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Communication, open mind key to sexual intimacy during pregnancy

Debby Herbenick is associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in Indiana University Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and a sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute for Rearch in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. A researcher and highly sought after educator, Herbenick has appeared on national television and her columns are read in newspapers and magazines nationwide. She will write periodically about sexual health topics for Active for Life, offering a Mother's Day-themed column for this issue, where she provides information about sexual intimacy during pregnancy. Herbenick can answer your sexual health questions at http://www.kinseyconfidential.org/blog/ and you can visit her blog at http://www.mysexprofessor.com/.

Debby Herbenick

Debby Herbenick

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When I think of spring, I think of sunshine, daffodils and, yes, babies. Of course, being a sexual health researcher and educator, I also think about the numerous women who have questions about sexual intimacy during pregnancy. Questions such as, "Is it safe to have sex when I'm pregnant?" and "Is it true that sex can hasten labor?" are both common and important.

Women who are pregnant and who have questions about health and safety issues should always check in first with their healthcare provider. Although most women are able to have sex throughout their pregnancy, some women who have high risk pregnancies, or who have a history of miscarriage, may be advised differently by their healthcare provider. Though every woman -- and every pregnancy -- is unique, here are some basic tips for women who have been told they can safely have sex during pregnancy.

Communicate

In pregnancy -- perhaps more than other times -- with moods changing as quickly (and often as deeply) as one's hormones, a woman and her partner need to tell each other when they just need to blow off steam versus when they really have an issue that needs to be discussed. And when it comes to sex, like other areas of a relationship, it absolutely is OK to have different needs and desires, or to want to experience sex in different ways. A woman's partner probably has different feelings about sex too, such as anxieties about becoming a parent or concerns about hurting the baby during sex. All of this may be taking its toll on either partner's sex drive. The more that a woman and her partner can talk to and reassure each other, the more they can help to maintain their relationship.

Be open to different positions

There is no one position that will work for everyone and much of this will be trial and error. A key, of course, is to keep weight and pressure off of the belly. Missionary position, over time, becomes uncomfortable if not impossible for many pregnant women. Side entry is often comfortable as may be rear entry, with the woman supporting herself on her knees and her elbows, and making comfortable room for her growing belly. Though some feel that sex during late pregnancy can help encourage a woman going into labor, the research is mixed on this idea -- and so far, we have no conclusive reason to believe that third trimester sex will induce labor. However, if a woman's doctor has said that it's safe for her to have sex during late pregnancy, and she and her partner want to do so, then by all means, they should enjoy themselves.

Careful down there

Many women continue to enjoy oral sex during pregnancy. Others, however, have reason to be particularly careful. Some women find that they are prone to frequent yeast infections while pregnant. In this case, a woman might want to reduce the frequency of receiving oral sex or else she might want to use a latex dental dam to keep her partner's saliva away from her vulva (not all women prone to yeast infections notice a connection between oral sex and the infections). Also, if a woman's partner has a history of cold sores (oral herpes), then the partner should be particularly careful about performing oral sex on her during pregnancy -- either abstaining completely, abstaining during or just before outbreaks, or using a latex dental dam to reduce the risk of transmission. In addition, women who are at risk for sexually transmissible infections (STI) -- in other words, women who are having sex with an infected partner, or a partner who has other partners -- should either abstain from vaginal, oral or anal sex with that partner or protect themselves (and their baby) the best that they can through the use of condoms (for vaginal sex, anal sex or fellatio) or dental dams (during cunnilingus), as well as STI testing.

Explore the changing sensations

As hormones change, so does blood flow in the body , increasing substantially in the pelvic area, making some women feel frequently aroused, excited and/or frustrated. Some women, with these changing sensations, find it easier to have an orgasm. Others find that changing sensations mean they can't bear to have their breasts touched or that they enjoy breast stimulation, but perhaps in different ways than they did prior to becoming pregnant. Women can be encouraged to explore their changing bodies and be open to new feelings and sensations that might suddenly feel good to them.