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Vaginal Birth Ruin Your Sex Life? | Image Courtesy of Mulyadi via Unsplash
Postpartum Sex | Image Courtesy of Mulyadi via Unsplash

Are You Wondering "Can A Vaginal Birth Ruin Your Sex Life?"

Medically, the answer is a resounding ‘no’… but postpartum sex is still an understandable concern for most pregnant women, especially in a digital age where whispered rumors have given way to detailed stories of difficult birth experiences splashed across social media pages.

In the greater debate over vaginal birth vs. C-section, the real issue on the minds of many expectant mothers is often whether one mode of delivery is somehow better than the other. It’s a complex question; but a group of researchers in Ontario, Canada recently attempted to answer the ‘sex after baby’ part of it. What they found out surprised even them; and shed some important light on the bigger question as well.

Researchers Studying the Impact of Vaginal Childbirth versus Cesarean on Postpartum Sex Find...

The researchers selected women of similar age from three different groups – those who had delivered vaginally within the last two years, those who had delivered by C-section in the last two years, and a group of women who had never given birth. Each woman participated in a physical exam and answered several questions about their postpartum sex lives and birthing experiences.

Because sexual activity is highly subjective by nature, creating a sexual experience similar enough to study the impacts on postpartum sex posed a bit of a challenge. In a lab setting, the research team asked each woman to watch a short nature video, followed by a short erotic video. During each viewing, Doppler laser imaging was used to monitor changes in genital responses like blood flow and lubrication. They also asked each woman to monitor and report her own arousal levels during the videos and state afterward what she perceived her genital response had been.

The results? The laser imaging showed definitively that the women who gave birth vaginally had significantly lower genital response than the other two groups. However, there was no significant difference in how either group of mothers perceived their arousal or their genital response. (The group who had never given birth reported higher levels of arousal as well as perceived and actual genital response. To no one’s surprise, they also reported far less fatigue and other issues common to new mothers that can affect postpartum sexual function.)

The takeaway? Sexual arousal and satisfaction are complicated; and the physical aspect is just one part of a bigger picture. The answer to "Can a vaginal birth ruin your sex life?" needs more study, and new mothers need more support overall from the medical community; but method of delivery doesn’t appear to be a major factor in how much sexual satisfaction women can experience postpartum.

Factors Leading to Painful Postpartum Sex

That said… a number of physical factors, from birth trauma to hormones, can lead to difficult or painful postpartum sex. Don’t assume that will be the case; but do communicate your concerns to your partner and your doctor before and after delivery, and follow medical advice about when and how to resume sexual activity. Above all, remember – sex shouldn’t hurt. If painful postpartum sex persists for any length of time, a pelvic health physical therapist can help you with the right diagnosis and non-surgical treatment to get back to the sex life you deserve.

References:

Cappell J., Bouchard K.N., Chamberlain S.M., et al 2019. Is Mode of Delivery Associated With Sexual Response? A Pilot Study of Genital and Subjective Sexual Arousal in Primiparous Women With Vaginal or Cesarean Section Births. The Journal Of Sexual Medicine 17:2 257-72.

What Our Patients Have to Say

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Testimonial by J.B.

My husband and I were having problems with painful intercourse. My therapist recommended that I go and get a pelvic floor evaluation from a physical therapist. Having never been treated by a physical therapist, I wondered how this really was going to help me. My husband who is a physician was very supportive and agreed that a PT evaluation would be a great idea. So i made the appointment and was blown away by what I learned. I had no idea that pelvic floor muscles could get tight and have trigger points just like any other muscle in the body. I'm a massage therapist and very familiar with tight muscles, and this new thought really amazed me. Heather's program to help relax and strengthen these muscles made such a difference. I can say that I am 100% pain free during intercourse now. Yippee! Going to the PT appointments and doing the at-home exercises was definitely a discipline, but it's 100% worth it! The rewards are amazing.

-- J.B.

Testimonial by Y.L. (mom of 2)

After having my second baby via C-section I searched for months to try to find help for my lower back pain and separated abdominal muscles. I finally came across Heather Jeffcoat via a mommy blog. I reached out to her via email and set my first appointment. My first appointment went amazing … she listened to what my symptoms, check my separation and explained to me in detail what the next steps would be. Not only did my abdominal separation go from 3 to about 1 -1/2 but my back has pain has significantly reduced. I’m personally recommending all my mommy friends to Heather!

Y.L. (mom of 2)

Testimonial by Fritzette H.

I went to Heather after the birth of my third child. It was lucky, really, that I was referred to her, because my doctor had referred me to a surgeon for a possible hysterectomy or pelvic wall rebuild. Thankfully, I went to Heather before undergoing either surgery, she was able to fix the problem. She has studied extensively in women's health--even written a book about it--and was able to diagnose my problem, suggest a course of treatment (6 weeks), and then follow through with said treatment. By the end, as she said, I was as good as gold. Boy, was it worth it! Though uncomfortable to talk about, much less write about, it is worth getting the word out there. If you have painful intercourse, especially after birth or other trauma, the treatment may be as simple as Physical Therapy (with Heather, of course). I highly recommend her.

-- Fritzette H., 3/24/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by Alexandra B.

Heather is without exaggerating AMAZING! After years of trouble with a certain part of my body, in no time, she made everything change back to equilibrium and to what would be considered normal. She explains everything in detail and therefore gives you a better understanding of why things are the way they are, and how you can work towards turning things around. I would highly recommend Heather for any type of Physical Therapy. She has created her own "Method/Therapy" through years of studying (with some of the greatest practitioners), practice and breaking down the issues of her past patients, enabling her to fine tune her own system. I'm so thankful to have found her, and I'm especially grateful for the quick recovery I've achieved, after years of distress. If you cannot afford her, I recommend you purchase her book. Although it may not be Heather in person, it can still help you to get on the right path to recovery!

-- Alexandra B., 5/20/2015 via Yelp!

Testimonial by Julie T.

Femina PT (née Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy) has honestly changed my life. Before receiving treatment at Femina, I was going doctor to doctor to try and find the answer to my pelvic pain. It has taken me YEARS to find someone that can help fix this. It wasn't until my gynecologist recommended your clinic that I finally felt relief. My pelvic pain is almost gone, and granted I still have a lot more to work on with Laureen (my PT), my original problem is nearly cured. I am so grateful to her.

What is even better is she gave me practical exercises to do at home that were not tedious and provided instant (and lasting) relief. Although I mainly work with Laureen, my interaction with the owner (Heather) has been great. She is very generous, kind, and committed to her business.

It hurts to know there are women out there suffering who will never know or have the opportunity to work with women like Laureen and Heather because this issue is hardly talked about and this field is so rare. I hope more doctors and physical therapists see the value in this work and can relieve more woman of their pain.

-- Julie T., 12/4/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by J.H.

My last appointment with Heather was over 6 years ago but I still think of her every day. I don’t take for granted that I can easily get out of bed, care for my two active and busy young boys, run, play tennis, clean my house, or sit at a desk for several hours at a time. None of these tasks were easy for me before meeting Heather. Eight years ago my car was struck from behind by a tractor trailer that was estimated to have been speeding. I spent 3 years working with different PTs and Drs trying to heal and move on with my life. When I became pregnant and the hormone relaxin that “relaxes” all the joints of the body and the additional weight gain erased all my progress and I was suddenly in a lot of pain again. My OB sent me to Heather for one last try.

Read more: Testimonial by J.H.

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