Sex During Pregnancy: Women Tell All

Third Trimester Sex Less Frequent, but Nearly 40% of Pregnant Women Have Sex in Birth Week

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

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 desirable.
  • 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 hymen.

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 openly."

The Pauleta study appears in the February issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Goldstein is editor-in-chief of the journal.

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SOURCES: Pauleta, J.R. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, February 2010; vol 7: pp 136-142.

News release, Alvarado Hospital.

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