The sex factor - sex and pregnancy
Pregnant and confused about whether it’s safe to have sex or not as your baby grows? Psychosexual therapist Eithne Bacuzzi talks to Karina Corbett about the dos and dont’s
Since quite a few pregnancies are planned, it’s safe to assume that a considerable amount of preparation and effort often goes into sexual activity in advance of the pregnancy in order for it to happen.
Couples who are very eager to have a baby often monitor ovulation and schedule sex to coincide with those optimum times of the month in which to conceive.
Once conception takes place, however, it’s surprising how many couples have not thought at all about the idea of having sex during pregnancy. They suddenly fi nd themselves wondering if it’s safe or even appropriate to continue to do it once a baby starts growing in the woman’s womb.
Well the good news is that, with an uncomplicated pregnancy, a woman can continue having sex right up to when her waters break. Despite some people’s worries, the baby won’t get hurt during sex, even if the partner is on top, because the thick mucus plug that seals the cervix helps guard against infection. The amniotic sac and the strong muscles of the uterus also protect the baby.
The woman should, however, check with her doctor or midwife fi rst if there are any problems with the pregnancy, or if there’s a history of cervical weakness.
Sex is advised against if the woman is experience any bleeding, abdominal pains or cramps, or a lowlying placenta. Sex during pregnancy should also be avoided if the woman’s partner has genital herpes because if she catches that for the fi rst time during pregnancy there is a small risk that it could affect the developing baby.
All things going well health-wise, when a woman’s stomach begins to grow, it is likely that sex may become uncomfortable for her. It is suggested that at this time she should experiment with different positions.
Sexual appetite during pregnancy Some women actually enjoy sex more while they are pregnant because of an increased blood flow to their pelvic region. On the other hand, there are many women who find that having sex while pregnant becomes increasingly awkward. Some lose interest in it completely as they may be suffering with morning sickness or be feeling unattractive. It is absolutely normal for a woman not to be in the mood for sex while pregnant. Huge changes are taking place in her body and it’s inevitable that this will have some impact on her sex life.
Eithne Bacuzzi is a psychosexual therapist with Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services (MRCS), an agency that provides services to those with problems in their personal relationships. She says that it’s a good idea for couples to think in advance about the sexual side of their relationship, even before pregnancy.
“I do pre-marriage courses just with the couple and myself and I always talk to them about the idea of two becoming three and the sexual aspect of that,” she explains. “I talk to them about being intimate and how there are many ways of doing this. It’s not just about penetrative sex. They can be both physically and sexually close right through the pregnancy by hugging and kissing and touching and fi nding ways around non-penetrative sex.”
Of course pregnancy is one thing, but after the baby is born there can be no doubt that this addition to the family will have some influence on any couple’s sex life – the night feeds alone would be enough to cause disruption.
According to Bacuzzi, the male in the relationship and his reaction to the new arrival can sometimes be overlooked.
“Some men can feel quite alienated or replaced when a baby arrives,” she says. “I have often heard men expressing the feeling of sort of being outside of the relationship. It can be tricky because I think a lot of women tend to embark on a love affair with the baby – there’s that closeness from breastfeeding for example – and that can separate couples a little if they don’t have a mature relationship.”
That said, she maintains that such problems need not arise if the fundamentals in the relationship are in place in advance. “I think that if the components of the relationship are there prior to pregnancy, they will get through it very easily. In an ideal world these things are all in place, but in reality they might not be. But if the couple are good friends, if they have an emotional connection, affection and they can openly talk about things, they manage to navigate through it.
“A pregnancy might show up the absence of all these things. Maybe they haven’t faced anything up to then and now they’re here with this problem and what to do with it. The fundamental thing really is communication.
“We’ve a sexual section in the premarriage courses and I would always flag this up with couples,” she continues. “I would talk to them about how they’ll feel if a baby comes along, and about the importance of staying connected sexually and sensually.”
Aside from the emotional aspect of the couple’s new dynamic, the woman also needs time to physically heal after giving birth.
When a baby is born, if there isn’t maturity within the relationship around knowledge of what you can do, then sometimes the couple go back to having sex too early,” explains Bacuzzi.
And so how soon is too soon? “It varies really,” she says. “Women go back for their check-up after six weeks and if there’s been an episiotomy people generally start to discuss it at that point. But some women might get dyspareunia, which is painful sex. I’ve come across that post-childbirth.
“And sometimes the woman is not assertive enough to say no to her partner. She feels that she can’t. I always fl ag that up with couples too – that it’s okay to say no. I’ve come across people who were ready to have sex after two weeks, but I’d wonder about that. There needs to be a lot of understanding, maturity and good communication.”
Bacuzzi stresses too that there is no need for what she calls the “all-ornothing approach”, which is the notion that there has to be actual intercourse or nothing.
“People think that they have to get together and have sex or else they don’t go near one another at all. That creates diffi culty too. They have to be a bit more creative. I always say there’s more than one way to skin a goose!”