Sex Q&A

Sex Question Friday: Is It Safe To Have Sex During Pregnancy?

November 16, 2012 by Justin Lehmiller

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader of the blog who wanted to know whether it is safe for women to have sex during pregnancy and, if so, how often it is okay to do it.

If a woman is pregnant, how often can she have sex until she can’t anymore? And does the penis poke the baby or placenta and possibly cause complications or damage?

These are exceptionally common questions among pregnant women, and I thank you for taking the time to ask them. Let’s first address the issue of potential harm. Research has found that concern about hurting the baby is actually the most common sexual problem reported during pregnancy, with 25-50% of women and 25% of their male partners worrying about this [1]. These fears have the effect of decreasing sexual interest and activity, as well as reducing sexual enjoyment for both partners. However, concern that sex will harm the baby’s health is unfounded. It is an urban myth that the fetus will be poked in the eye or otherwise traumatized if the parents have intercourse. Also, no scientific studies have found a link between frequency of sexual activity/orgasm and premature birth or other such complications. The reality is that as long as both partners are healthy and the pregnancy is not high-risk, it is usually safe to have sex.

As for the question of when and how often sex is possible, a review of 59 studies on this topic found that sexual activity patterns usually remain unchanged during the first trimester, become highly variable during the second, and drop significantly during the third [1]. It appears that the vast majority of couples are still having intercourse up until about the seventh month, and about one-third have 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 as the pregnancy progresses because women typically report that sex becomes less enjoyable. For instance, consider that 75-84% of women report enjoying intercourse during the second trimester, but this number drops to 40-41% in the third trimester [1]. This drop in satisfaction is attributable to pain during intercourse, difficulty finding a comfortable position, and changes in perceived attractiveness.

In order to increase sexual enjoyment during pregnancy, it is advisable to try different sexual positions. In particular, most pregnant women find the “female superior” (i.e., woman-on-top) and side-by-side (i.e., “spoon”) positions most comfortable. Also, some pregnant women prefer activities other than intercourse (e.g., clitoral stimulation, breast stimulation, oral sex). Thus, intercourse should not be viewed as the only option for being sexual during those nine months.

In short, sex throughout the entire pregnancy is generally safe–so relax and feel free to be intimate with your partner.

For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here. Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.

[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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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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