Infographic depicting some myths that couples believe about sex in the postpartum period

By: Erin T. Fitzpatrick

There are many commonly held beliefs about what sex will (or won’t) look like after the transition to parenthood.

In this blog post, we will debunk of a few of these myths!

MYTH: Everyone will be ready to have sex 6-weeks after giving birth.

FACT:

Your doctor may suggest that you wait 6 weeks to have sex after giving birth in order to allow your body time to heal. While this is common advice, it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Sure, some may be ready to resume sexual activity at this time (or even before), but if you’re not, that’s okay too! Try to avoid making this a strict deadline, as this can add unnecessary pressure for both yourself and your partner.

After giving birth, there are many reasons why a couple might choose to delay engaging in sexual activity, including stress, fatigue, vaginal pain and dryness, body image, and low sexual desire. Before resuming sexual activity, it may help to reflect on whether you are both mentally and physically ready. Patience, empathy, and open communication with your partner are key while navigating the changes that come with transitioning to parenthood.

MYTH: Sex after having a baby will hurt.

 

FACT:

Studies have shown that genital and pelvic (genito-pelvic) pain within the first 3 to 4 months after giving birth is common [1]. The good news is that this pain typically decreases significantly during the year following birth [4]. Many factors can play a role in the development and intensity of genito-pelvic pain after giving birth including previously diagnosed chronic pain conditions (e.g., headaches, back pain), tears to the perineum during childbirth, and previous experiences of pain during sexual intercourse [5].

If you experience pain during sexual intercourse after giving birth, this may be your body’s way of telling you to give yourself a bit more time to heal. If you are worried about your pain, talk your doctor. They can ensure you are healing properly and discuss any concerns that you may have.

MYTH: My vagina will be permanently stretched out after giving birth.

FACT:

Vaginas are tough! The muscles in the vagina are designed to tighten and relax during different situations (e.g., sexual activity) in day to day life, without losing their elasticity. The majority of women are not affected by vaginal laxity (a feeling of looseness or lack of muscle tone) long-term (greater than 6 months) [1]. That being said, vaginal laxity is a common and normal sensation reported by people who have recently given birth [3]. Several factors can predict who may report stronger and/or longer sensations of vaginal laxity after birth, including older age, multiple vaginal births, and vaginal or pelvic floor trauma during the childbirth [3].

Eventually, the vagina will typically return to how it felt before you gave birth – just give it time. Again, try to be patient with yourself and with your partner. If you’re struggling with the sensation of vaginal laxity long-term, consult with your doctor. They may suggest pelvic floor physiotherapy and/or at-home exercises such as Kegels that can strengthen the muscles around the pelvic floor and increase the feeling of vaginal tightness [3].

A cartoon of a vulva with muscled arms, indicating that it is strong

Vaginas are tough!

Woman kissing her partner on the forehead

MYTH: Having a baby will ruin a couple’s sex drive forever.

 

FACT:

The transition to parenthood is accompanied by many stressors including lack of sleep, hormonal and physical changes, and less time spent alone together as a couple [2]. Understandably, sexual activity may take a back seat. A common experience during this time is a difference in level of sexual desire, with one member of the couple having a higher sex drive than the other [6]. The partner who gave birth often experiences greater decreases in sexual desire compared to the non-birth partner.

Potential causes of reduced sexual desire include hormone changes, breastfeeding, and increased fatigue. Research suggests that sexual desire typically improves 3-4 months after giving birth and continues to improve over the year following birth [4]. If your sexual desire does not seem to improve, consult with your doctor about the possibility of Postpartum Depression. Your doctor can help you find the best treatment programme to combat these feelings and get your sexual desire back on track. 

Introducing a new baby is a very exciting time for many couples, but it also poses unique challenges to the relationship. At the Couples and Sexual Health Lab, we want to better understand how couples manage changes to their sexual well-being during the transition to parenthood. Our goal is to identify ways to help people successfully navigate this transition while at the same time, being inclusive to individuals of all gender identities, bodies, and sexual orientations.

To help us with our goal, you and your partner can participate in one of our online PAID studies: Hey Baby! – for couples 12-20 weeks pregnant with their first child (https://natalieorosen.com/heybaby/) or Baby Makes 3 – for couples 2-4 months postpartum with their first child (https://natalieorosen.com/babymakes3/).

Click either link for study details or to get involved!

References

[1] Barrett, G., Pendry, E., Peacock, J., Victor, C., Thakar, R., & Manyonda, I. (2000). Women’s sexual health after childbirth. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology107(2), 186-195.

[2] Cowan, C. P., & Cowan, P. A. (1992). When partners become parents: The big life change for couples. Basic Books.

[3] Davey, L. (2019, June 7). Vaginal laxity and childbirth: Is a “loose vagina” common? Treatable? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://torontophysiotherapy.ca/vaginal-laxity-and-childbirth-is-a-loose-vagina-common/

[4] Fischman, S. H., Rankin, E. A., Soeken, E. L., & Lenz, E. R. (1986). Changes in sexual relationships in postpartum couples. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing15(1), 58-63.

[5] Paterson, L. Q., Davis, S. N., Khalifé, S., Amsel, R., & Binik, Y. M. (2009). Persistent genital and pelvic pain after childbirth. The Journal of Sexual Medicine6(1), 215-221.

[6] Rosen, N. O., Bailey, K., & Muise, A. (2018). Degree and direction of sexual desire discrepancy are linked to sexual and relationship satisfaction in couples transitioning to parenthood. The Journal of Sex Research55(2), 214-225.

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