BUMPS IN THE NIGHT

The truth about masturbating while pregnant

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When you’re pregnant, you experience a number of physiological changes no one ever tells you about (presumably because if they did, you’d never have sex again). No one tells you, for instance, that when you’re pregnant, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have recurrent urinary tract infections because the growing baby presses on your bladder, preventing you from fully emptying its contents and creating a pool of “stagnant urine.” (It’s true. Look it up.) No one tells you that you’ll get horrific rashes all over your abdomen and limbs, so your torso is constantly pink and mottled, like a scatter plot or the skin of the baby from Dinosaurs.

And no one tells you that pregnancy will lead to the greatest sexual Catch-22 of all: that you’ll be horny all the time, but you’ll never, under any circumstances, want to have sex with anyone.

I discovered this fairly early on in my pregnancy, as I was approaching the end of my first trimester. My morning sickness was fading, I was starting to regain my energy, and I was no longer subsisting on a diet of ginger ale and stale graham crackers—but I still had no desire to have sex with my husband. I’d often look at him and think, “damn, this is a person I like having sex with,” but there was a huge chasm between the act and the desire, sorta like when you decide you want to start doing a 30-day cleanse but you end the month 5 pounds overweight with a closet full of cayenne and lemon juice shakes.

But even though I was feeling fat, sluggish, nauseous, and profoundly uninterested in sex, I was intensely horny—like, sixth-grade-boy-in-the-computer-lab-after-school horny. The slightest stimulus could set me off—a Cosmo article on blow jobs, a maternity bra banner ad, and even, in one instance, a solitary confinement scene on Oz. (If you haven’t seen it, google “Chris Meloni naked.” You’re welcome.)

This instinct, naturally, led to a lot of solo self-indulgence. I didn’t necessarily feel guilty or weird about that—after all, my son didn’t have any eyelids yet, so it was highly unlikely he would be aware that his mom was jerking off to Tumblr GIFs. But whenever I googled “is masturbation OK during pregnancy,” I couldn’t find a clear consensus on whether or not it was. Sure, sex was fine, even heartily encouraged, provided it didn’t involve any positions that would cause you to topple over like a stack of Jenga blocks—but a number of moms on the internet were claiming that masturbation during pregnancy was outright unsafe, caused miscarriage, or that it was associated with a host of other bizarre health factors or weird side effects.

“Do you think it is ok to use a vibrator for clitoral stimulation?” asked one woman on the ever-reliable forum pregnancy-info.net. “I am 32 weeks along and love to use it a few times a week, but when I orgasm my bump gets really hard.” On BabyCenter.com, another woman wrote, in response to a woman saying she does it while her husband is at work, “Wow….no wonder that 75% of couples are divorced these days…..What this country needs is Jesus….”

Given how little solid public information I could find about this issue, I turned to my IRL pregnant and new mom friends to find out what they knew. It turned out they were just as concerned about the risks of prenatal bean-flicking as I was. “At times I’ve had weird paranoia because I went to a doctor at the very beginning of my pregnancy after I bled just a teeny bit, and he told us not to have sex,” Angela, 34, told me. (She requested I change her name to protect her privacy.) “So I stopped masturbating for a while.”

There was also concern among moms-to-be about using masturbation aids, like porn or sex toys, during pregnancy. “I didn’t full on masturbate like you would with a dildo because I was afraid of affecting the baby or going into labor,” said my friend Lina, 31, who also requested I change her name.

I was faced with a conundrum: If I wasn’t in the mood to have sex (which I was not), then masturbation seemed like a healthy, low-stakes alternative. Why would a habit that I’d been steadily partaking in since my early teens be suddenly taken off the table?

Luckily, for the most part, fear of masturbation during pregnancy is totally baseless, says Gloria Brame, a clinical sexologist with a PhD in human sexuality. “Masturbation is the safest type of sex to have when pregnant,” she told me, in part because you face a lower risk of injury than if you, say, spend your entire pregnancy reenacting the Kama Sutra. “Some doctors will recommend it over intercourse…most women can do it safely all the way through.”

That said, there are actually exceptions to this rule. As Mary Jane Minkin, a gynecologist at Yale Medical School, explained to me, orgasms cause contractions in the uterus. And while these are generally okay for baby, if you’re at high risk for early labor, these contractions might pose a risk. Same goes for if a woman is carrying triplets: “There might be a concern about preterm contractions because the uterus might be over-extended,” Minkin said.

Doctors also warn patients not to masturbate or have sexual intercourse if they’ve developed placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta grows unusually low in your uterus and is near or covering your cervix, which can cause issues later on in your pregnancy. “The concern would be that [orgasmic contractions] would send the placenta pulling off the wall of the uterus,” Minkin said.

Because these conditions are relatively rare, however, for the most part, masturbation during pregnancy is totally kosher and even advisable in the late stages of pregnancy as a labor induction method, if labor is delayed. In fact, a regular masturbation routine can be beneficial for both mother and child, said Minkin, in large part because genital stimulation causes increased blood flow to the uterus. “More blood flow and oxygen for the baby is always good,” she said. And with the proven health benefits of orgasm, ranging from relaxation to temporary relief of nausea and pain (which can be a godsend when you’re running to the bathroom to vom for the fourth time in a day), masturbation can only be a good thing for expectant mothers.

Perhaps most importantly, however, masturbation has the advantage of reminding expecting moms of one crucial fact: They may be becoming moms, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less sexual than they were before their pregnancies. In fact, for many pregnant women who feel too sick or uncomfortable to have regular partner sex, masturbation can be the best way to retain some sense of sexual autonomy—even empowerment.

From dowdy clothing items on the maternity rack to insanely high expectations for female celebrities to regain their post-baby bodies, we live in a culture that never fails to remind women that they’ve completely lost any semblance of their sexuality when they’re pregnant. The reasoning seems to be that pregnant women have made the decision to be mothers, thus losing whatever claim to their sexuality they might have had before their partners ejaculated inside them. The fact that pregnancy is usually an uncomfortable experience at best and an excruciatingly painful one at worst does little to refute that idea.

“Pregnancy is a phase of tremendous physical, psychological, hormonal, and relational changes,” said Ucenna “UC” Ossai, a pelvic health physical therapist. “All of these changes have an inevitable impact on your sex life during pregnancy. Research has shown that sexual activity steadily decreases throughout the progression of a woman’s pregnancy for a multitude of reasons,” such as nausea, physical discomfort, or fear of spontaneous miscarriage, making masturbation “an amazing option for when penetrative sex is no longer on the table.”

Lina, who is now the mother of a 7-month-old son, agreed. “During pregnancy I had horny moments that would come and go. Masturbation was a good way to take care of that, because actual sex took more time,” she said. That was especially true for her during the third trimester, when her belly got in the way of achieving certain positions.

In a world that’s hell-bent on telling women they can either be mothers or whores, masturbation can be a super-fun, safe way for pregnant women to reclaim some semblance of their prepartum sexuality and prove that they can be both—and they can do it by themselves, on their own terms.

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