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Psychological support from partner boosts women's postpartum sex drive

July 1, 2012 - Washington

Psychological factors rather than physical ones drive a woman's sexual desire in the postpartum period, researchers say.

Starting up sex again after the birth of a child can be a fraught issue for new parents, and in many cases social factors such as spousal support and the baby's sleeping habits play a larger role in new moms' interest in sex than physical factors like birth trauma.

Women also begin feeling desire and engaging in sex sooner than the six-week waiting period that most doctors recommend.

"One interesting thing is that women performed oral sex on their partners and engaged in masturbation earlier than they received oral sex or engaged in intercourse," Sari van Anders, study researcher from the University of Michigan, said.

"People have frequently assumed that women just aren't interested in sexuality early in the postpartum period and that the sexual activity they do engage in is for the sake of their partners, but the rates of masturbation suggests that many women are feeling sexual," Anders said.

The new baby period is a time of little sleep and healing from childbirth, two factors not conducive to a rambunctious sex life. But studies have shown that new parenthood doesn't cool the sex drive for long.

Research suggests that desire returns to prepregnancy levels within about three to four weeks, though most couples don't resume vaginal intercourse until week seven or eight.

Previous studies have mostly focused on the physical trauma of labour and delivery as well as post-baby hormonal factors to explain the postpartum sex drive.

Since there's more to sex than biology, van Anders and her colleagues wanted to take a look at social factors, too.

The researchers recruited 304 women who had given birth in the last seven years to reflect on their postpartum experiences in a series of online questionnaires.

All of the women had a romantic partner during the first three months of their baby's life. They answered questions about their sexual desires, their sexual activities, their partner's supportiveness, their birth experience and other factors, like breast-feeding.

By the end of the first three months, 85 percent of the women had started having intercourse again. 65 percent had engaged in oral sex and 61 percent had masturbated. I

In general, van Anders said, women start performing oral sex and mas****ating first, with receptive oral sex and penile-vaginal intercourse coming later.

In terms of timing, the most important factors for a woman were her perceptions of her partner's sexual needs and desires, suggesting that some women start sexual activity again more for their partner's benefit than their own.

A woman's level of social support and her experiences in childbirth - both physical and psychological - also influenced how soon she started engaging in sexual activities again.

Fatigue, stress, body image, breast-feeding and vaginal trauma were not associated with how quickly women started having sex again, however.

The researchers found that the biggest driver of high sexual desire for women were their feelings of intimacy and closeness to their partners.

Next came their partner's interest in sex, followed by their own number of sexual feelings and their amount of support from their partner. Top sex-drive killers were fatigue, the baby's sleeping habits and lack of time.

Contrary to beliefs that a man seeing his partner in the throes of labour is a turn-off, the study found that women whose partners were in the delivery room reported stronger sexual desire post-birth.

The study has been published online in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.


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