The Relationship between Sexual Functioning and Depressive Symptomatology in Postpartum Women: A Pilot Study


Meredith Chivers, PhD, CPsych, Department of Psychology, Queen's University, 354 Humphrey Hall, 62 Arch Street, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6. Tel: (613) 533-2889; Fax: (613) 533 2499; E-mail:


Introduction.  Previous research on postpartum sexuality has primarily focused on the impact of physical factors on the resumption and frequency of sexual intercourse; fewer studies have focused on the impact of psychological factors on women's sexual functioning.

Aim.  The aim of this study is to assess current sexual functioning and sexual behavior in women with and without symptoms of postpartum depression using validated measures of postpartum depression and sexual functioning.

Methods.  Women attending postpartum appointments were consecutively recruited over a 12-month period and completed questionnaires assessing sexual functioning, current sexual behavior, and mental health.

Main Outcome Measures.  The Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), and items assessing current sexual behaviors.

Results.  A total of 77 women returned completed questionnaire packages (mean postpartum weeks: 13, range 3–24). Of these, 57 women (74%) had engaged in sexual activity with a partner in the 4 weeks prior to completing the questionnaire. The mean FSFI score was 23.0 (range 6–34), with 37 women (65%) scoring in the range associated with clinical sexual dysfunction. Women with elevated EPDS scores had significantly lower total FSFI, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction FSFI subscale scores (all P values <0.005) than nondepressed women, suggesting more problematic sexual functioning. Desire, lubrication, and pain FSFI subscale scores were not significantly associated with depression status.

Conclusions.  A substantial proportion of women experience sexual problems in the postpartum period; these problems are particularly pronounced among women with symptoms of postpartum depression. Longitudinal research is needed to better understand the relationship between sexual dysfunction and depression among postpartum women, and to identify implications for prevention and treatment of both conditions. Chivers ML, Pittini R, Grigoriadis S, Villegas L, and Ross LE. The relationship between sexual functioning and depressive symptomatology in postpartum women: A pilot study. J Sex Med 2011;8:792–799.