According to new research, the method of delivery has no effect on sexual satisfaction in the years following childbirth. The study, which was published in BJOG, was conducted by researchers at the University of Bristol and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden using data from Children of the 1990s, a longitudinal study of over 14,000 people.
The purpose of the study was to determine whether caesarean sections preserve sexual health compared to vaginal delivery due to the reduced risk of tearing and maintenance of vaginal tone. Prior research indicates there is little difference in sexual outcomes between women who had caesarean sections or vaginal deliveries six months after giving birth. However, few studies had examined the postnatal period over the long term.
This study examined the association between mode of delivery and sexual well-being outcomes, including sexual enjoyment, sexual frequency, and sex-related pain, at a variety of postpartum timepoints.
Researchers evaluated women in different delivery groups up to 18 years after birth and found no difference in sexual enjoyment or frequency between caesarean section and vaginal delivery at any point (known as postpartum). However, those who delivered via caesarean section were more likely to report sex-related pain 11 years after childbirth, specifically vaginal pain during sex.
It is unknown from this study whether caesarean section causes sex-related pain, as suggested by the findings, or whether prenatal sex-related pain is predictive of both caesarean section and postnatal sex-related pain.
Flo Martin, Wellcome Trust PhD Student in Epidemiology at the University of Bristol’s Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS), and lead author of the study, stated: “Significantly, it has been suggested that caesarean section preserves sexual health compared to vaginal delivery. Cesarean section rates have increased over the past two decades due to a number of contributing factors. It is crucial to investigate a wide range of maternal and foetal outcomes following caesarean section, including sexual health, in order to appropriately inform prenatal and postnatal decision-making.
“This study provides expectant mothers and women who have recently given birth with vital information and demonstrates that there was no difference in sexual enjoyment or sexual frequency at any time point postpartum between women who delivered via caesarean section and women who delivered vaginally. It also suggests that a caesarean section may not protect against sexual dysfunction as previously believed, as sex-related pain was greater among women who had a caesarean section more than ten years after giving birth.”
Researchers can provide evidence to help expectant mothers make well-informed decisions about their preferred choice of delivery in uncomplicated pregnancies and to support women postnatally if choice was not an option in the delivery suite through longitudinal studies such as Children of the 1990s.”
Children of the 1990s’ Chief Operating Officer is Lynn Molloy.
Martin, F.Z., et al. (2022) Mode of delivery and maternal sexual wellbeing: A longitudinal study. BJOG An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. doi.org/10.1111/1471-0528.17262.