Expert answers to your embarrassing questions about sex during pregnancy.
There are lots of things happening to your body during pregnancy that you might find embarrassing—especially when it comes time to have sex. But doing the baby dance is how you got pregnant in the first place, so there's nothing to be ashamed of. Here, some experts answer a few of the questions you might feel awkward asking your own doctor.
Can I still receive oral sex? Since pregnant women's blood vessels are more dilated, getting an air embolism (air in the bloodstream) if your partner blows into your vagina is a theoretical concern. "But since when does a partner have to blow air into the vagina during oral sex?" says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., author of A Woman's Guide to Sexual Health (Yale University Press, 2004) and a professor at Yale University School of Medicine.
On the other hand, a real concern is herpes. "If your partner has an oral sore, it can transmit herpes to the vaginal area, and pregnant women with no previous exposure to herpes are more susceptible to new infections," says Caitlin Fiss, M.D., an attending OB-GYN at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. Herpes can be transmitted to the baby during labor and birth via contact with an active lesion, and in rare cases, moms who have a first-time herpes infection during the first trimester can transmit the infection to the fetus across the placenta. A herpes outbreak in the second or third trimester can lead to preterm labor.
Will the baby feel us having sex? And are any intercourse positions dangerous to the baby? "Your baby is not neurologically capable of figuring out that you're having sex and is well-cushioned by the amniotic fluid," Minkin says. He might feel a gentle bouncing but is in no danger. "If you feel well enough to have sex and are having a normal pregnancy, enjoy!" Minkin adds. In certain situations—for example, your water has broken, your cervix is dilated or you have premature contractions—your doctor may advise against having sex.
No position is dangerous for the baby, but some may be uncomfortable for you. Standing or lying on your side are usually good options as your pregnancy progresses. "The missionary position might restrict blood flow to the vena cava and placenta, but as long as you're not having sex lying on your back for more than 20 to 30 minutes, it's fine," Fiss says. "Make sure to stop if you feel short of breath or lightheaded."
Will my orgasm induce preterm labor? "We don't know what exactly causes labor, but in a normal pregnancy, having an orgasm is not dangerous and will not induce preterm labor," Minkin says. If you are at risk for preterm labor, are carrying twins or had a previous preterm birth, you will probably be told not to have sex. Although engaging in sex won't induce labor, having an orgasm might stimulate contractions. "When a woman is past her due date and has not gone into labor, we tell her to go home and have sex," Minkin says. "We know that prostaglandin in semen might help induce labor." Does it work? Maybe. But it might be fun to find out.
Is it safe to use a personal lubricant? Sure. Using lube won't harm your baby, but you probably won't need it. High estrogen levels during pregnancy mean your vagina often feels moist, and you'll notice a lot of discharge—so much so that some women think they have vaginitis. If you breastfeed after your baby is born, that might be the time to use a glycerin-based lube like KY or Astroglide. "Women who breastfeed might experience a dry vagina," Minkin says. "The prolactin released in the body to stimulate milk production lowers estrogen levels, which leads to less vaginal secretion."
Now that I am pregnant I find it hard to achieve orgasm—am I normal? "All women react differently, but there are many more hormones in the body during pregnancy, which should actually make it easier for them to have orgasms," Fiss says. "Also, your vagina is engorged with blood and is more sensitive, so that can help you climax." However, sometimes pregnant women feel awkward about their new body or are anxious that sex will hurt the baby. This may prevent them from having an orgasm as easily as they did in the past, but there is no physiological reason it should not happen.
Can we use sex toys? "Yes, but stick with ones that provide external stimulation only," Fiss says. "A pregnant woman is more prone to infection and her cervix is more friable [bleeds more easily], so don't insert any foreign object into the vagina."