AYUSH ministry's no sex, no meat advice for pregnant women is yet another case of body policing

By Manasi Nene

'No meat. No anger, desire and lust. Hang good and beautiful pictures in the bedroom.' If you think we're listing out our version of funny answers that belong in the popular game, Cards Against Humanity, you're not that far from the truth. As far as we're concerned, these would make for good answers. But we're not the only ones who think so.

The Indian government thinks these rules are the answers to having a healthy beautiful baby, according to booklet released by the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN), which falls under the AYUSH ministry. Started in 2014 to promote traditional healing practices, the booklet has a list of recommendations for pregnant women that run from the absurd (like avoid bad company, detach self from desire, anger, attachment, lust) to the fairly obvious (stay calm). Our top favourite? To control lust, aka no more sexy times that actually led to the pregnancy in the first place.

 AYUSH ministrys no sex, no meat advice for pregnant women is yet another case of body policing

Representational image. Reuters

Does the government believe in immaculate conception? Your guess is as good as ours, but the Indian government isn't alone when it comes to bizarre pregnancy rules. Earlier last month, a workshop held by the Arogya Bharati (supposedly the RSS’ medical wing) in Kolkata, claimed to possess a method to produce fair, tall, and ‘customised’ babies, apparently inspired by Germany's use of Ayurveda to enrich the country after WWII. This ridiculous method involves undergoing three months of purification (sex only when the planets align in an auspicious manner), followed by no sex until the baby is conceived, supplemented by a strict Ayurvedic diet to purify eggs and sperm.

Time and again, the government is just attempting to do the most convenient thing when it comes to prenatal care — policing women's bodies. And as if this odd conflation of morality and sexuality isn't enough, it's funny how pregnant women are asked to control lust when marital rape is still legal. Essentially, what we’re being told is this: If a man wants sex it’s alright, but if a woman does, it isn’t. Pregnancy is just a mere coincidence.

Debasmita, a writer from Delhi and mother of two had a comically cynical interpretation on the government’s new recommendation. That it is an excuse for men to have affairs, while their wives are pregnant. "Tell me that you don't know at least two women who have told you that they realised that their husbands picked this ain mauka to find someone else to sleep with."

While we ponder that, let’s ask one question, which the health fiends or plain fiends are unwilling to ask.

Do women want to have sex when pregnant? The answer as always is: It depends.

Some women are all for it. Other women report feeling queasy, tired and destabilised for parts of the pregnancy and uninterested in sex. A 2010 study indicated that though women may have less sex as their pregnancy progresses for a variety of reasons (including their partners feeling nervous) they don’t actually enjoy sex less. About half the women studied, reported that their sexual satisfaction remained unchanged through pregnancy.

While we await science to spread its pleasurable wings, there’s quite a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest not just normal sex drives but actually higher sex drives in pregnant women. (Ask your nearest pregnant or recently pregnant woman.) Suroopa, who works in analytics in Bengaluru said, “I was 34 when I got pregnant and no one, absolutely no one, told me I'd feel horny all the time. I was always looking at my husband like grrr, come here. We did it all the way into the third trimester and my kid was just fine. We were just fine also.”

Is it okay to have sex during pregnancy?

We asked the experts about the when, how and what to expect sexually when you are expecting.

Dr Kiran Ashok, a urogynaecologist from Cloud Nine based in Bengaluru, says, "Some women do have higher sex drives while pregnant, and that’s perfectly alright." According to Ashok, Williams Obstetrics — the premier guidebook for obstetricians even today — doesn’t ever say that sex during pregnancy is a bad idea. Even as Dr Acharya of the Central Council for Research in Yoga & Naturopathy clarified on Wednesday that the booklet didn't advocate abstinence for expectant mothers, we're not really fooled by its mentions of 'no lust and desire'.

Ashok adds that there’s no reason to stop having sex, at least in the first two trimesters of the pregnancy. May we say a mild hurrah? For Anuja, an HR manager in Mumbai, her doctor’s recommendation was simple enough — have all the sex you want, because you won’t be able to do it for at least some months, once the baby is born. Doctors also suggest you don't have sex for four to six weeks after childbirth to let your body recharge.

Okay but will it hurt the baby? Sex, even penetrative sex, cannot cause a miscarriage. The baby is in amniotic fluid inside the strong walls of the uterus, which is far away from the action, regardless of how well-endowed a man may imagine he is. Even in advanced stages of pregnancy when you might think of the baby as a mini-human, sexual activity will only feel like some manner of rocking motion to the baby. So also, the mother’s orgasms (bless them and may they multiply) are of zero interest or relevance to the unborn child.

What are the exceptions? In the later months of the pregnancy, if a woman is diagnosed as having a placenta previa (where the placenta lies over the internal opening of the cervix) then penetrative sex should be avoided. Women awaiting news of a pregnancy after an IVF implantation are often told not to rock the boat with sexual activity or even masturbation. Women who have experienced heavy bleeding in the first trimester of a pregnancy are often also similarly warned to hold off until it can be confirmed that the pregnancy is stable. Even in these cases, doctors give green flag to sexual activity when the pregnancy seems to be going fine again.

Dr Suchitra Nene, a gynaecologist at Nene Clinic, Vadodara, says, “There are certain conditions where it is dangerous for a pregnant woman to have sex, but otherwise it is completely fine. It’s only under serious conditions — when the placenta is low, if the woman has a history of recurrent abortion, if she has a patulous cervix (a distended uterine opening), if there is an infection, or if her membrane has already broken — do we advise her not to have sex.”

Which brings us to the how

Dr Namrata Kachhara, a gynaecologist at Medanta Hospital, Delhi, says, "In the early stages of the first trimester, the embryo is just being implanted, so jerky movements should be avoided." But in the second trimester, as long as both partners are comfortable, there’s no reason to let government’s unconvincing recommendations regulate your sex life.

Ashok says that it’s important that the woman be comfortable during sex. From the second trimester onwards, it’s suggested that women even sleep on their sides so the uterus does not put pressure on the spine and major blood vessels. So missionary position sex is not really a good plan. Spoon-style, doggy-style or sex with the woman on top works fine. If your belly is not a vast hindrance, even sitting facing each other can work. Obviously, there is no problem in any variation of oral sex during pregnancy.

He also recommends using some form of barrier protection to prevent sexually transmitted infections during pregnancy. Condoms are the easiest and least bureaucratic.

The last thing a pregnant woman wants to deal with is a sexually transmitted infection, or a urinary tract infection, which the male partner could even pass on unwittingly. If the government really wants to get all the way up our vaginas, perhaps they should spend some time and money recommending that more men use condoms whether their partner is male, female, pregnant or not.

In the meanwhile, let us remember that nine months is a very long time to be without sex if you are feeling the feels.

The Ladies Finger (TLF) is a leading online women’s magazine delivering fresh and witty perspectives on politics, culture, health, sex, work and everything in between.

Updated Date: Jun 15, 2017 18:47:53 IST