Sex after pregnancy
Sex after pregnancy is often delayed for several weeks or months, and may be difficult and painful for women. Injury to the perineum or surgical cuts (episiotomy) to the vagina during childbirth can cause sexual dysfunction. Sexual activity other than sexual intercourse is possible sooner, but some women experience a prolonged loss of sexual desire after giving birth, which may be associated with postnatal depression. Common issues that may last more than a year after birth are greater desire by the man than the woman, and a worsening of the woman's body image.
Birth method and injuries
Women with damage or tears to their perineum resume sex later than women with an intact perineum, and women who needed perineal sutures report poorer sexual relations. Perineal damage is also associated with painful sex. Women who have an anal tear are less likely to have resumed sex after six months and one year, but they have normal sexual function 18 months later.
Assisted vaginal delivery using suction or forceps is correlated with increases in the frequency or severity of painful sex, the delay in resuming sex, and sexual problems. Cesarean section may result in less painful sex during the first 3 months, or there may be no difference, and there is no difference in sexual function or symptoms by six months, although women who delivered by cesarean report greater sexual satisfaction relating to vaginal tone six years on.
Delay before resuming sex
Many doctors recommend waiting four to six weeks before resuming sex, to allow the cervix to close, bleeding (known as lochia) to stop, and tears to heal. A study of women in Turkey found that 42% resumed sexual intercourse within six weeks of giving birth. American and British studies found that at six weeks, 57% of women had resumed sexual intercourse, 82–85% had by three months, and 89–90% had by six months. Sexual intercourse was resumed by two-thirds of Ugandan women within six months of childbirth, and among Chinese women 52% had resumed sex by two months and 95% had by six months.
About half the men and women questioned eight months after childbirth in one British study described their sex life as ‘poor’ or ‘not very good’, though another found that 70% of British women and 89% of Taiwanese women were satisfied with their sex life during the postnatal period. Six months after giving birth, one quarter of American women said they had lower sexual sensation, satisfaction, and ability to reach orgasm, and 22% said that sex was painful. More than 80% of British women experienced sexual problems three months after giving birth, and nearly two-thirds at six months, compared to pre-pregnancy levels of 38%. Of Ugandan women who had resumed sex within six months of giving birth, nearly two-thirds experienced vaginal pain and about a third had discharge or bleeding.
Vaginal dryness may occur following giving birth for about three months due to hormonal changes. Women who breast-feed are much more likely to report painful sex as well as reduced libido, both due to hormonal changes such as a reduction in levels of estrogen. Women with major trauma reported less desire to be held, touched, or stroked by their partner.
A fatal air embolism, when air enters the bloodstream, can occur due to sex shortly after childbirth before the placental bed has healed, particularly if the woman's knees are pressed against her chest, but this is rare. More common complications of having sex early after pregnancy are tears to incisions and infection of the uterus.
Having given birth within the previous year is associated with persistent low sexual desire. More than a third of first-time mothers report a loss of libido at eight months, though only 1 in 7 of experienced mothers have a loss of libido. Women often have a poor body image after giving birth. Women are often uncomfortable with their physical changes after birth, and often want sleep or to have time for themselves, which leads to a changed sexual pattern. Discordance of sexual desire with their partner is frequent. Another potential cause of low libido is postpartum depression; depressed women are less likely to have resumed sex at six months and more likely to report more sexual health problems.
Dissatisfaction with the sexual relationship a year after childbirth is associated with a lack of sex early in pregnancy as well as older ages of women, but not with factors relating to pregnancy or birth.
Only 15% of London women who had a postnatal sexual problem reported discussing it with a health professional, whereas 59.4% of Ugandan women who had resumed sex and had a sexual problem sought medical assistance. Performing pelvic floor muscle exercise appears to improve sexual function, and painful sex and vaginal dryness can be reduced using different sexual positions and lubricants. 83% of British and 60% of Taiwanese women thought they had sufficient information about sex during the postnatal period.
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