Influence of Peripartum Expectations, Mode of Delivery, and Perineal Injury on Women's Postpartum Sexuality

J Sex Med. 2020 Jul;17(7):1312-1325. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.04.383. Epub 2020 Jun 10.


Background: Sexual health has been identified as an important factor for postpartum quality of life. Although pregnancy-related changes in anatomy and metabolism return to their prepregnancy state, female sexual function may not be at the level it was before birth because of physical and psychological changes.

Aim: The goal of our study was to explore the influence of the mode of delivery, perineal injury, and peripartum expectations on postpartum sexual function.

Methods: Between 2013 and 2018, 522 women were enrolled in this prospective investigation. At time of recruitment during the peripartum hospitalization, patients completed a standardized questionnaire addressing expectations concerning postpartum sexuality with focus on expected influence of the mode of delivery. Sexual function was evaluated using the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) and Sexual Activity Questionnaire (SAQ) at time of recruitment to evaluate baseline sexual function (4 weeks before pregnancy). Follow-up assessments were conducted at 3, 6, and 12 months postpartum.

Outcomes: Peripartum expectations, influence of the mode of delivery, and perineal injury were analyzed for their impact on women's sexual function within 12 months postpartum by repetitive FSFI and SAQ assessments.

Results: A total of 522 women with 263 spontaneous vaginal deliveries, 41 operative vaginal deliveries, and 218 cesarean sections were analyzed. Although the data demonstrate a significant postpartum decline in sexual function at 3 and 6 months postpartum, sexual functioning converges to baseline prepregnancy values 12 months postpartum. This observation was independent of the mode of delivery and perineal injuries with no significant between-group differences at any of the analyzed time points. Apart from breastfeeding, for which negative anticipations resulted in impaired sexuality, women's expectations (pertaining to quantity and quality of female orgasm, partner's sexuality, fear of altered sexuality, frequency of intercourse, the mode of delivery) do not influence female sexual function at 12 months postpartum.

Clinical implications: Deciphering the potential influence of patient expectations as well as pregnancy- and childbirth-related aspects on female postpartum sexuality will help in the effort to improve women's postpartum sexual health.

Strengths & limitations: As a strength of this study, postpartum sexuality was independently assessed with 2 different scoring systems (FSFI and SAQ). Limitations include that our follow-up is incomplete and amounts to about 2-thirds of patients who were initially recruited.

Conclusion: The mode of delivery and perineal trauma do not influence women's postpartum sexual function. With the exception of breastfeeding, peripartum expectations do not result in altered sexual functioning at 12 months postpartum. Spaich S, Link G, Alvarez SO, et al. Influence of Peripartum Expectations, Mode of Delivery, and Perineal Injury on Women's Postpartum Sexuality. J Sex Med 2020;17:1312-1325.

Keywords: FSFI; Patient expectation; SAQ; mode of delivery; perineal injury; sexual function.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Peripartum Period*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexuality