There are many things about the female body that are taboo, and now at 20 weeks pregnant I can add to that list stuff specific to pregnancy. Sex is definitely high on that list along with the very mention of the word vagina. There’s plenty of factual and medical information, as well as hints and tips, available online when you google such things as “morning sickness”. However, even in forums I’ve found mothers-to-be can often be reluctant when talking about particular issues they are experiencing.
My first experience of the taboos surrounding pregnancy came from the reactions of some of my older relatives to how I announced my pregnancy online. Not one to shy from the gritty truth of reality, I posted that in January I would be “squeezing a tiny human from my vagina”. Whilst this is medically accurate, this offended some, to which my response was that vagina is not a dirty word and the stork isn’t real. Nonetheless, I was surprised by this response from women who themselves had given birth to several children. Although I think in part that perhaps this is a generational thing, I believe there is still a massive taboo surrounding the human body and its functions including pregnancy and everything that goes with it. Somewhere along the line women are taught that it is a magical experience and that the delivery suite will be a place of revelation into their deepest feelings, and possibly full of unicorns to witness the birth. I prefer to acknowledge the facts of pregnancy and birth: that indeed a small human will be expelled painfully from my vagina in a few short months. It’s scary, it’s exciting and it’s certainly something people shouldn’t be prudish about, but in a society where women are still shamed for breastfeeding their children in public by both men and women, it’s not such a surprise.
Of all the taboos I’ve encountered so far, the issue of sex during pregnancy has been the most interesting and sort of hilarious. Again, there is plenty of advice online regarding sex during pregnancy including whether it is safe, the most comfortable positions with a growing bump and the sort of relationships to sex pregnant women can have (for example some go off it and others become horny). But this information is most commonly presented in a rigid way, with a medical focus. For example, the first page or two of a Google search turns up with many posts entitled “is it safe to have sex whilst pregnant” or similar. I’m not expecting porn and some sites treat it with a little more of a human touch but it often feels far from reality.
As far as the basics go, this is perhaps good and reassuring information for women wondering why they have a decreased or increased libido. Go a few pages into the search and you can find the experiences of celebrity couples, which personally I passed due to my general lack of interest in Kimye. Beyond that you need to rely on forums for further information from those going through it, and again they can be very modest.
“It’s perfectly safe to have sex during pregnancy. Your partner’s penis can’t penetrate beyond your vagina, and the baby cannot tell what’s going on.”
I’m going to level with you, this has been a frustrating time for me personally. I understand from these websites that my increased libido is perfectly normal, though rarely do they go into the practicalities of it beyond useful tips or positions. Not only do they normally focus on exclusively heterosexual couples, they also fail to mention your sexual partner; how do they feel about sex with a pregnant woman? For that I guess we have to rely on movies such as Knocked Up to give us the bigger sexual picture (at least for those with male partners) and I managed to find this one link amongst the thousands.
“You may have to experiment to find the positions that are best for you. Finding a comfortable position for intercourse becomes more of a challenge as your belly grows.”
But here’s my issue: terrible, ongoing, all day and night, debilitating morning sickness for the last four months! The mechanics of pregnancy in the real world can involve varying degrees of sickness, diarrhoea, constipation, exhaustion, backache, headaches, migraines, snuffly nose and on top of that a slightly less than par immune system that can allow in all sorts of bugs. Satisfying an increased libido when you can barely get out of bed in the mornings, or any other time of day, is a challenge in itself. Not only do you feel too unwell for any kind of shenanigans, but it’s fair to say that sex with a sick person isn’t very appealing to the other party involved. To be fair, chances of self-satisfaction are also pretty low; masturbating whilst sick is not really much fun.
“Self-pleasuring, conventional sex and less vanilla sexual activities can be perfectly safe while you’re pregnant.”
The best you can hope for is a reprieve in the sickness, that between feeling sick on the Friday morning and feeling lousy with constipation by Saturday evening, topped off by a migraine on the Sunday, you can find the time to be intimate with your partner. When you do, it might not always be the experience you’re expecting. When this situation arose for my husband and myself, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing uncontrollably. By this point, I have a little bump that is sort of obstructively in the way and perhaps it was the sex starvation that made this seem hysterical to me. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to bring on another migraine, even well past the point that it stopped actually being funny.
Finally, copulation was achieved, like a long anticipated event on a zoo’s conservation programme. I went from hysterical laughter, through bliss, to desperately needing to pee. Given the proximity of the bladder to the reproductive centre, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that within moments of orgasm I needed to pee like I’ve never peed before. At one point I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it from the bedroom to the bathroom (thankfully I did).
Along with many other things during pregnancy, I wasn’t really prepared for that. There have been a lot of unexpected things that have come along with the process. As a fairly upfront person, I have no problem sharing my experiences of pregnancy with friends who are mothers and non-mothers alike, the latter appear to be learning quite a bit from me (and only a couple of them have been put off pregnancy). Although I would hate to put anyone off, I think it is interesting how unprepared we are in the modern, post-Victorian, world for a lot of the nuances of pregnancy. As a previous student of Anthropology and Archaeology, I can imagine our ancestors guiding their younger friends and relatives through the process: constipation, sickness and hysterical sex included. Somewhere over the centuries, it has become another thing we don’t talk about, at a time that can be full of anxiety and uncertainty for new mothers-to-be in need of reassurance.
As with all taboos surrounding the female body, we should be pushing ourselves to be more upfront, if we feel comfortable to be so, and break down the barriers of prudishness. We should share our experiences with the knowledge that there is nothing shameful in it. This most certainly applies to sex during pregnancy, and really to sex in general, without which I wouldn’t be in this position to begin with!
Author of Bristol-set, gritty British urban fantasy come classic Gothic horror – About the Nature of the Creature. L.E. Turner can also be found blogging about her nerd interests, feminism and equal representation in film and other media. Currently expecting a baby in January 2016, she has found she has a lot to say on the nuances of pregnancy including the taboos of the human body and feminism from the mum-to-be perspective.