The idea of sex continuing throughout pregnancy is a relatively new notion. But while the sex itself can be wonderful, the fear of inducing childbirth left Robert Brady feeling spooked
Sex-wise, my wife and I have never found pregnancy a problem, and this pregnancy has been no exception. Indeed, approaching the seven-month mark, the sex had actually been nearing some kind of zenith, with regular orgasms for both parties and no hint of my desire waning as the pregnant lady’s waist-line expanded. I am not sure if it’s unusual, but I found all the fecundity – the swollen belly, the enormous boobs – rather arousing.
I suppose I should have known it was too good to last.
Although all the books say it’s totally fine to keep going at it with reckless abandon throughout pregnancy, I don’t think there’s a man out there who doesn’t feel slightly nervous about the prospect of somehow – how can I put this delicately? – bumping his baby’s head during a bout of lovemaking. It becomes particularly prevalent in your mind when you get to the phase of the pregnancy where you are convinced you can actually see arms, legs and a head moving about out under your wife’s skin. Pregnancy certainly lends itself to a certain gingerness when it comes to the more kinetic elements of intercourse.
In fact, the idea that sex should continue unabated during pregnancy is actually a relatively new notion. Historically, having sex during pregnancy was not thought to be a good idea at all. Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall has Henry VIII sleeping with Mary Boleyn while her sister Anne is pregnant for fear of harming the baby (although maybe that was just his story). Many tribal societies prohibited sex during pregnancy (although in Medieval times, some sex manuals did apparently contain guides on the ‘safer’ positions, allowing that while having sex when pregnant wasn’t ideal, it was important for wives to continue to offer sex to try and stop their menfolk from cheating).
We carried on having sex more or less as normal (just with a minimum of thrusting). One odd and rather pleasant surprise was that my wife actually found that during pregnancy her orgasms became more intense. We blithely assumed this was a good thing, until one particularly mind-blowing orgasm led her to feeling a bit strange. For several minutes, she had to lie on the bed while breathing more deeply than usual and waiting for the baby to stop moving around quite so furiously.
I made the mistake of googling ‘sex during pregnancy’ – which was how I came to discover the terrifying fact that while the presence of a penis in the vagina may not be harmful to pregnant ladies or their unborn children, male sperm and the female orgasm both contain hormones that a woman produces when she is about to give birth. For this reason, some people believe that orgasm and sex can actually trigger premature labour.
They are, it must be said, refuted by the vast majority of professionals and by the medical evidence. One of the largest studies ever undertaken (and published by the Lancet in 1981) quizzed 10,981 low-risk mothers and found that, “Preterm delivery was no more frequent in those having intercourse than in those abstaining.”
But maybe they just weren’t having mind-blowing orgasms?
I spoke to the obstetrician Michel Odent, who is credited with introducing birthing pools into hospitals, and delivered his first baby in a Paris hospital in 1953 and still delivers babies in London today. He is best known in medical circles for being the author of the first articles about the importance of the initiation of breastfeeding during the hour following birth, believes men should be somewhere with a cigar far from the delivery room during childbirth, and is a reliably contrary voice when it comes to medical orthodoxy.
He told me that while it has not been scientifically demonstrated that orgasm – as opposed to sex – can trigger childbirth, it is theoretically ‘certain’ that the female orgasm releases oxytocin (a hormone that is involved in triggering labour) and sperm contains prostoglandins (which are also believed to be instrumental in inducing labour), so female orgasm “might be a risk factor for premature birth.”
That was enough for me. There is now a sex ban in effect until a week or two before the due date. My wife says its like living with Henry VIII.
I replied that, in that case, she’s lucky she doesn’t have a sister.