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J Psychosom Res. 1999 Jul;47(1):27-49.

Sexuality during pregnancy and after childbirth: a metacontent analysis of 59 studies.

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Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Klinik für Psychosomatik und Psychotherapie, Giessen, Germany.


The aim of this study is to gain a systematic overview of all existing studies on parental sexuality during pregnancy and the postpartum period (months 1-6). Investigations of psychological and medical data banks and cross-references revealed 59 relevant studies published in English or German between 1950 and 1996. These primary studies were metacontent analyzed, according to the following categories: methodology (samples, designs): type of descriptive data researched (sexual activity, interest, enjoyment, orgasm, problems); and type of correlational data researched (sexual variables and pregnancy outcome, maternal physical and psychological health, sociodemographic data, biographical data, partnership data). On average, female sexual interest and coital activity declines slightly in the first trimester of pregnancy, shows variable patterns in the second trimester, and decreases sharply in the third trimester. Most couples do not practice intercourse for about 2 months around the delivery. Afterwards, sexual interest and activity tends to be reduced for several months as compared with the prepregnancy level, and sexual problems occur relatively often. But most remarkable is the interindividual variability concerning sexual responsiveness, orgasm, activity, and enjoyment. Descriptive research is focused on coital activity of (expectant) mothers. Data about fathers, noncoital activities, and sexual feelings are scarce. Data analysis is focused on three questions: (1) Does sexual activity in pregnancy harm the fetus? (if there are no risk factors: no); (2) Are physical and mental symptoms or data about the delivery and sexual variables correlated? (in some cases: yes); (3) Are sociodemographic data and sexual variables correlated? (mostly not). Research deficits (e.g., conceptual reductionism "sexuality=intercourse," neglect of the male partners, validity, reliability, neglect of the nonsexual partnership and of biographical influences) are critically discussed. Medical, counseling, and psychotherapeutic implications are derived.

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