The Effect of Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercise on Female Sexual Function During Pregnancy and Postpartum: A Systematic Review

Sex Med Rev. 2019 Jan;7(1):13-28. doi: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2018.08.002. Epub 2018 Oct 6.


Introduction: Pelvic floor muscle exercise (PFME) is recommended as a first-line treatment for urinary incontinence. However, a review of the literature suggests the effect of PFME on sexual function (SF), particularly during pregnancy and the postpartum period, is understudied.

Aim: To assess the effect of PFME on SF during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Methods: The following databases were searched: CINAHL (EBSCOhost), Health Collection (Informit), PubMed (National Center for Biotechnology Information), Embase (Ovid), MEDLINE, Cochrane, Health Source, Scopus, Wiley, Health & Medical Complete (ProQuest), Joanna Briggs Institute, and Google Scholar. Results from published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and non-RCTs from 2004 to January 2018 on pregnant and postnatal women were included. PEDro and Critical Appraisal Skills Programme scores were used to assess the quality of studies. Data were analysed using a qualitative approach.

Main outcome measure: The primary outcome was the impact of antenatal or postnatal PFME on at least 1 SF variable, including desire, arousal, orgasm, pain, lubrication, and satisfaction. The secondary outcome was the impact of PFME on PFM strength.

Results: We identified 10 studies with a total of 3607 participants. These included 4 RCTs, 1 quasi-experimental study, 3 interventional cohort studies, and 2 long-term follow up cohort studies. No studies examined the effect of PFME on SF during pregnancy. 7 studies reported that PFME alone improved sexual desire, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction in the postpartum period.

Conclusion: The current data needs to be interpreted in the context of the studies' risk of bias, small sample sizes, and varying outcome assessment tools. The majority of the included studies reported that postnatal PFME was effective in improving SF. However, there is a lack of studies describing the effect of PFME on SF during pregnancy, and only minimal data are available on the postpartum period. More RCTs are needed in this area. Sobhgol SS, Priddis H, Smith CA, et al. The Effect of Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercise on Female Sexual Function During Pregnancy and Postpartum: A Systematic Review. Sex Med Rev 2019;7:13-28.

Keywords: Dyspareunia; Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercise; Pelvic Floor Muscle Strength; Postpartum; Pregnancy; Sexual Function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Coitus / physiology*
  • Coitus / psychology
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Pelvic Floor* / physiology
  • Postpartum Period / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology
  • Pregnancy Complications / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / physiopathology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / psychology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / therapy*
  • Sexual Health*
  • Treatment Outcome