“With pregnancy, things have been really different. Because there’s this huge bulge that can be sensitive if you lay on it or go into a new position,” Graham explained. “I’ve been literally asking every single one of my friends who have had babies or who’re pregnant, like, ‘What positions do you guys do?’ This has to be a normal conversation among mothers.”
Although Graham eased into this topic without resistance, a lot of people still feel discomfort around the idea of having sex while pregnant.
This is either because of the stigma that the baby could somehow be injured during intercourse, or because the pregnant partner finds sex to be uncomfortable. There is little conclusive evidence that having sex at any stage of pregnancy can hurt the baby, but there are some things to be aware of.
According to a 2011 study from the University of Toronto about sex during pregnancy, there are a few risk factors that can make things complicated in the pre-birth bedroom. For example, someone with placenta previa (a condition that causes the placenta to sit lower in the uterus) could risk hemorrhaging from penetrative sex, and those folks are typically told to completely abstain. While even the smallest risk to the baby can make couples repel from sex during pregnancy, it’s important to understand that potential negative outcomes — which generally only affect at-risk pregnancies — do not outweigh the benefits sex can bring to pregnant people.
Regina Adewunmi, a doula in Brooklyn, New York, leads discussions about sex, periods, birth and everything in between, both with her doula clients and with folks who attend her monthly series called T3 (which stands for Tacos, Tequila, Tampons). Adewunmi says that sex is a great thing during pregnancy. “For healthy pregnancies, it’s actually safe and good to have sex throughout your entire pregnancy,” she tells O.school, adding that this is a topic that comes up often with her birth clients.
“Most [people] in the first trimester, if they are feeling sick, they’re less likely to want to have sex,” Adewunmi says. “The second trimester is when you’re feeling a lot better, so a lot of times that libido goes up a little bit.” She also notes that it’s the third trimester when things get interesting. Despite bodies rapidly changing and bellies growing uncomfortably large, Adewunmi says the third-trimester libido is the highest. “I think that’s also nature, too,” she adds, explaining that if you’re having penetrative sex with a partner who has a penis, semen is the perfect stuff to ripen a cervix as delivery draws near. Semen contains prostaglandins, which has the natural ability to relax tissue and can help with “getting the cervix open and preparing for the baby to come.” While there’s no evidence that it can induce labor, a soft cervix can be helpful for the process.
Risk factors and medical research aside, what stands to be the biggest sexual barrier between pregnant couples is the emotional side of intimacy.
“A lot of people, when their partner is pregnant, are extremely attracted to that, it’s like a fetish for them,” Adewunmi says. “But more often than not, [some folks] have a fear of hurting the baby or don’t feel physically attracted to their partner during pregnancy.” Mismatched desires between a couple can be a difficult situation to manage, but Adewunmi says it’s just a matter of meeting in the middle. “This has to be worked through between the partners,” she explains, adding that changing perspectives can lead to finding a happy medium. For example, instead of vaginal intercourse, other forms of sexual intimacy can help partners meet each other where they are.
If all else fails, Adewunmi says there’s always self-pleasure but clarifies that — with all, that’s happening inside the parent-to-be — intimacy should remain a huge part of the process. What’s most important is that people find their voices to express what they need. Whether that’s a romp in the sack or a foot rub, a willing partner is good for the baby.