Women's experiences of sex and intimacy after childbirth: making the adjustment to motherhood

J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2012 Dec;33(4):185-90. doi: 10.3109/0167482X.2012.720314. Epub 2012 Sep 13.


The aim of this study was to explore women's experiences of changes to their sexual relationship, sexuality and intimacy, as a result of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. A sub-sample of women was purposively selected from a larger prospective pregnancy cohort study of nulliparous women in Melbourne, Australia. Eighteen women (including a mixture of parity, birth methods and relationship status) were interviewed 2.5-3.5 years after a first birth. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using interpretive phenomenological analysis. Women identified numerous factors affecting sexual and intimate relationships including extreme tiredness, changing lifestyles and body image issues, leading to changes in libido and intimacy in relationships. Of particular note were feelings of guilt and failure women experienced as a result of a lowered libido. Finding ways to stay connected - whether through sex, quality time together or working as a team - helped women and their partners navigate the transition to parenthood. This study demonstrates that pregnancy, childbirth and parenting can bring about significant changes to women's experiences of sex and intimacy. Women who experience significant reductions in their libido may be vulnerable to feelings of guilt and failure, connected with high expectations that they should be able to "do it all".

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Australia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Parturition
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / psychology*
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • Time Management
  • Women's Health*
  • Young Adult