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Women's experience of their sexual function during pregnancy and after childbirth: a qualitative survey

02 May 2018
Volume 26 · Issue 5



Women's sexual function can be dramatically affected during and after pregnancy.


To explore Australian women's personal experience of changes in their sexual function during pregnancy and childbirth.


This was an online qualitative survey in which women across Australia who had given birth in the previous 12 months were invited to take part. A total of 273 responses were included.


The five main themes that emerged were: mental health changes; obstetric violence (including lack of support from caregivers, violation of privacy, instrumental delivery and episiotomy); relationship issues (including lack of support from partner, lack of intimacy and domestic violence); physical changes (including birth trauma and negative body image); and role conflict (including role incompatibility, breastfeeding and lack of sleep). Mental health changes were reported to have both positive and negative impacts on women's sexual function.


Women experience many changes in their sexual function during and after pregnancy. Health professionals should take an integrated approach to improve women's sexual function and overall wellness.

Women's sexual function is a multifaceted phenomenon that mirrors psychological, physiological, sociocultural, inter- and intra-personal influences, including the health of the whole body and internal systems (Chang et al, 2010; Cunningham et al, 2010; Nunes et al, 2010; Pauleta et al, 2010; Johnson, 2011). Impairments to women's normal sexual function can have negative influences on mental health and quality of life (American Psychiatric Association, 2003; Mercer et al, 2005; Howard, 2010). These problems can also be an economic burden to the family and the healthcare system (Dagher et al, 2012). These burdens are not limited to ‘direct’ diagnostic and treatment costs such as medication, visits to a clinic or hospitalisation, but instead go much further, with ‘hidden costs’ of diseases affecting growth at a macroeconomic level (Trautmann et al, 2016). It has been reported that the cumulative global effect of mental disorders in terms of lost economic output could increase to US $16 trillion in the next 20 years (Bloom et al, 2011).

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