I’ll admit I have been tempted to rub a pregnant belly or two. But I refrained. Why? Because the belly was not mine to rub.
Our society has a fascination with rubbing the bellies of pregnant people, usually without asking. Pregnancy can be a confusing, difficult, life-adjusting experience and then when you are feeling hyper-visible and awkward, strangers start reaching out and touching you with complete disregard for your bodily autonomy and personal space.
Think about how you would feel if complete strangers began reaching out and touching your stomach. I know I would not be happy. I think I would actually have a fiercely strong negative reaction because someone is not only touching me without consent but my baby as well!
Many pregnant people feel protective of their fetus before it is born, and why shouldn’t they? A baby needs protection. Once born, people will continue to reach out and touch a baby — again often without permission.
I am not suggesting that people have negative intentions towards pregnant people, a growing fetus or a baby. I am suggesting that we clearly have not learned the ‘don’t touch without consent’ lesson, or the ‘personal space’ lesson or the ‘don’t sexually harass people’ lesson.
I admit I do not know why people feel such a strong attraction to pregnant bellies and babies, but I suspect people have personal conscious and unconscious reasons that involve wanting to be part of new life and wanting to be nurtured or to nurture others. I also suspect, for many people pregnancy represents hope, dreams and happiness.
Touch is also a strong way to communicate. We need and we rely on touch. The pandemic has made us more aware of this fact, as touch is now discouraged and seen as potentially dangerous. But maybe you have noticed there are still people who continue to touch and get into your personal six-foot bubble. People who do not pick up on your social cues of taking a step back, putting your arms out or leaning away.
This tells me it’s time we stop being polite. It’s time to be clear and direct. “Get out of my personal space.” “Stay six feet back.” “DO NOT TOUCH ME.” And let’s stop making assumptions about people. Not everyone who could get pregnant wants to get pregnant, and not everyone who is pregnant is happy about being pregnant.
If we want to make assumptions, how about assuming no one wants to be touched without consent or everyone is struggling in some way with mental health or everyone has experienced trauma. Making these assumptions will hopefully guide us to act in more respectful ways, with more compassion and cue us to be more considerate of people’s bodies and their potential reactions to being touched.
It’s ok if you want to be touched or you like people to recognize your pregnancy by rubbing your belly. What’s important is that we give everyone equal opportunity to make decisions about their body and what happens to it.
Stacey Jacobs is a local sex educator and advocate. Jacobs has been a sex educator for almost two decades. For 13 of those years, she worked as a sexual health educator at Planned Parenthood.