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Lets Talk About Sex: Sexual Interviewing with Female Patients Before, During, and After Pregnancy

Research published in a Nursing journal highlights the need for pelvic rehab providers to assess for sexual dysfunction in women before, during, and after pregnancy. 200 women were interviewed about their return to sexual activity after pregnancy and childbirth, and the results demonstrate that women can (and do) have limitations in their sexual function around the entire peripartum period.

By Nina Matthews (Flickr: head to head) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe results of the survey concluded that before pregnancy 33.5% of the women reported sexual dysfunction, and this number increased to 76% during pregnancy, and to 43.5% following delivery. The types of sexual dysfunction included dyspareunia, vaginismus, and decreased desire and orgasm. The authors of the study correlated dysfunctions with Catholic religion, vaginal delivery without suture, dyspareunia during pregnancy, vaginismus before pregnancy, and with working more than 8 hours per day.

The information collected in this study raise important points with a variety of topics related to sexual function. How we as providers aim to address these topics with women can have a critical impact on the health of a woman and her family. Let’s look at some action items this research can lead us to:

  • Include methods of asking about sexual health in your written and verbal evaluations
  • Educate colleagues about bringing up sexual health with women throughout the lifespan
  • Avoid assuming that a woman would not want to be sexually active during pregnancy
  • Recognize that personal beliefs (including religion) play a role in sexual health, and that a patient can be encouraged to talk to her spiritual advisor or a trusted professional if concerns arise
  • Talk about healthy workloads, options for modifications at work, and strategize with patients about rest breaks or decreasing work hours if financially able

This type of research can lead to many more questions, such as how religious beliefs impact sexual function during pregnancy, what the effect of physiologic changes versus fatigue can have on libido, or if women who have intervention for dyspareunia prior to pregnancy have decreased sexual dysfunction after pregnancy. Most of us were not instructed in how to dialog about these types of questions, and of course some topics, like religion, are potentially very sensitive to bring up with our patients.

If you would like more practical advice about the clinical implications for sexual medicine across the lifespan and among all genders, consider a trip to San Diego this November to learn from Herman & Wallace co-founder Holly Herman at Sexual Medicine for Men and Women: A Rehabilitation Perspective!


Holanda, J. B. D. L., Abuchaim, E. D. S. V., Coca, K. P., & Abrão, A. C. F. D. V. (2014). Sexual dysfunction and associated factors reported in the postpartum period. Acta Paulista de Enfermagem, 27(6), 573-578.

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