Sexuality and the Partner Relationship During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period
Although much work has examined the manner in which pregnancy and childbirth disrupt aspects of sexual functioning (i.e., frequency of intercourse), little work has considered how this disruption affects the quality of the partner relationship during the transition to parenthood. In this chapter, research investigating sexual functioning during pregnancy and the postpartum period is reviewed. It is evident that sexual functioning during pregnancy and the postpartum period changes as compared to sexual functioning prior to conception. Patterns of sexual activity are variable, but the frequency of sexual activity generally declines throughout pregnancy and slowly begins to increase around the second month postpartum (cf. von Sydow, 1999). Other variables such as sexual interest and arousal appear to follow a similar pattern, although there is a subset of individuals who experience increased interest during this time period. There are a wide variety of factors that affect sexual functioning during pregnancy and the postpartum period, such as breastfeeding status, parity, age, and subjective experiences of pain. However, a number of methodological limitations temper the conclusions that can be drawn from this literature, and research in this area to date has been largely atheoretical. Future researchers are encouraged to consider changes in sexual functioning in light of changes in the quality of the partner relationship and identify the factors that might enhance this relationship at a time when sexual activity is occurring at a relatively low level.