Postpartum Sex: The Impact of Relationship Factors

Guest Blog by Adrienne Bairstow

Individual, Couple, and Sex Therapist

As a part of my ongoing training, I recently attended the annual conference for the Society of Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR). I attended excellent presentations of research updates and clinical best practices on topics including female pelvic pain, prostate cancer, and trauma. One of the research presentations of particular relevance was by Cappell and Pukall on the factors associated with resuming sexual activity postpartum.

Cappell and Pukall note that 86% of women and 88% of men report sexual problems in the postpartum period. When this issue is addressed at all, it tends to be from the standpoint of physiological problems, ignoring other factors such as emotional and relational concerns. Additionally, the focus tends to be on whether or not couples are having sex (typically narrowly viewed as penetrative sex only) as opposed to the quality of sex. Cappell and Pukall’s study revealed that individuals with lower relationship satisfaction and who perceived their partner to have lower desire had lower sexual desire postpartum. However, some couples with lower sexual desire were still engaging in sex, and the authors wonder about the impact on the relationship of resuming sexual activity in the absence of desire?

It was refreshing to see the topic of postpartum sex addressed, particularly from a non physiological approach. While there are certainly physical changes to a woman’s body that can impact sex postpartum, this presentation highlighted the factors that are often not spoken of: relationship satisfaction and desire. As an individual, couple, and sex therapist. I frequently see the impact of these factors on a couple’s sex life, even where there are physical factors to play. This study makes a case for supporting couples postpartum to help improve relationship satisfaction and increase sexual desire, and to ensure that couples are engaging in quality sex that both partners enjoy rather than merely engaging in sex that is functional.

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