There is an established relationship between depression and sexual functioning in women. However, there is limited research examining the relationship between perinatal depression and sexual functioning.
This study draws on the Mercy Pregnancy and Emotional Wellbeing Study and reports on 211 women recruited in early pregnancy and followed to 12 months postpartum. Women were assessed for depression using the Structured Clinical Interview for the DSM-IV, repeated measurement of depressive symptoms using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and sexual functioning using the Female Sexual Functioning Inventory. Data were also collected on antidepressant use, mode of delivery, history of childhood trauma, breastfeeding and partner support.
Women showed a decline in sexual functioning over pregnancy and the first 6 months postpartum, which recovered by 12 months. For women with depression, sexual functioning was lower throughout pregnancy and continued to be lower at 6 months postpartum than those without depression. Ongoing depressive symptoms at 12 months were also associated with lower sexual functioning. Sexual functioning was not predicted by mode of delivery, antidepressant use or childhood trauma. Breastfeeding predicted lower sexual functioning only at 6 months. Higher partner support predicted higher female sexual functioning.
Pregnancy and the postpartum are a time of reduced sexual functioning for women; however, women with depression are more likely to have lower levels of sexual functioning and this was not predicted by antidepressant use. In women with perinatal depression, consideration of the impact on sexual functioning should be an integral part of care.