Women's Sexuality After Childbirth: A Pilot Study

Abstract

A pilot study was carried out investigatingwomen's sexual health in the postnatal period. Postalquestionnaires were sent to a cohort of 158 primiparouswomen approximately 7 months after delivery. Women who had resumed sexual intercourse were askeda detailed set of questions about problems experienced,sexual practices, frequency of intercourse, satisfactionwith sex life, and consultation for postnatal sexual problems. All women were asked about theinformation they received on postnatalhealth prior tothe birth and any information or help and advice theyreceived from health professionals on the subject after the birth. Ninety-eight women (62%)responded. Women experienced significant levels ofmorbidity in the postnatal period; 3 months afterdelivery 58% experienced dyspareunia, 39% experiencedvaginal dryness, and 44% suffered loss of sexualdesire. These figures had reduced to 26, 22, and 35%,respectively, by the time of answering the questionnaire(approximately 8 to 9 months after delivery). Compared to before pregnancy, there was a decrease infrequency and satisfaction with sexual intercourse,although sexual practices changed little. Of the 67women who reported a postnatal sexual problem, only 19% discussed this with a health professional.Conversations with health professionals in routinepostnatal health contacts were mainly aboutcontraception, and only rarely discussed problems withintercourse.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

REFERENCES

  1. Abraham, S., Child, A., Ferry, J., Vizzard, J., and Mira, M. (1990). Recovery after childbirth: A preliminary prospective study. Med. J. Australia 152: 9–11.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Alder, E. M., and Bancroft, J. (1983). Sexual behaviour of lactating women: A preliminary communication. J. Reprod. Infant Psychol. 1: 47–52.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Alder, E.M., Cook, A., Davidson, D., West, C., and Bancroft, J. (1986). Hormones, mood and sexuality in lactating women. B. J. Psychiat. 148: 74–79.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bailey, V. R. (1989). Sexuality—Before and after birth. Midwives Chron. Nursing Notes January: 24–26.

  5. Barrett, G. (1995). The National Childbirth Trust 'sex after childbirth' survey: A sociological analysis Unpublished MSc dissertation, University of London.

  6. Barrett, G., and Victor, C. R. (1994). Postnatal sexual health. Br. Med. J. 309: 1584–1585.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Barrett, G., and Victor, C. R. (1996a). Postnatal sexual health. Br. J. Gen. Prac. 302: 47–48.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Barrett, G., and Victor, C. R. (1996b). Incidence of postnatal dyspareunia. Br. J. Sex. Med. 23: 6–8.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bek, K.M., and Laurberg, S. (1992). Risks of anal incontinence from subsequent vaginal delivery after a complete obstetric anal sphincter tear. Br. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. 99: 724–726.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Bex, P. J., and Hofmeyr, G. J. (1987). Perineal management during childbirth and subsequent dyspareunia. Clin. Exp. Obstet. Gynecol. 14: 97–100.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bick, D. E., and MacArthur, C. (1994). Identifying morbidity in postpartum women. Modern Midwife 4(12): 10–13.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Bick, D. E., and MacArthur, C. (1995). The extend, severity and effect of health problems after childbirth. Br. J. Midwifery 3: 27–31.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Bustan, M. A., Tomi, N. F., Faiwalla, M. F., and Manav, V. (1995). Maternal sexuality during pregnancy and after childbirth in Muslim Kuwaiti women. Arch. Sex. Behav. 24: 207–215.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Cox, J. L. (1986). Postnatal Depression, Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Cox, J. L., Holden, J. M., and Sagovsky, R. (1987). Detection of postnatal depression: Development of the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Br. J. Psychiat. 150: 782–786.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Deindl, F. M., Vodusek, D. B., Hesse, U., and Schussler, B. (1994). Pelvic floor activity patterns: Comparison of nulliparous continent and parous urinary stress incontinent women. A kinesiological EMG study. Br. J. Urol. 73: 413–417.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Dimpfl, T., Hesse, U., and Schussler, B. (1992). Incidence and cause of postpartum urinary stress incontinence. Eur. J. Obstet. Gynecol. Reprod. Biol. 43: 29–33.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Elliott, S. A., and Watson, J. P. (1985). Sex during pregnancy and the first postnatal Year. J. Psychosom. Res. 29: 541–548.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Ellis, D. J., and Hewat, R. J. (1985). Mother' s postpartum perceptions of spousal relationships. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. Neonatal Nursing March/April, pp. 140–146.

