a massage or simply demonstrating affection through eye contact, cuddles and conversation: The key to maintaining a happy and rewarding love life through pregnancy is to take time for one another and be attuned to each other's needs.