There is no evidence to support postulated associations between mode of delivery and subsequent maternal sexual enjoyment or frequency of intercourse, according to a new study from the University of Bristol (England). However, cesarean section was shown to be associated with a 74% increased risk of dyspareunia, and this was not necessarily due to abdominal scarring, the researchers said.
A team from the University of Bristol and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden used data from participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a prospective longitudinal birth cohort study also dubbed “Children of the 90s” and involving more than 14,000 women in the United Kingdom who were pregnant in 1991 and 1992. The study has been following the health and development of the parents, their children, and now their grandchildren in detail ever since.
The new study, published in BJOG, aimed to assess whether cesarean section maintains sexual well-being compared with vaginal delivery, as has been suggested to occur because of the reduced risk of genital damage – less chance of tearing – and the maintenance of vaginal tone. There is some evidence that cesarean section is associated with an increased risk of sexual problems such as dyspareunia, but few studies have looked at the postbirth period long term.
Mode of delivery was abstracted from routine obstetric records and recorded as one of either spontaneous vaginal delivery (SVD), cesarean section, assisted breech, breech extraction, forceps, or vacuum extraction. Women whose records showed “other” as mode of delivery or whose notes contained conflicting modes of delivery were excluded.
Self-reported questionnaires asking about general health and lifestyle and including questions relating to sexual enjoyment and frequency were collected at 33 months and at 5, 12, and 18 years postpartum. Women were asked if they enjoyed sexual intercourse, with possible responses of:
- Yes, very much.
- Yes, somewhat.
- No, not a lot.
- No, not at all.
- No sex at the moment.
Possible sexual frequency responses were:
- Not at all.
- Less than once a month.
- 1-3 times a month.
- About once a week.
- 2-4 times a week.
- 5 or more times a week.
First study to look at sexual frequency
The team noted that theirs is the first study investigating the association of mode of delivery with sexual frequency. “Although it may be less important for well-being than sexual enjoyment or sex-related pain, it is an important measure to observe alongside other sexual outcomes,” they said.
Separately, sex-related pain, in the vagina during sex or elsewhere after sex, was assessed once, at 11 years post partum.
The data showed that women who had a cesarean section (11% of the sample) tended to be older than those who had vaginal delivery, with a higher mean body mass index (24.2 versus 22.8 kg/m2), and were more likely to be nulliparous at the time of the index pregnancy (54% versus 44%).
There was no significant difference between cesarean section and vaginal delivery in terms of responses for sexual enjoyment or frequency at any time after childbirth, the authors said. Nor, in adjusted models, was there evidence of associations between the type of vaginal delivery and sexual enjoyment or frequency outcomes.