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Sex Health Blog

Sexual Functioning of Pregnant Women

Nov 27, 2013

This week, our sex health poll question asks, “Has pregnancy affected your sex life?”

We imagine some readers are nodding their heads in a knowing way. Sex during pregnancy is different for every couple, of course. But many couples need to make some adjustments during this time.

Adjustments

Let’s think about the first trimester for a moment. Women’s bodies are getting used to pregnancy. They may be too tired for sex, feel fatigued and nauseated, and have breast tenderness that makes physical closeness uncomfortable. Fear of harming the fetus or causing a miscarriage can make couples anxious. (Click here to learn more about the safety of sex during pregnancy.)

The situation often changes during the second trimester, when couples may have more sex. Women may find that their nausea subsides and their libido increases. Vaginal lubrication may improve, too.

Sexual frequency usually wanes during the third trimester. At this point, couples may need to try different positions, such as “woman on top” and “side by side.” Others focus their intimacy on other activities that bring them pleasure, like kissing, massage, and cuddling.

Keep in mind that the above descriptions are what many couples experience, but your situation might be different. Also, some health issues, such as backache, constipation, and cramps can affect a woman’s sexual function throughout her pregnancy.

Scientific Research

In October 2013, theJournal of Sexual Medicine published a report by Turkish researchers who studied the sexual function of pregnant women. They recruited 306 Turkish women at various stages of pregnancy for this research. The women completed a questionnaire called the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), which assesses six areas of women’s sexual function: desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain. Lower scores indicated poorer sexual function.

The researchers discovered that sexual problems were common in this group of women:

  • 89% had sexual desire disorders
  • 87% had problems getting aroused
  • 43% had issues with vaginal lubrication
  • 70% had trouble with orgasm
  • 48% weren’t satisfied with their sexual activity

Physical factors can account for many of these problems. But the researchers looked at some social factors as well.

For example, women with less education and low economic status tended to have lower FSFI scores. Those who had been married for ten years or more were also more likely to have problems, as were women who had arranged marriages (71% of the group.)

It’s important to remember that the results of this study apply to a group of Turkish women and can’t be generalized to all women. Still, it gives us a helpful snapshot of the social aspects that might affect a pregnant woman’s sexuality.

For example, it’s possible for low economic status to interfere with a couple’s sexual relationship during pregnancy. Stress over the cost of caring for a child – food, diapers, healthcare, and housing – can put strain on a couple’s relationship and, ultimately, their sex lives.

Help for Couples

What can couples do? Here are some ideas:

  • Expect to make adjustments. Talk about how your sexual relationship might change. Communicate and be open-minded. For example, if a certain position is uncomfortable, suggest another one.
  • Take care of your relationship. Stress and fatigue are common at this time. Try to find ways to relax and have fun. Have a babysitter take care of older children so you can have a date night. Or set aside time to talk about your hopes for the future.
  •  Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This could mean asking a friend to help around the house or asking a relative to prepare some meals. Often, friends, family, and neighbors want to help but aren’t sure how. Go ahead and ask! This could also mean seeing a counselor or therapist. Pregnancy can put strain on the best of relationships and seeking help from a professional third party can help couples keep things in perspective. Also, some women experience severe depression during pregnancy and the postpartum period. It’s important to have help available.
  • Be sure to talk to your doctor. Your obstetrician can answer all your questions about pregnancy, including the sexual ones. Don’t be embarrassed. Your doctor can also suggest ways to improve sex during pregnancy and refer you to other specialists that can help, like a therapist, if necessary.

What do you think? Did sex change for you or your partner during pregnancy? In what ways? Feel free to tell us your story in the comments.


Print this article or view it as a PDF file here: Sexual Functioning of Pregnant Women


Resources

International Society for Sexual Medicine

“Female Sexual Function During Pregnancy and Postpartum”

http://www.issm.info/news/research-highlights/research-summaries/female-sexual-function-during-pregnancy-and-postpartum/

“How do depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period affect a woman’s sex life?”

http://www.issm.info/education-for-all/sexual-health-qa/how-do-depression-and-anxiety-during-pregnancy-and-the-postpartum-period-af/

“How does pregnancy affect sex?”

http://www.issm.info/education-for-all/sexual-health-qa/how-does-pregnancy-affect-sex/

“When should sex during pregnancy be avoided?”

http://www.issm.info/education-for-all/sexual-health-qa/when-should-sex-during-pregnancy-be-avoided/

“Will having sex during pregnancy hurt the fetus?”

http://www.issm.info/education-for-all/sexual-health-qa/will-having-sex-during-pregnancy-hurt-the-fetus/

The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Güleroğlu, Funda Tosun, MSc, RN, and Nalan Gördeles Beşer PhD, RN

“Evaluation of Sexual Functions of the Pregnant Women”

(Full-text. First published online: October 24, 2013)

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsm.12347/full

Sexual Medicine Society of North America

“Sex During Pregnancy”

http://www.sexhealthmatters.org/did-you-know/sex-during-pregnancy