Women get mixed messages about sexuality after childbirth


Life, Relationship

Popular TV shows tend to portray vaginal births as negative and C-sections as positive.

Dramatic reality TV shows lead women to be more fearful of what vaginal delivery might do to their sexuality. (Photo: Pixabay)

Women receive mixed messages about the ways giving birth may affect their sex lives, according to a new report.

Although studies don’t show a difference between post-delivery effects for vaginal births versus C-sections, media messages - especially dramatic reality TV shows - may lead women to be more fearful of what vaginal delivery might do to their sexuality, researchers wrote in the journal Birth.

Popular TV shows tend to portray vaginal births as negative and C-sections as positive for post-birth sex life concerns such as vaginal stretching or tearing, said study coauthor Dr. Caroline Pukall of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.

According to the National Institutes of Health, however, research hasn’t shown any differences in sexuality after childbirth based on the mode of delivery.

“Sexuality is an important aspect of many people’s lives and may be something that they consider when thinking about their birth plan,” Pukall told Reuters Health by email. “Some people may be influenced by media sources when making this decision.”

Pukall and coauthor Jaclyn Cappell surveyed more than 1,400 women who had never been pregnant but were interested in giving birth. The researchers asked about the women’s preferences for delivery, their perceptions about childbirth related to sexuality, and about the influence of various sources of information about childbirth – for example, relatives, friends, health care providers, magazines, television, the internet, etc.

They found that 85 percent of the women preferred a vaginal birth. At the same time, 48 percent agreed with the statement, “My vagina will be ‘loose’ after I have a vaginal birth,” and 16 percent agreed with the statement, “My partner will not like the look of my vulva after I have a vaginal birth.”

In addition, 21 percent thought having a C-section would prevent future sex problems. Those who felt this way were more likely to say that reality media, nonreality media and online media were influential sources of information. Those who disagreed were more likely to see health care professionals as influential sources of information.

The goal of the study was to illuminate misperceptions that exist among women, Pukall said.

She added, “The results are crucial in stimulating important conversations for childbirth educators, clinicians, new parents and the general public.”

Beliefs may vary by geographic location and culture, too. According to a report this year in the journal Reproductive Health, for example, more women in the U.S., UK, Chile, New Zealand and Australia prefer C-sections compared to women in Germany and Iceland. The women who preferred C-sections were also more likely to fear childbirth.

“Women who learned about birth at school by watching videos had higher fear scores than those who learned through family or midwives,” said Dr. Kathrin Stoll of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who published the Reproductive Health paper but wasn’t involved in Pukall’s research.

In Germany, for example, a program invites midwives to schools to talk about their jobs and how babies are born. They use hands-on teaching aids to show how babies sit in the pelvis and move through the birth canal.

“It’s important for us to discuss our fears openly and find solutions rather than read about it online or watch reality TV birthing shows,” Stoll told Reuters Health by phone.

“Don’t believe everything you hear and see in the media,” said Dr. Edwin van Teijlingen of the Centre for Midwifery, Maternal and Perinatal Health at Bournemouth University in England. Dr. van Teijlingen wasn’t involved with Pukall’s study.

People need “to be aware of more subtle ways we are influenced by portrayal of events in sitcoms, advertisements, blog posts, newsletters and more,” he told Reuters Health by email.