Pregnancy taboos of various sorts are common in many cultures (Fray- ser, 1985). Most commonly, pregnant women are expected to restrict or change their diet in some ways, an adjustment that is expected in 38% of 45 cultures surveyed in one study (Frayser, 1985). Other taboos are unique to a particular culture. For example, the Aztecs believe that a pregnant woman who looks at the sky during an eclipse will have a child with a harelip. What all these taboos have in common is the belief that actions of a pregnant woman may in some way harm the child, and taboos help alleviate these anxieties. There also are some groups that believe that the actions of a pregnant woman’s husband may affect the child. For example, the Eastern Porno of central California have pregnancy restrictions that apply to both parents (Frayser, 1985).
In this context, it is not surprising that sexual taboos during preg nancy exist in many cultures, that the taboos are thought to prevent harm to the unborn child, and that the exact nature of the taboos varies sub stantially from one culture to another. At one end of the spectrum, the Goajiro believe that a pregnant couple should refrain completely from in tercourse or the woman will have a prolonged delivery and the child will be sickly (Frayser, 1985). At the other end of the spectrum, Chamorro, Kurtatchi, Lepcha, and Pukapukans believe that intercourse may continue throughout pregnancy until childbirth begins, but men are warned not to allow too much weight to rest on their partner during the last few weeks of pregnancy (Ford & Beach, 1951). In many cultures, intercourse is con sidered acceptable during pregnancy except for the last few weeks before childbirth. The point of these taboos, as with other pregnancy taboos, is to prevent damage to the unborn child.
Some cultures have unique taboos. For example, the pregnant Tswana woman is warned that intercourse during pregnancy with any man other than the baby’s father will result in illness and possibly death for both herself and her lover (Ford & Beach, 1951).
It is interesting to note that almost all societies that completely forbid intercourse during pregnancy are polygynous, and it is considered accept able for the father to continue to have sexual intercourse with his other wives (Ford & Beach, 1951).
Societies generally also have a set of postpartum restrictions; these restrictions are thought to protect either the child or the child and the mother (Frayser, 1985). In one cross-societal survey, only 7% of 41 societies did not have a postpartum restriction on sexual relations (Frayser, 1985). The duration of the restriction varies widely from one society to another. A 1- to 5-month interval is most common, yet in 32% of societies the prohibition extends beyond 1 year.
From these cross-societal patterns, we can see that (a) sexual patterns during pregnancy and the postpartum period are deeply rooted in culture —that is, women’s sexuality during pregnancy and postpartum is socially constructed; and (b) pregnancy and the postpartum period often are seen as delicate periods during which harm can be done to a child, and sexual intercourse may be seen as one of the potential sources of harm.