Pelvic Rest and Sex During Pregnancy

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Pelvic rest is a term used in obstetrics to indicate that a pregnant person has been told to avoid sexual activity during pregnancy. Technically speaking, it means that a person should not have anything inserted into their vagina. Often times, doctors use the phrase as a fancy way to say don’t have sex.

There are several reasons your doctor might advise pelvic rest. You should clarify exactly what your doctor means when referring to sexual activity if they bring up the subject or make the recommendation.

What Is Pelvic Rest?

When trying to decide exactly what pelvic rest means, it is important to be clear with your health care provider and ask specific questions. People may interpret "avoid sex" differently depending on what they consider sex to be.

Some of the questions you need to ask about having sex during your pregnancy might make you feel out of your comfort zone. It can help to remind yourself that your provider is experienced and is there to help you. Chances are, even your most embarrassing question is one they have heard many times before.

How You Define Sex

What one person considers sex is not the same as what someone else thinks sex means. People sometimes think that "having sex" only refers to intercourse when a penis is inserted into a vagina, but there are many ways people can have sex.

What "having sex" means to you will be important to clarify when you are talking to your doctor about pelvic rest, as some forms of sex that you practice might be OK while others you might need to avoid.

Common types of sex include:

  • Genital rubbing ("dry humping")
  • Hand-to-genital contact (fingering or "handjobs")
  • Mouth-to-genital contact (oral sex)
  • Penis-in-anus (anal sex)
  • Penis-in-vagina (vaginal intercourse)
  • Touching your own genitals, having a partner touch your genitals, or using a device like a vibrator to stimulate your genitals (masturbation)

When talking to your doctor, you might want to know if pelvic rest means avoidance of vaginal intercourse only or if it also includes oral or anal sex. You might also want to ask if pelvic rest means that you need to stop masturbating or using a vibrator.

Your health care provider might ask you to avoid orgasm and genital stimulation during pregnancy, which can include nipple stimulation.

These are reasonable and responsible questions that will empower you to protect your health and the health of your baby. Asking direct questions will help you get clear answers.

Keep in mind that even if you’ve been advised to avoid sex during your pregnancy, there are still many ways for you to experience pleasure and express love with (and without) a partner.

Conditions That May Warrant Pelvic Rest

There are several different reasons that your healthcare provider may recommend pelvic rest during your pregnancy. These are some of the most common concerns.

Bleeding or Spotting

Bleeding or spotting during pregnancy is a red flag symptom—whether it is related to sexual activity or not. If you notice any bleeding or spotting, let your health care provider know right away. If you have bleeding or spotting, your doctor will likely want you to come in for an exam. They might also run tests to figure out what is causing the bleeding and provide the appropriate treatment.

If you experience any bleeding or spotting during your pregnancy, it is a red flag that you need to report to your health care provider immediately.

Sometimes bleeding during pregnancy is considered active bleeding. The blood is usually more red than brown. A few examples of the possible causes for this type of bleeding include:

  • Cervical polyp infection
  • Dilation of cervix
  • Placental abruption
  • Placenta previa
  • Subchorionic hemorrhage
  • Threatened miscarriage
  • Vanishing twin

Spotting can also be older blood. It might be that you are passing blood from a prior resolved condition that is just now leaving the body. Older blood is usually more rust or brown in color.

If you have bleeding or spotting at the beginning of pregnancy that resolves later in the pregnancy, your doctor might adjust the need for pelvic rest.

History of Preterm Labor

A history of preterm labor might indicate that pelvic rest is warranted. Your provider might want you to restrict sexual activity. If you have a history of preterm labor or have had pelvic rest restrictions in previous pregnancies, it might be something you want to discuss with your provider and your partner—possibly even before you get pregnant.

Current Preterm Labor

If you are currently experiencing preterm labor, the situation will be different than if you simply have a history of the condition. You should not engage in any form of sexual activity if you are in preterm labor.

Certain people are at a higher risk for preterm labor, such as people who are carrying more than one baby, people who have had problems with their cervix, or people who smoke while they are pregnant.

Discuss the signs and symptoms of preterm labor with your provider. Having this information will empower you to take action and get treatment as soon as possible should any of the signs arise.

Shortened Cervix

Some people have issues with their cervix that can warrant a recommendation for pelvic rest. These issues might be referred to as a shortened or short cervix.

For example, a condition called incompetent cervix sometimes necessitates a procedure called a cerclage where the cervix is stitched to prevent early birth. If you have had a history of incompetent cervix and are planning a cerclage, you will want to ask your provider about pelvic rest.

Other causes of shortened cervix produce no symptoms and are only noticed as an accidental finding during a routine ultrasound. In this case, your provider might not require pelvic rest. If you know you have a shortened cervix, discuss what it will mean for any pregnancy restrictions with your partner and provider.

Placental Conditions

If you have placental conditions such as placenta previa, your provider might ask you to restrict sexual activity in pregnancy. Having an orgasm can stimulate uterine contractions, which might cause bleeding if the cervix begins to open even slightly.

You might also be advised to avoid putting anything into your vagina, engaging in strenuous activity (which, in addition to sex, can include things like heavy lifting), or standing for long periods of time. These activities may cause bleeding and is linked to an increased likelihood of preterm birth.

A Word From Verywell

If your health care provider expresses concerns about your placenta or any other aspect of your pregnancy, make sure to ask them if you need to be on pelvic rest. It will be helpful for you to clarify with them what activities are allowed and which are not, as the definition of sex is different for everyone. Asking direct questions will help you get clear and actionable answers from your provider that will empower you to have a healthy pregnancy.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jones C, Chan C, Farine D. Sex in Pregnancy. CMAJ. 2011;183(7):815-818. doi:10.1503/cmaj.091580

Additional Reading

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.