MSP Sex Q&A: Sex after childbirth

statue-of-a-pregnant-woman

Question: I’m in my second trimester of pregnancy and I’ve got to say – I’ve read so many different things on the internet about how sex changes after having a baby. I don’t know what to believe anymore! What’s really happens to a woman’s sex life after childbirth?

Answer: There’s no doubt that having a baby affects a couple’s sexual life – but having a baby (e.g., dealing with fatigue, stress, sleepless nights, and seeing oneself as a parent rather than a sexual being) is different than actually giving birth (not that I need to tell you that!) and so the sex issues are different too. It seems that your main curiosity relates to the extent that pregnancy and childbirth might impact a woman’s body rather than the effects of living with a baby, so let’s turn to the former.

The truth is that researchers know far too little about this area of women’s sexuality and it’s thus unclear how many women have been mildly versus severely impacted by pregnancy and childbirth. I keep mentioning pregnancy because while many women worry about the impact of childbirth on their bodies, in fact any pregnancy that makes it to about the 6 month mark or more carries the risk of putting undue pressure on a woman’s pelvic floor muscles and vaginal walls – whether she delivers vaginally or via c-section.

This can mean that, for some (but certainly not all) women, they may feel less vaginal sensation after having been pregnant, or they may feel a greater urgency and need to pee with little warning (and may find that they can’t “wait it out” lest they leak urine). Yeah, I know. Not what you wanted to hear. Traumatic births, too, can cause problems related to vaginal health, sensation, pain and pleasure.

What to do? First,  make sure that you receive ongoing prenatal care and stick with your healthcare provider’s recommendations in regard to a healthy weight and healthy pregnancy. Second, try to set forth a birth plan that you feel comfortable with in conjunction with whatever birthing professionals you feel most confident working with (e.g., an OB/GYN, midwife, birthing doula, etc). Third, ask about your care providers’ use of and thoughts about episiotomy (a controversial procedure that involves cutting the bottom part of a woman’s vaginal entrance) which can affect sexuality in the postpartum period.

Fourth, keep in mind that sex will continue to change throughout the post-partum period (and throughout your life). Some women worry that the way their body feels a month or two after giving birth is the way that their body will always feel; however, phyiscal and hormonal changes can take several months (or longer) to return to normal, so give your body and your emotions time to re-adjust. And finally, get educated so that you can ask important questions throughout your pregnancy, at the time of your birthing experience and in the months that follow. A great book on the topic is Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth.

If you have a question about sex or relationships, send it to me! Your confidentiality will be respected.

[Above photo from Phil of Photos, Flickr.]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.