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Is Oral Sex Good for Your Fetus?

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Teresa Strasser: If you're thinking about conceiving, or certainly if you are already pregnant, there is some pretty convincing evidence that instead of just swallowing, say, folic acid, you might want to swallow something else.

Couple in bed

Let me be delicate about this, if I can.

As far as I can tell, not only should you be having lots of oral sex with the father of your baby -- even up to a year before conceiving -- you should also make sure to ingest his seminal fluid. Listen to what I'm telling you: the international medical community is giving you an Rx for oral. Sure, they say frequent intercourse is good, too, but oral is better. So, if you care about having a healthy baby and not potentially unleashing what scientists call a "destructive attack on the foreign tissues" of your fetus, if you want to avoid immunological disorders during pregnancy, and I'm sure you do, get to work. Or to pleasure, depending on how you feel about it.

Basically, the research says you need to be able to tolerate your baby's foreign, paternal DNA; in other words, you need to get your body accustomed to the stuff, need to cozy up to some daddy double helix for a while so your body doesn't reject it.

I'm no doctor, just a pregnant lady with Google, so maybe I'm horribly confused, but here is what I found excerpted online, from the Journal of Reproductive Immunology:

"While any exposure to a partner's semen during sexual activity appears to decrease a woman's chances for the various immunological disorders that can occur during pregnancy, immunological tolerance could be most quickly established through oral introduction and gastrointestinal absorption of semen."

I could not make this up. Gastrointestinal absorption of semen. I know. For the man in your life, this news should not be hard to swallow. Sorry.

According to a group of Dutch researchers, "exposure to semen provides protection against developing preeclampsia." That's from a paper with the catchy title, "Immune Maladaptation in the Etiology of Preeclampsia: a Review of Corroborative Epidemiologic Studies." Or you could use the subtitle: "Semen is Your Friend."

I just can't figure out why the whole "blue balls" thing has gotten so much traction with men, but they never got ahold of this medical morsel.

One of my favorite pregnancy hobbies is obsessively researching dangerous pregnancy-related conditions. I know, I know, I could knit, but that would be relaxing, whereas this is more congruent with my other pastimes, which include worrying about the future and raking over the past. That's how I happened to look up preeclampsia, specifically because I interviewed actress Jane Seymour and she said she got it during one of her pregnancies, so I figured I needed a new worry charm for my shiny bracelet of maternal concerns.

First, I found this description on the Mayo Clinic's website:

"Preeclampsia is a condition of pregnancy marked by high blood pressure and excess protein in your urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy."

This merited a trip to Wikipedia, where I found all sorts of links to academic papers on the subject and, buried therein, the dryly worded but unmistakable information about oral.

After I did some digesting about ingesting, I had to stand up from my desk chair and say to no one in particular, "Really?" If I've heard about a new mother eating her own placenta in a panini, if I've scoured sights like this for every possible detail about pregnancy, how have I missed this gem? Some of the studies I read weren't all that new, but you'd think they would have made a bigger and more long-lasting splash.

Maybe penises need a new publicist.

Now, to be fair, the Dutch researchers do warn that with a new partner, condoms should be used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases: "However, a certain period of sperm exposure within a stable relation, when pregnancy is aimed for, is associated with a partial protection against preeclampsia," they insist.

As far as I can tell, there seem to be myriad causes of preeclampsia and similar conditions, and it's too complicated a medical issue for anyone, least of all me, to fully understand. Still, while some of these hypotheses have been challenged, they don't seem to have been debunked. So to conclude, I will fall back on the medical opinion I always have about things that are either Suzanne Somers-y, or reek of placebo-ness, but are obviously benign: It can't hurt, right? At the very least, your baby will have a happy, relaxed father and parents who are intimate.

And suddenly, you wonder if the phrase "going Dutch" might acquire new meaning.

Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz: Maybe I have not been attending grand rounds enough and am out of date -- but I NEVER learned about this benefit of oral sex in medical school or residency, or at any of those fancy continuing medical education conferences!

So while my search was far from exhaustive, I checked out a few of the wiki sources named in Teresa's blog. The one academic paper that seems to support this supposed "immune maladaption theory of preeclampsia" is in fact published in one of our most esteemed peer-reviewed journals, but it is a small study and, no offense, was authored by a resident ... and the bigger, better controlled study with more than 2,000 subjects published in another peer-reviewed journal concludes otherwise. So, if you like, swallow, and if you do not ... please do whatever it is that you do with undesired contents of the oral cavity.

I should note here that preeclampsia is a real bugaboo for OB/GYNs. It is fairly common and can be very dangerous, and we really do not have any definitive cause, though we have made great progress in treating the condition ... but that is not the subject of this blog and is far less sexy a subject! Preeclampsia is, however, something of a holy grail ... so I can see why people would grasp at whatever they can to prevent it.

You gotta wonder where the idea for this theory came from, though -- maybe a few too many beers late one night at one of the continuing medical education conferences?

next: Autopsy: Caylee's Remains Were Not Moved
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