Can His Penis Hurt the Baby?

Dispelling common myths about sex during pregnancy.

Pregnancy Sex Tips: Can His Penis Hurt the Baby?

husband kissing pregnant wife

Sex was hot and steamy when it was just the two of you, but now that you're expecting? Well, it's complicated.

"Suddenly another person is in bed with you that wasn't there before there," says Lauren F. Streicher, M.D., associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University and author of Love Sex Again: A Gynecologist Finally Fixes the Issues That are Sabotaging Your Sex Life. "Many men and women find themselves uncomfortable with sex during pregnancy -- even if they don't know why."

What's likely driving their ambivalence about pregnancy sex, Dr. Streicher says, is both lack of a basic understanding about a woman's anatomy and myths that have stubbornly persisted through the generations. Here, we set the record straight so you can erase those question marks and enjoy sex during pregnancy. (After all, that fun activity got you where you are in the first place!)

Myth #1: His penis could hurt the baby.

Truth: Nope. "The baby is well protected," says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician and the author of Expecting 411. Besides all that amniotic fluid, your baby is nestled in the cavity of the uterus, which is protected by a thick muscular wall. What's more, Dr. Brown adds, the cervix and mucus plug act as a barrier between the baby and the outside world of the vagina. "The penis does not come in contact with the fetus during sex," she says. "This could only happen if the cervix were dilated and you were having intercourse during labor, which you shouldn't be doing." There are some exceptions to this rule, such as if you have an incompetent (or weakened) cervix, unexplained bleeding, or a condition called placenta previa, or if your water has broken. But if you have a normal pregnancy, you're good to go!

    Myth #2: Your orgasm could cause contractions that lead to miscarriage.

    Truth: According to Dr. Streicher, there doesn't seem to be any connection between orgasm and miscarriage. If you're spotting or if spotting is a concern, your doctor may advise that you skip sex for a while. But rest assured that in a normal pregnancy that is not complicated by underlying medical conditions, orgasms are perfectly healthy and safe.

      Myth #3: Sex can trigger premature labor.

      Truth: "How labor gets induced is still a great mystery," Dr. Streicher says, which is why some people have preterm labor and others go beyond their due date and no one knows why. It's true that having an orgasm can cause contractions -- in the vagina, the pelvic floor, the anus, and yes, also the uterus. But to stimulate labor -- which means contractions that are consistent, get stronger over time, and result in changes to the cervix -- you also need prostaglandins, which soften the cervix and get it ready to dilate. Without prostaglandins, contractions simply subside. That said, having sex close to your due date and pushing up against the cervix could potentially trigger the release of prostaglandins. "Imagine an apple on a tree," says sex educator and Hot Mamas author Lou Paget. "It only falls when it's ripe and ready."

        Myth #4: Bleeding after sex early in pregnancy is a sign of damage.

        Truth: No one wants to see blood on the sheets after sex, especially during pregnancy. But in most cases, it's not serious. You might have a cervix that's on the soft side (do you tend to bleed during a pap smear?), or the bleeding may be the result of something like a cervical polyp or a cervical infection (in which case intercourse won't harm the pregnancy but may simply be distressing). If the bleeding is coming from behind the placenta (called a subchorionic bleed), having sex may increase bleeding. In any case, it's a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor. "If it's a small amount of bleeding, don't freak out," Dr. Streicher says, "but do refrain from intercourse again till you've seen your doctor." Certainly, if bleeding continues or is accompanied by pain or cramping, get it checked ASAP.

          Myth #5: The baby will know you're doing it.

          Truth: What do you remember from your nine-month stint in the womb? A whole lot of nothing? That's what we thought. "Your baby might feel a little rocking of the boat," Paget says. "He might even enjoy the ride." And the extra kicking you may feel afterward is not meant as an act of protest. Sex can boost circulation, which can get baby moving a bit more.

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