The truth about having sex while you’re pregnant

Nine months would, for many people, be a long time to go without sex. Understandably, the prospect of such an extended dry spell may make the newly pregnant feel some anxiety.

So can you have sex while pregnant? Of course, according to the Mayo Clinic, so long as your doctor hasn’t advised against it due to a complication. Know that the fetus is cushioned by amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac, as well as your uterine muscles. It won’t get poked or crushed or jostled by a penis or toy or anything of that ilk—don’t worry. 

And with that, here are some answers to other commonly asked sex-during-pregnancy questions.

What you should know about sex while pregnant

When should I abstain from sex while pregnant?

Before you undertake sex during pregnancy, definitely consult a doctor rather than the internet alone. For most people, provided they aren’t experiencing complications, pregnancy sex isn’t likely to end in miscarriage or (despite what you may have learned on Friends) speed along labor.

Some things that might indicate it’s time to abstain are, according to BabyCenter.com: vaginal bleeding or unusual discharge, a dilated or shortened cervix, premature labor, a low-lying placenta encroaching on your cervix (a condition called placenta previa), the presence of untreated sexually transmitted infections, and a genital herpes outbreak, either yours or your partner’s. In any of those scenarios, speak with a healthcare provider before getting down to business.

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What about oral or anal sex while pregnant?

Of course, vaginal sex isn’t the only option: According to the Mayo Clinic, oral sex is a safe bet during pregnancy so long as your partner is very careful not to blow air into the vagina, which sounds like a good thing to avoid regardless. Apparently, it can trigger pregnancy complications serious enough to threaten the fetus’ and your existence.

Anal sex, on the other hand, is perfectly fine so long as it’s comfortable. Be cautious and don’t switch from anus to vagina without washing the penis or toy first. That can introduce infection-causing bacteria into the vagina, which is not fun when a person isn’t pregnant and becomes potentially dangerous when they are.

Hormonal and bodily changes might also mean you simply aren’t interested in sex during portions of pregnancy, which is totally fine. Breast tenderness, back pain, a general feeling of unwieldiness—these are all things that could understandably make a person feel less sexy than usual. You should have sex, while pregnant or otherwise, only when you want to.

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Can you have unprotected sex while pregnant?

Unprotected sex during pregnancy isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but the only time we can responsibly recommend abandoning a condom is when you and your partner have both been recently tested for and cleared of sexually transmitted infections, and when you’re in a mutually monogamous relationship. If there is any chance at all that your partner might have an STI, and/or if you are having sex with a new partner while pregnant, use protection. Contracting an infection while pregnant can have a number of health-threatening effects on both the mother and the fetus, and can mean that the baby is born with that infection.

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How long can you have sex while pregnant?

Personally, I am not sure if this means “for how long can a pregnant person have sex during a single sex session” (to which I would say, to completion if it feels good) or “for how long into a pregnancy is it safe to have sex.” Assuming it’s the latter, you can have sex until you go into labor, again, provided your pregnancy is free of complications. And as BabyCenter.com warns, if you do not have herpes (oral or genital) but your partner is positive, it’s advisable to abstain from sex (oral, vaginal, and anal) for the duration of the third trimester. For reference, that starts at week 28.  

What happens if you have bleeding or cramping during sex while you’re pregnant?

The American Pregnancy Association is adamant that nothing—neither tampon nor penis nor sex toy—be inserted into a bleeding vagina if its owner is pregnant. While bleeding is far from atypical during the first trimester, during the second or third, it’s cause for concern: bleeding and cramping can be signs of miscarriage or an infection.

The APA advises that, if you bleed after intercourse during the first half of pregnancy, it’s probably because of cervical tenderness, but sex should still be avoided until you’re cleared by a doctor. If you’re bleeding in the second half, consult your physician right away.

Photo via Pixabay (CC-BY)

What are the best sex positions while pregnant?

The best sex position is the most comfortable sex position, and what’s comfortable will change as the pregnancy progresses. Early on, when you haven’t yet begun or are just beginning to show, a pregnant uterus won’t be much of a barrier to any position. Parents.com advocates the intense-sounding “sit and stare”—straddle your seated partner and stare at one another’s eyeballs—for heterosexual couples, along with doggy style and side sex. Missionary and other such supine positions apparently put pressure on the aorta as the uterus expands, which could potentially restrict blood flow to the placenta and thus, oxygen to the baby. The farther along you get, the more advisable it is to have vaginal sex from the side (spooning) or behind, with the pregnant party on top or perched on the edge of a bed or a counter or a sturdy table.

Again, when it comes to matters of medical concern, doctors are always a better source of information than the internet.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance. 

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