Pregnancy

Should you have sex during pregnancy? And how much?

No matter how your partner became pregnant, this journey started with sex and you’ve probably been wondering what the sexual forecast is going to look like while your partner is pregnant and, perhaps even more concerningly, after birth too. So, are there any rules and what is the temperature between the sheets going to look like over the trimesters? Man or woman, we all want to know. In an extract from his book How To Be A Dad: The Ultimate Guide To Pregnancy, Birth and Dirty Nappies, Dr Oscar Duke gets down and dirty with the questions that everyone wants the answers to, but many are too embarrassed to ask.

First, the brilliant news is that for most couples, sex during pregnancy is completely safe. If your partner is having an uncomplicated pregnancy, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have sex as much as she – with enthusiasm from you – desires. More on that bit to come.

In some circumstances, your healthcare professionals may recommend that your partner has a period of “pelvic rest” during pregnancy – this is really medical speak for no sex. It may be that this is just for a defined time period or for the entire pregnancy, so don’t beat about the bush – ask the specifics of what is and isn’t allowed. They won’t be embarrassed to discuss it – they do it every day – so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask. Reasons that you might be advised to avoid sex include a history of previous miscarriage or premature labour, a low-lying placenta (placenta praevia) – particularly if there’s been any bleeding – or a history of cervical incompetence, where the cervix can open prematurely during the second trimester without other signs of labour, putting baby at risk of infection. So, if you’re advised to abstain from sex, follow the medics’ instructions carefully – if you aren’t, then crack on.

Pregnancy hormones affect sex drive in many ways

Even when couples have no restrictions placed on their pregnancy lovemaking, it goes without saying that being allowed to have sex is very different from actually wanting it and this is where many people come unstuck. Let’s start with your partner, because after all, if she doesn’t want to have sex, then that’s where the conversation starts, and, pretty swiftly, ends.

During the first trimester, some women find their sex drive soars. Pregnancy hormones can have an aphrodisiac-like effect and some women report a sex drive like they have never previously known. The increased blood supply to the pelvis, particularly the vagina and clitoris, can heighten sensation and arousal, so much so that some women report experiencing orgasm for the first time or significantly heightened sexual experiences compared to their non-pregnant sex. As with all sex, physical and psychological factors are as intricately entwined as the copulating couple. For those for whom the process of becoming pregnant has been challenging, with constant period-app checking and regular urinating onto ovulation sticks and a sex schedule that’s more like a bus timetable than a spontaneous gesture of love and attraction, the sheer relief of having uncalculated sex can instantly restore the passion.

So that’s one end of the spectrum and you might be thinking that this sounds ideal. But a soaring sex drive and newfound orgasms are not the norm for many pregnant women. These women report no interest in sex whatsoever, particularly during the first trimester. Add this to the other symptoms of early pregnancy – nausea, exhaustion and emotional turmoil – and you can quickly see how any sexual desire may vanish completely, no matter how much love and attraction your partner may feel towards you. The increased pelvic blood flow that improves sex for some can make other women feel uncomfortable down below during sex and further kill the sexual flame. Couples also often worry that sex during the early stages of pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage. There’s no evidence that in uncomplicated pregnancies having sex will cause your partner to miscarry.

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There’s really no way of telling which way things are going to go and, like most of pregnancy, it’s a rollercoaster that can change quickly with time. So, hold tight and communicate carefully. The good news is that for many, the arrival of the second trimester brings significant changes and sexual desires return once more.

It’s perfectly normal to have your own concerns

While your partner may or may not be wanting to have sex, there’s a huge misconception that as men, we are always “up for it”. It’s very common for male partners of pregnant women to have concerns about sex during pregnancy. And no, this isn’t normally related to your partner’s ever-changing body shape. While any change can take some getting used to, many men find the physical changes of pregnancy highly attractive. In fact, it’s often the woman herself who, despite heaps of reassurance, may be feeling insecure or lacking in confidence as a result of the changes her body is going through. For most men, reluctance arises from the psychological impact of having sex with a pregnant partner and, as we know all too well, anxiety does nothing for erections or libido.

Let’s dispel some of the concerns that may be weighing rather too heavily on your mind. First up, if you’ve been given the green light for sex, or rather not been told to hold off, you’re not going to cause any harm to your unborn child. Dads often ask about the potential for them to cause physical damage to the baby during sex. “Will I be ‘hitting’ my baby when I’m having sex,” or, “Am I damaging its head?” Remember, your baby is safely contained within the tough membranes of the amniotic sac, which in turn is protected by the muscular wall of the uterus. Your penis will only ever remain within the vagina – no matter how big it may or may not be – and it cannot enter the uterus or damage baby in any way.

Many men report a strange feeling, or psychological concern, that having sex with somebody who is pregnant feels somehow different. It may be the thought of their offspring “knowing” what’s going on, or the thought that the baby might be in some way “watching”, that men find a turn-off. This is of course not the case. Your unborn child is blissfully unaware of what is going on as they reside snugly inside your partner’s uterus. Be careful with anxieties such as this as pregnant women can mistake your reluctance for lack of interest due to her changing physical appearance. Careful reassurance and frank discussion about any concerns you may have about sex during pregnancy will help to break this potentially destructive cycle. If you are able to share all of your concerns as a couple in an open and fun way, you’ll find the romance soon returns.

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In the later stages of pregnancy, many dads worry that sex may bring on early labour. This myth isn’t helped by the common advice given to couples as the due date approaches to have sex to help speed things along. Semen contains the hormone prostaglandin, which, in very high doses – much greater than the small amount contained in semen – can be used by your healthcare team to bring on, or “induce”, labour. There’s no evidence to suggest that sex will bring on labour before the body is naturally ready to start the process, so another unfounded worry dispelled. For uncomplicated pregnancies, sexy time won’t bring on baby time – relax.