Many expecting couples rely on oral sex as an alternative to intercourse, but experts warn it can be dangerous in rare occasions. Find out how to have safe oral sex during pregnancy.

By Nicole Harris

Even though pregnancy sex is safe and healthy, your protruding belly can get make go-to positions seem a little (or a lot) clumsy and awkward. Plus, certain conditions like cervical weakness may force you to avoid intercourse in the later trimesters.

To maintain some semblance of a sex life, many expecting couples seek other forms of sexual gratification during those precarious nine months—including oral sex. But is oral sex safe during pregnancy? According to Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine, oral sex is likely fine for the mother and the fetus, as long as you’re extra cautious.

For starters, a serious complication can occur if the partner blows air into the vagina. “The concern is that with the blood vessels in the vagina being dilated, air could be blown into the vessels and cause an air embolism," says Dr. Minken. Essentially, the air could block a blood vessel, which could negatively impact your cardiovascular system (and even cause death in rare occasions). The air bubble could also land in the placenta and impact fetal development. “But an air embolism is a very rare event and easy to avoid,” assures Dr. Minken. “Just don't blow any air into the vagina.”

The increased blood volume during pregnancy also makes your capillaries—including those on the vagina—more sensitive. This means that blood vessels may rupture with even light fiction. The bleeding might be scary, but it won’t harm you or the baby.

Another concern regarding oral sex during pregnancy is contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like HIV, gonorrhoea. or chlamydia. But perhaps the most concerning is the herpes simplex virus, which can pass onto a fetus during birth and potentially cause complications like neurological damage, brain inflammation, and death. The fetus has the highest chance of developing neonatal herpes if a mother contracts it during the third trimester, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). That’s because the pregnant woman's immune system can't make antibodies against the virus. 

Women infected with herpes during pregnancy will likely need a C-section, so it’s best to take steps to avoid transmission. Only have oral sex with a partner who tested negative for STIs, and use a dental dam if you’re unsure. Also avoid receiving oral sex if your partner has an open cold sore or feels one developing, because this could be a sign of herpes. What’s more, you shouldn’t have unprotected third-trimester pregnancy sex with anyone who’s ever had a cold sore (even if he or she has no current symptoms, since they may still carry the herpes virus).

Note that it’s also safe to give oral sex – and swallow sperm – while pregnant. Just be sure to use a condom to prevent infection from untested sexual partners or those with a diagnosed with an STI. Always check with your doctor if you’re unsure about oral sex during pregnancy.

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