  20. Feggetter, G., Cooper, P., and Gath, D. (1981). Non-psychotic psychiatric disorders in women one Year after childbirth. J. Psychosom. Res. 25: 369–372.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Foldsprang, A., Mommsen, S., Lam, G.W., and Elving, L. (1992). Parity as a correlate of adult female urinary incontinence prevalence. J. Epidemiol. Commun. Health 46: 595–600.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Frohlich, E. P., Herz, C., Van der Merwe, F. J., Van Tonder, D. M., Booysen, J. P. M., and Becker, P. J. (1990). Sexuality during pregnancy and early puerperium and its perception by pregnant and puerperal woman. J. Psychosom. Obstet. Gynaecol. 11: 73–80.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Glazener, C.M. A. (1997). Sexual function after childbirth: Women' s experiences, persistent morbidity and lack of professional recognition. Br. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. 104: 330–333.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Glazener, C. M. A., Abdalla, M., Stroud, P., Naji, S., Templeton, A., and Russell, I. T. (1995). Postnatal maternal morbidity: Extent, causes, prevention and treatment. Br. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. 102: 282–287.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Hanmer, J. (1991). Lover/mother. New Generation December, pp. 34–35.

  26. Hulme, H. (1993). Grin and bear it? Nursing Times 89: 66.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Johnson, A. M., Wadsworth, J., Wellings, K., and Field, J. (1994). Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Blackwell, London.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Kamm, M. (1994). Obstetric damage and faecal incontinence. Lancet 344: 730–733.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Klein, M. C., Gauthier, R. J., Robbins, J. M., Kaczorowski, J., Jorgensen, S. H., Franco, E. D., et al. (1994). Relationship of episiotomy to perineal trauma and morbidity, sexual dysfunction, and pelvic floor relaxation. Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 171: 591–598.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Kumar, R., Brant, H. A., and Robson, K.M. (1981). Childbearing and maternal sexuality: A prospective survey of 119 primiparae. J. Psychosom. Res. 25: 373–383.

    Google Scholar 

  31. MacArthur, C., Lewis, M., and Knox, E. G. (1991). Health After Childbirth, HMSO, London. England.

    Google Scholar 

  32. MacArthur, C., Bick, D. E., and Keighley, M. R. B. (1997). Faecal incontinence after childbirth Br. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. 104: 46–50.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Masters, W. H., and Johnson, V. E. (1966). Human Sexual Response, Churchill, London.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Moss, P., Bolland, G., Foxman, R., and Owen, C. (1986). Marital relations during the transition to parenthood. J. Reprod. Infant Psychol. 4: 57–67.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Reading, A. E., Sledmere, C. M., Cox, D. N., and Campbell, S. (1982). How women view postepisiotomy pain Br. Med. J. 284: 243–246.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Riley, A. J. (1989). Sex after childbirth. Br. J. Sex. Med. May: 185–187.

  37. Scott-Heyes, G. (1983). Marital adaptation during pregnancy and after childbirth. J. Reprod. Infant Psychol. 1: 18–28.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Stratton, J. F., Gordon, H., and Logue, M. (1995). Rates of episiotomy: Conclusions and validity of data cannot be judged. Br. Med. J. 310: 668.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Sultan, A. H., and Kamm, M. A. (1997). Faecal incontinence after childbirth Br. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. 104: 979–982.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Sultan, A. H., Kamm, M. A., Hudson, C. N., Chir, M., Thomas, J. M., and Bartram, C. I. (1993). Analsphincter disruption during vaginal delivery. New Eng. J. Med. 329: 1905–1911.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Tobert, A. (1990). Sexual problems in pregnancy and the postnatal period Midwife, Health Visitor Commun. Nurse 26: 177–179.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Toglia, M. R., and DeLancey, J. O. L. (1994). Anal incontinence and obstetrician-gynae cologist Obstetrics and Gynecology 84: 731–740.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Turner, M., and Casey, C. (1995). Rates of episiotomy: Data on parity are not given. Br. Med. J. 310: 668.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Turner, M., and Finn, M. (1993). Obstetric outcome should be analysed by parity. Br. Med. J. 306: 718–719.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Van Wert, W. F. (1991). Sex after children. Mothering 60: 115–117.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Watson, J. P., Elliott, S. A., Rugg, A. J., and Brough, D. I. (1984). Psychiatric disorder in pregnancy and the first postnatal Year. Br. J. Psychiat. 144: 453–462.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Wilson, P. D., Herbison, R. M., and Herbison, G. P. (1996). Obstetric practice and the prevalence of urinary incontinence three months after delivery. Br. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. 103: 154–161.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Barrett, G., Pendry, E., Peacock, J. et al. Women's Sexuality After Childbirth: A Pilot Study. Arch Sex Behav 28, 179–191 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018771906780

Download citation

  • POSTNATAL
  • SEXUALITY
  • DYSPAREUNIA
  • CHILDBIRTH