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Do passion and pregnancy mix? A new clinical study reports that the frequency of sexual intercourse declines in the third trimester of pregnancy and steadily returns between three to six months after childbirth.

The study, in the August 2010 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, found that sexual activity tends to decrease in the third trimester due to hormonal changes, such as increased levels of estrogen, progesterone and prolactin, which are responsible for nausea and vomiting, breast tenderness, weight gain, anxiety and fatigue – all of which may cause a reduction in sexual desire and arousal.

How quickly women experience post-partum passion varies from three to six months, according to the 484 women studied. Conditions impacting sexual drive were vaginal dryness and elasticity, bleeding and irritation during intercourse, difficulty reaching orgasm, and/or lack of libido or desire, often related to the absence of menstrual periods during breastfeeding. Of the study participants, 83% of the women reported lack of sexual interest three months after childbirth, which dropped to 64% between three and six months post-pregnancy. Six months after giving birth, many of the medical symptoms were reduced or alleviated and 89% of women had returned to sexual activity.

“It’s normal for the frequency of sex to decline during the last trimester of pregnancy and up to the first six months following childbirth,” said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of the journal, as well as director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego. “Many factors impact the decline of libido, such as hormone changes, weight gain, and healing after giving birth. If a woman doesn’t feel physically able to return to sexual activity six months after her child’s birth, then she should see a physician to explore what may be impacting desire.”

The study found evidence that a decline in female sexual function can take place during the first three to six months following childbirth, but with a later gradual recovery.