Sex During Pregnancy: Women Tell All
Third Trimester Sex Less Frequent, but Nearly 40% of Pregnant Women Have Sex in Birth Week
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 23, 2010 -- Sex
during pregnancy: What do women really do?
Sexual intercourse is safe throughout a normal pregnancy. That's what the experts say -- but to find out
what pregnant women really experience, why not ask the women themselves?
That's just what sex researchers Joana Rocha Pauleta, MD, and colleagues
did. They gave anonymous, structured questionnaires to 188 women who had just
given birth at Santa Maria University Hospital in Lisbon, Portugal.
Pauleta and colleagues did not interview women for whom sex during pregnancy
would have been risky: those with placenta
previa, multiple fetuses, cervical incompetence, or risk of premature labor.
Here's what they learned from the women, who ranged in age from 17 to 40
(average age 29):
- Nearly a quarter of the women had feared that vaginal intercourse would
harm their baby, but only three of the women ended up postponing
intercourse until their babies were born. Two of these three women engaged in
other forms of sexual activity.
- 80% of women reported some kind of sexual activity during their third
trimester. And, 39% reported sexual intercourse during their birth week.
- Frequency of sexual activity did not drop off for most women until their third
trimester, although about 10% said they had sex more often during their
third trimester than during their first or second.
- Nearly all of the women who were sexually active during pregnancy reported
vaginal intercourse; 38% reported oral sex (either fellatio or cunnilingus),
20% reported masturbation, and 7% reported anal intercourse.
- About 39% of women said they desired sex during pregnancy as much as they
did before they were pregnant. About a third of women said they had less sexual
desire while pregnant.
- About half of the women said sex during pregnancy was just as satisfying as
it was before. About 28% said it was less satisfying.
- 41.5% of the women said they felt less attractive or sensual while
pregnant. Yet, 75% said their partners did not find them any less
- Three-fourths of the women reported no sexual problems, but others did.
Problems included low desire, painful sex, inability to orgasm, and difficulty
in lubrication. Despite these issues, only 11% of women said they felt the need
to speak with their doctors about sex during pregnancy.
Might the women's cultural background have affected their experiences?
Almost certainly. Pauleta and colleagues note that previous studies found that
many women in Pakistan and Nigeria believe sex during pregnancy widens the vagina and makes childbirth easier, and that many women in Iran believed
sex during pregnancy would blind the child or rupture a female fetus's
In a comment on the study, Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of sexual medicine
at San Diego's Alvarado Hospital, stressed the importance of continuing sexual
intimacy during pregnancy.
"Having vaginal sex will not negatively impact a pregnancy," Goldstein said
in a news release. "However, many pregnant couples are reluctant to participate
in sexual activity as they enter the third trimester for fear of hurting the
child. It's a common misconception that needs to be addressed more often and
The Pauleta study appears in the February issue of The Journal of Sexual
Medicine. Goldstein is editor-in-chief of the journal.