A new study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine examines the way depression and anxiety during the pregnancy and postpartum periods affect a woman’s sexual life.
Researchers from Brazil and the United States found that depressive/anxiety symptoms, or DAS, can be linked to declines in sexual life for up to eighteen months after a baby is born.
While relationship and socioeconomic problems have been studied in relation to decreased sexual activity after woman gives birth, the association between DAS and sexual decline has not been clear.
The study focused on lower-income women who were receiving antenatal care at public primary clinics in São Paulo, Brazil. To learn more about sexual activity, research assistants interviewed the women between 20 and 30 weeks of pregnancy and again at some point during the eighteen months after delivery. During the postpartum period, the women completed the Self Report Questionnaire (SRQ-20), a tool that assesses depression and anxiety.
Eight-hundred thirty-one women participated during pregnancy. Of these, 644 women had resumed sexual activity and were available for follow up after delivery. The women’s mean age was 25 years and approximately 78% of them were living with a partner.
During the interview, the women were asked, “Considering your sexual life before pregnancy, how would you describe your present sexual life: improved, the same, worsened?”
Based on results of the SRQ-20, the women were divided into four groups:
• Group 1 had no DAS during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
• Group 2 had DAS during pregnancy only.
• Group 3 had DAS during the postpartum period only.
• Group 4 had DAS during both pregnancy and the postpartum period.
About 21% of the women had seen their sex lives decline. This result was more likely among women in Group 3 (DAS during the postpartum period only) and Group 4 (DAS during both pregnancy and the postpartum period.)
Sexual decline was also associated with the mother’s age and the number of miscarriages she had had. The risk of sexual decline was twice as high for women over 30 when compared to younger women, a result that could be related to stress. Women who had had miscarriages had a 50% increase in the risk of sexual decline, which could be due to the emotional toll of miscarriage.
The researchers acknowledged that DAS and sexual decline could work in two ways. DAS could lead to sexual difficulties after delivery. But problems after delivery, such as episiotomies, could also lead to DAS.
The findings may help practitioners recognize DAS symptoms and their effects on the sex lives of lower-income women.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Faisal-Cury, Alexandre, MD, PhD, et al.
“The Relationship between Depressive/Anxiety Symptoms during Pregnancy/Postpartum and Sexual Life Decline after Delivery”
(Full-text. First published online: February 22, 2013)