Preeclampsia — a condition that involves potentially life-threatening high blood pressure during pregnancy. There are a lot of steps women can take to treat preeclampsia during pregnancy, and if you’ve been diagnosed with it, your health care provider will help guide you towards the best management tools for your particular case. There’s also some evidence that having sex might offer some protection against the condition, which sounds like a myth but may actually hold water. Sex has been rumored to lower blood pressure, and some preliminary data has sparked rumors as well that sperm itself can offer protection against preeclampsia. Seem a little far-fetched? Let’s examine the evidence about whether sex can prevent or treat preeclampsia.
How do you prevent preeclampsia?
There is a standard list of preventative measures that can reduce your risk of developing preeclampsia. Prior to pregnancy, maintaining a healthy weight for your body size can help. Once pregnant you’re pregnant, avoiding too much of these things may help lower your risk of preeclampsia:
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) also recommends a baby aspirin daily during pregnancy, which has been shown to reduce the risk of developing the disorder by 15%. However, do not add this to your daily routine without getting the OK from your health care provider first. They will help you evaluate your risk for developing preeclampsia and you should follow their specific recommendations for your own pregnancy above all.
Does sex prevent or treat preeclampsia?
A 2013 study in the Journal of Reproductive Immunology found that exposing a person’s cervix to semen actually had some protective factors against preeclampsia. The study was clear, though, that the same protective factors were not present through oral exposure to semen. Completed at Brown University School of Public Health, it found that mothers who had a low exposure to semen before conception had four times the risk of developing preeclampsia compared to their counterparts who had frequent sex without a barrier method.
Although the study isn’t a slam dunk, says Dr. Amy Roskin, an OB-GYN, it certainly showed some correlation between sperm exposure and lowered rates of preeclampsia.
“This is thought to be linked to the immunological response triggered by exposure to semen, which provides a degree of priming with paternal antigens to prepare the mother for carrying a fetus with similar genetic makeup. As a result, for women trying to get pregnant, some research suggests that using barrier methods of contraception — such as condoms — may limit exposure to semen and increase the mother’s likelihood of developing preeclampsia,” Roskin says.
How do you treat preeclampsia?
There is no cure for preeclampsia once you develop it, other than delivering the baby. Frequent monitoring to assess the health of mother and fetus is key to managing preeclampsia, and often your doctor will choose to induce delivery if your condition worsens. So, if you are diagnosed with preeclampsia, it is important to work closely with your doctor, and alert them to any changes in your body as your pregnancy progresses.
Does sex really lower your blood pressure?
It’s true, sex can lower your blood pressure. “Based on our understanding of the broader effects sex has on the body, there is some evidence that sex can help to lower blood pressure for certain people,” says Roskin. Sex is also a form of moderate exercise (or strenuous exercise, depending on how hard you go), which has been proven to lower blood pressure by strengthening the heart.
Talk to your doctor about sex to treat preeclampsia
As with everything related to your pregnancy, it is always best to talk with your own doctor about your unique circumstances.
There isn’t any conclusive evidence that sex can help treat preeclampsia, Roskin notes. “A medical professional may advise against frequent sexual activity, depending on your degree of risk and the severity of your symptoms.” In some cases, sex could be worse for your preeclampsia. Some pregnant people require antihypertensive medication and others require strict bedrest (which doesn’t include bed gymnastics).
The bottom line is that sex could mean a healthier pregnancy for you if you want to have sex, but there are a lot of factors at play.
Field, E., Harland, K.K., et al. (2014) Cumulative exposure to paternal seminal fluid prior to conception and subsequent risk of preeclampsia. Journal of Reproductive Immunology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24011785/
Dr. Amy Roskin, M.D., OB-GYN