Postpartum sexual functioning and its relationship to perineal trauma: a retrospective cohort study of primiparous women

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2001 Apr;184(5):881-8; discussion 888-90. doi: 10.1067/mob.2001.113855.


Objective: Our goal was to evaluate the relationship between obstetric perineal trauma and postpartum sexual functioning.

Study design: Our study was carried out with a retrospective cohort design in 3 groups of primiparous women after vaginal birth: Group 1 (n = 211) had an intact perineum or first-degree perineal tear; group 2 (n = 336) had second-degree perineal trauma; group 3 (n = 68) had third- or fourth-degree perineal trauma. These sample sizes reflect a 70% response rate. Outcomes were time to resuming sexual intercourse, dyspareunia, sexual satisfaction, sexual sensation, and likelihood of achieving orgasm.

Results: At 6 months post partum about one quarter of all primiparous women reported lessened sexual sensation, worsened sexual satisfaction, and less ability to achieve orgasm, as compared with these parameters before they gave birth. At 3 and 6 months post partum 41% and 22%, respectively, reported dyspareunia. Relative to women with an intact perineum, women with second-degree perineal trauma were 80% more likely (95% confidence interval, 1.2--2.8) and those with third- or fourth-degree perineal trauma were 270% more likely (95% confidence interval, 1.7--7.7) to report dyspareunia at 3 months post partum. At 6 months post partum, the use of vacuum extraction or forceps was significantly associated with dyspareunia (odds ratio, 2.5; 95% confidence interval, 1.3--4.8), and women who breast-fed were > or = 4 times as likely to report dyspareunia as those who did not breast-feed (odds ratio, 4.4; 95% confidence interval, 2.7--7.0). Episiotomy conferred the same profile of sexual outcomes as did spontaneous perineal lacerations.

Conclusions: Women whose infants were delivered over an intact perineum reported the best outcomes overall, whereas perineal trauma and the use of obstetric instrumentation were factors related to the frequency or severity of postpartum dyspareunia, indicating that it is important to minimize the extent of perineal damage incurred during childbirth.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Feeding / adverse effects
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coitus / physiology*
  • Dyspareunia / etiology*
  • Educational Status
  • Episiotomy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Orgasm / physiology
  • Parity / physiology
  • Perineum / injuries*
  • Perineum / physiology
  • Postpartum Period / physiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vacuum Extraction, Obstetrical / adverse effects