While I was still pregnant, I was warned by my friends: Watch out for your sex life after delivery, if it exists at all.
You won’t want to have sex for at least six months to a year. And when you do, it’ll hurt, they cautioned.
According to a new study in Birth, women get mixed messages about how having a baby can change their sex lives. Studies haven’t shown a difference in the effects from vaginal to C-section deliveries, but the media is leading us to believe that vaginal delivery can destroy our sex lives, the authors contend.
The authors say that natural delivery is seen as negative on our sex lives, while C-sections are more positive for post-birth sex lives. Caroline Pukall, Ph.D., a professor at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, said there are negative connotations associated with the vaginal stretching or tearing that can occur during vaginal births.
“Sexuality is an important aspect of many people’s lives and may be something that they consider when thinking about their birth plan,” Pukall told Reuters Health. “Some people may be influenced by media sources when making this decision.”
Most women can have sex around six weeks after delivery—regardless of how they deliver.
As part of her research, Pukall and coauthor Jaclyn Cappell surveyed more than 1,400 women who had not been pregnant. They inquired about their delivery preferences and asked questions about how they viewed childbirth and sexuality, as well as their thoughts on how others impacted their attitudes.
Of them, 85 percent preferred a vaginal birth, but 48 percent believed that they would have a loose vagina after birth. And 16 percent believed their partners would not like the look of their vulvas after having a natural birth. Additionally, 21 percent said that having a C-section would prevent future sex problems. The same batch said that the media influenced their belief, while those who disagreed with the C-section statement were likely to rely on health care providers for information.
“Given that there is no clear evidence in the empirical literature to support the claim that vaginal births are harmful and cesarean delivery is protective to one’s future sexual life, it is important to dispel the existing misconceptions,” the authors wrote. “Various media sources likely play a role in the perpetuation of this misinformation.”
Research shows that, on average, there tends to be a decline in relationship and sexual satisfaction after the birth of a child, but some people actually find that having a baby actually brings them closer to their partner, Pukall told HelloFlo.com.
“Emerging evidence indicates that the declines in relationship and sexual satisfaction in the postpartum period are probably more attributable to psychosocial factors as opposed to the process of childbirth itself (and regardless of the mode of delivery),” she said, adding that factors can include fatigue, moving into a “mother” or “parent” role, the experience of postpartum blues or depression, and body image issues.
In some, sex will be similar to that which was had before kids, in others, it will change…sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. Sexuality evolves over time (just like we evolve in our roles, for example), and with big changes come other changes, and some of those affect sexuality—and that it is okay to be flexible in this domain to ensure that it changes with you and everything else, Pukall added.
Yay or Nay?
Many of us have been warned that sex after a baby hurts. Or that we won’t want it even if it feels just fine. Specific to those who experience vaginal births with significant tearing or the use of instruments to aid in childbirth, research shows that these factors may be associated with genital pain associated with penetrative activities. The pain usually disappears about six months after birth, Pukall said.
Eva Amurri Martino, a blogger at Happily Eva After, shared an interesting take on the subject:
I talked to my gynecologist as well. He told me that when you breastfeed, your body produces hormones that can turn down your sexual drive as well as make it more difficult for your body to tell itself that it is being turned on. Or in other words– your body isn’t making any of its own lubrication. He said that it majorly contributes to the pain of sex post-childbirth, and he recommended buying lube and using “a lot of it.”
Great. He gave me a number for the amount of times we would probably have to have intercourse before it started to feel better. I forget the number now but I think it was something like six or eight. He told me to call him if it wasn’t improving. All of this information was just so crazy to me. It seemed like an even more full time job to re-activate my sex life than it even had been to get pregnant! And whereas with the struggle to conceive I was completely dedicated and on top of it, this struggle to get back in the saddle with our sex life just felt so….Meh. I’m going to be really honest and say it: I didn’t care. I love my husband beyond words, and find him extremely handsome, funny, smart and adorable–but I had a newborn. I was an exhausted emotional wreck just trying to find time to take a shower more than twice a week. The idea of working hard at having sex felt the same to me as riding a bike to China for a hamburger. Not interested.
Despite hearing about pain or lack of interest, it doesn’t mean that your experience will be a bust. Still, there does seem—at least in my case—like a lot of mothers consider it off the table for at least a few months whether for mental or physical reasons. Whether or not that comes from the media or personal experience seems to be subjective, because we’re all different.
Not everyone is shutting down the shop after baby arrives. Research in a 2013 study found that some couples are getting active—maybe more than we know—during the first three months after birth. Partners most frequently engaged in sexual intercourse and got the most enjoyment out of oral sex. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, as many of us experience sleep deprivation that leaves little time for anything but squeezing in shut-eye whenever possible.
Want to see if you’re ready to get back into the saddle? WhatToExpect.com suggests making sure you’ve got the green-light from your doctor, using lubricant and incorporating foreplay—among other tips.