Nearly two-thirds of women experience ongoing sexual dysfunction six months after giving birth, with problems ranging from painful intercourse to lack of desire.
Royal Hospital for Women sexual health physician Terri Foran told a conference on post-partum sexuality on Friday that doctors often downplayed women’s post-childbirth sexual problems and it was harmful not to address them.
“Even in 21st century Australia, sex and sexual problems are still something people are reticent to bring up, so one of the things I suggest is to actually ask,” Dr Foran said.
“We can’t let things escalate and say, ‘It’s probably just because of the baby and it’ll get better’, when the truth is, it probably won’t. We know if pain is left unattended it gets worse.
“We certainly see women with ongoing problems with pain, with issues around their libido, five, six, seven years down the track.”
Dr Foran reviewed the small body of literature on women’s sexuality after childbirth, finding that the four most common problems were sexual pain disorder, sexual desire dysfunction, sexual arousal disorder and orgasmic disorder.
A prospective study of 500 women in the UK found 83 per cent of women had sexual dysfunction at three months and 64 per cent of women were still experiencing it at six months.
Dr Foran said it was important to remember that if women and their partners did not see something as a problem then it should not be viewed as one, and if more than half of women experienced something it should be considered normal.
“But the longer chronic pain persists, the harder it is to treat. Pain fibres start to reinforce themselves and all of a sudden the lightest touch is interpreted by these nerve fibres that are going a bit crazy as incredible agony.
“The longer that goes on, the harder it is to treat.”
Breastfeeding women often experienced vaginal dryness that was easy to medicate and usually cleared up after weaning, but other issues were harder to treat and were often related to the relationship,” Dr Foran said.
These problems were likely to rise in accordance as more women had babies later in life, as increasing age was a risk factor for sexual dysfunction.
The literature consistently found that the marital relationship declined after the birth of the first child, reaching its nadir at three months before it improved.
Women with deep religious convictions were three times more likely to experience dysfunction than those without religious affiliations.