During pregnancy - sex and STIs

Sex during pregnancy

Pregnancy can be a great experience, but it can also put a great deal of pressure on your body. As you support your growing baby, it’s important you look after your own physical and mental health. Some people want to have more sex during pregnancy, while others may prefer to have less or none at all. It’s up to you to decide what’s right for you.

It is safe to have sex during pregnancy. Your partner's penis or fingers (or sex toys) can't penetrate beyond your vagina and can’t damage the baby.

However, there may be other reasons during pregnancy for not wanting to have sex:

  • Many people experience nausea or ‘morning sickness’ in early pregnancy. This can range from feeling queasy to vomiting (though this is less common). For most people, this will only last a few weeks
  • Some people find pregnancy very uncomfortable, particularly in the later stages. Back pain and pelvic girdle pain (PGP) are common in pregnancy and can make it difficult to sit or lie in certain positions. Your midwife should be able to tell you where you can access physiotherapy or acupuncture to help relieve pain during pregnancy. Light exercise, such as yoga, swimming or antenatal massage can also help, though you should always tell your practitioner that you are pregnant before you begin.
  • Later in pregnancy, sex or orgasms can set off contractions (known as Braxton Hicks contractions). If this happens, you'll feel the muscles of your womb (uterus) go hard. This is normal. If it feels uncomfortable, try relaxation techniques or just lie quietly until the contractions pass.
  • Some people people experience lethargy or depression during pregnancy, which may affect their desire to have sex.

It is normal for your sex drive to change during pregnancy and in the weeks after giving birth. Some couples find having sex very enjoyable during pregnancy, while others prefer not to have sex at all. Don't worry about this - talk with your partner. Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you want to have sex or be intimate with your partner during pregnancy. The most important thing is that you look after your physical and mental health.

If you are experiencing feelings of sadness or worry during your pregnancy, whether about your libido or more generally, get in touch with your GP or midwife.

Getting tested for STIs

If you find out you are pregnant, and you have any reason to believe you or your partner may have an STI, it is important that you get tested as soon as possible. This is because there is some risk of STIs passing to your baby if an infection is present at childbirth.

You'll be offered a confidential HIV test as part of your routine antenatal care. Your midwife or doctor will discuss this with you, and counselling will be available if the result is positive.

Also, some STIs such as genital herpes and genital warts can re-occur during pregnancy. If this happens you don't need to worry; the symptoms can be managed during pregnancy and will not harm the baby. If you have genital ulcers at the time of delivery, your midwife or obstetrician may consider a cesarean section so as to prevent transmission of genital herpes to the baby. It is important to let your midwife know if you have had herpes in the past.

If you think you are at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you should continue to use condoms during sex to protect you and your baby.

Find out more about STI testing.