In my Human Sexuality class at the University of Florida, students can choose to complete a Psychology Today style blog for their project. I then choose the top five blogs, and the students vote on their favorite, with the winner given the option of having me edit and then publish his or her blog on this site. This is the winning blog from my Fall 2012 class.
The author of this blog on sex during pregnancy is Catherine Klein, a junior at UF.
What to expect sexually when you are expecting, is somewhat taboo discussion for many pregnant women and their doctors. Ironic—because the pregnancy wouldn’t have occurred without the coveted act of sexual intercourse, so why avoid the topic now? According to one study, only 29% of pregnant women discussed the topic of sex during pregnancy with their doctor.
Almost half of these women had been the ones to initiate the discussion with their doctor, despite a sizeable percentage feeling uncomfortable doing so. Perhaps most alarming is the finding from this study that the vast majority (76%) of women who had not discussed the topic of sex during pregnancy with their doctor felt that the topic should be discussed.
Silence between doctors and patients on the topic of sex during pregnancy leads to a number of myths remaining unchallenged. As stated by the authors of the aforementioned study, there is a great need to “dispel such myths and reassure the women and their partners.”
Myth number 1: Your sexual attractiveness will decrease during pregnancy. According to a researcher who compiled the results of 59 studies, by the third trimester, 4 – 20% of women worry that they are unattractive. However, a more recent study found the vast majority of pregnant women believe that their partner’s attraction for them during pregnancy either stays constant or even increases. There are clearly individual differences among women in how they react to their bodily changes during pregnancy; some women embrace and celebrate their pregnant bodies—sexually and otherwise--while others are in shock and dismay concerning the changes. For those suffering with feeling unattractive during pregnancy, the US Department of Health and Human services offers some sound advice.
Myth number 2: You won’t want to have sex during pregnancy. As is the case with body-image and pregnancy, there are vast individual differences, and not all women experience diminished sexual desire during pregnancy. In one study, 58% of pregnant women said their desire decreased, but 29% said their desire stayed the same and 14% said their desire increase. Perhaps pregnancy would be an ideal time for women to embrace the idea of receptive desire, or the notion that one doesn’t’ have to feel horny to have sex, but instead can have sex to get horny. As explained in a prior blog, while the research tells us that many women in long-term relationships stop feeling spontaneously horny, most women don't know that this is normal. For those women whose sexual desire decreases during pregnancy, embracing the notion of receptive sexual desire could be quite helpful.
Myth #3: The most commonplace myth and fear among pregnant women and their partners is that intercourse will harm the fetus. A recent study found that 49% of pregnant women worry that sexual intercourse may harm the pregnancy, and 55% of pregnant women say that their partners worry about this. This worry is depicted in the media in the popular comedy, Knocked Up. As the pregnant couple engages in intercourse the male exclaims, “I’m going to crush the baby, I know it…all I see is our baby getting poked in the face by my penis.”
However, according to a researcher who compiled the results of 59 studies, intercourse during pregnancy does not harm the fetus unless there are specific risk factors. Robin Weiss emphasizes the same point, listing such risk factors as Placenta previa, history of premature birth, and sexually transmitted infection of one’s partner. Clearly, both the lack of harm for most women, and the exceptions to this rule, are important reasons for pregnant women to talk to their doctors—and for doctors to talk to pregnant women—about sexual intercourse during pregnancy.
Ideally, such conversations would not only inform pregnant women of the lack of harm to the fetus in most circumstances, but would also tell women of the benefits of intercourse during pregnancy. Dr. Myrtle at A Woman’s Touch explains these benefits, including for example, lessening of some of the aches and pains associated with pregnancy, and toning pelvic floor muscles which can help women with vaginal deliveries and post-birth recovery.
Other information pregnant women and their partners would benefit from having includes what to expect during intercourse, and ways to make it more pleasurable. In a recent study, some problems pregnant women encountered during intercourse were bleeding (13%), pain/soreness in the vagina (22%), abdominal cramping (18%), vaginal infections (9%) and loss of urine (9%). The most common problem encountered was a change in vaginal lubrication (22%); while some women have an increase in lubrication during pregnancy, those with decreased lubrication can use a lubricant. Dr. Myrtle specifically addresses the safety of lubricants (and sex toys) during pregnancy, even citing a few organic products. While lubricants can enhance sexual intercourse, during pregnancy and beyond, so too can the use of different positions. Robin Weiss recommends a variety of positions to accommodate a larger front-side during pregnancy, including a spooning or woman on top position. Finally, many experts (including Dr. Myrtle) remind women and their partners that intercourse is not the only form of sexual activity that can be enjoyed during pregnancy.
Considering that a baby is about to enter the picture, the 9-months of pregnancy are perhaps the last months for a long time to engage in spontaneous, baby-free sex! Enjoy these months, and most important, talk to your doctor without shame! Speak with your doctor about your sexuality as often as you need to—doing so may help you let go of myths and anxiety, and enjoy your last months of uninterrupted sex!