Sexual Dysfunction Following Childbirth: Results Of A New Study

Mary (not her real name) was thrilled when she discovered that she was pregnant. Her pregnancy was uneventful and she delivered a 7 pound 15 ounce infant at UCLA Medical Center. She recovered physically quickly from the experience; however, after her six week postpartum checkup, she discovered that her libido had dropped to nil. According to a new Canadian study, many women have a similar experience.

A number of previous studies have reported on physical factors regarding postpartum sexuality; however, this study focused on the impact of psychological factors on the resumption and frequency of sexual intercourse. The aim of the study was to assess current sexual functioning and sexual behavior in women with and without symptoms of postpartum depression. Women who had postpartum follow-up were recruited over a 12-month period; they completed questionnaires assessing sexual functioning, current sexual behavior, and mental health. For evaluation, the following tests were used:

The Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI); the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS); and items assessing current sexual behaviors. A total of 77 women completed and returned their questionnaire packages (mean postpartum weeks: 13; range: 3-24). A total of 57 women (74%) had engaged in sexual activity with a partner in the four weeks prior to completing the questionnaire. The mean FSFI score was 23.0 (range: 6-34), with 37 women (65%) scoring in the range associated with clinical sexual dysfunction.

When compared to non-depressed women, women with elevated EPDS scores were found to have significantly lower total FSFI, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction FSFI subscale scores. According to the authors, this finding suggested more problematic sexual functioning. The authors concluded that a significant number of women experience sexual problems in the postpartum period; furthermore, these problems are particularly pronounced among women with symptoms of postpartum depression. They recommended further, long-term studies to better understand the relationship between sexual dysfunction and depression among postpartum women, and to identify implications for prevention and treatment of both conditions.

In some cases, the mere fact of being aware that other new mothers have a similar problem can be helpful. Talking about the problem with one’s partner also can be helpful. Many obstetrician/gynecologists can provide beneficial council. They also can direct you to the appropriate resource if more intensive care is indicated. Sexual dysfunction can destroy a marriage. In some cases, postpartum depression can destroy a life: some women become suicidal.

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