by Heather Oliveira

Have you or your partner recently had a baby? Are you or your partner pregnant? Are you curious about how becoming a parent will change your sex life? Postpartum sex is something that many women have difficulty with; studies show that self-esteem, confidence, and exhaustion make returning to sex challenging (2,3). A recent study led by Dr. Andrea DeMaria and colleagues looked at couples returning to sex in the postpartum period and factors that affected women’s readiness to return to sexual activity after giving birth (1). Specifically, DeMaria and her team wanted to understand how women’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of postpartum sex influenced their readiness to return to sex.

What did they do?

Researchers interviewed 70 women ages 19-78 (the average age was 49) in South Carolina about their experiences and feelings about returning to sex postpartum. The interviews lasted from one to two hours and focused on key topics including their experiences with giving birth, returning to sexual activity, communicating with their partner about postpartum sex, receiving advice from their healthcare provider, and any physical or psychological difficulties with their sexuality.

What did they find?

Desire for sex, physician recommendations, as well as physical and psychological barriers were commonly related to women’s readiness to return to sex postpartum. Most women reported that during their postpartum physical exam their physician told them that it would be safe to return to sexual activity six weeks after giving birth. Although they had the medical green light to return to sex, many women reported not feeling “ready” or wanted to allow themselves to “heal properly” before returning to sex (1). Most of the women reported following their physician’s advice and waited six weeks before having sex. Some of the women reported having few or no problems returning to sex and couldn’t wait for the six weeks to end with statements like “I counted down the days!” A few women claimed to have increased libido and reported more sexual satisfaction postpartum than they had pre-baby. Others reported barriers like discomfort, fatigue, or psychological barriers like self-esteem and body image issues. Some women felt that their libido was much lower than before and reported feeling less sexual desire.

 

 “I counted down the days!”

 

What does this mean?

The findings of DeMaria et al. (2019) suggest that healthcare practitioners should be better informed of the different experiences of women’s postpartum sexuality. The commonly advised six week waiting period is based on physical healing post-partum but does not account for other factors such as psychological barriers, changes in libido, changes in sexual satisfaction and feelings of “readiness.” The study suggests that practitioners who are better informed on the various experiences of post-partum women will be able to educate couples pre and postpartum on what changes they may experience in their sexual relationship. Instead of a six-week waiting period, DeMaria et al. (2019) suggested that women be empowered to choose when they are ready to engage in sex based on their own experiences.

 

For a comprehensive resource on postpartum sexuality including tips for communication, short videos, and a resource list check out the Couples and Sexual Health Lab’s website: www.postbabyhankypanky.com

 

References

(1) DeMaria, A. L., Delay, C., Sundstrom, B., Wakefield, A. L., Avina, A., & Meier, S. (2019). Understanding women’s postpartum sexual experiences. Culture, Health & Sexuality. Advanced online publication. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2018.1543802

(2) Handelzalts, J. E., Levy, S., Peled, Y., Yadid, L., & Goldzweig, G. (2018). Mode of delivery, childbirth experience and postpartum sexuality. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics 297, 927–932. doi: 10.1007/s00404-018-4693-9

(3) Jawed-Wessel, S., & Sevick, E. (2017). The impact of pregnancy and childbirth on sexual behaviors: A systematic review. Journal of Sex Research 54, 411–423. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2016.127471

*Photos sourced from unspash.com

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