Female Sexual Function, Dysfunction, and Pregnancy: Implications for Practice

Jessica Murtagh, CNM, MSN, RN


J Midwifery Womens Health. 2010;55(5):438-446. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Women's sexual function is a complex and dynamic interplay of variables that involve physical, emotional, and psychosocial states. Sexual dysfunction may occur at any level, and diagnosing such issues begins with careful assessment through a sexual health history. However, discussions about female sexual health and function are often deficient in the primary care setting. This article reviews the published research on female sexual function, sexual dysfunction, and sexual function in pregnancy to gain a better understanding of how these aspects of a woman's life impact the health care services she receives. The evaluation of female sexual function is in need of consistent measurement tools and more dialogue during health care visits. Women's health care practitioners have an opportunity to advance patient satisfaction and overall health by evaluating and communicating with female patients about their sexual function.


Female sexual function, dysfunction, and health during pregnancy are primary topics of concern for women's health care providers. Although these topics may be regarded independently from one another, each can have a large impact on an individual woman throughout her lifespan. As many as 40% to 45% of women may experience some form of sexual dysfunction in their lifetime.[1] Approximately 4 million births occur annually in the United States, with a birth rate currently on the rise.[2] Issues focusing on sexual and reproductive health should be a priority for those invested in women's health care. Women's sexual function, dysfunction, and sexual functioning in pregnancy are of interest to both patients and providers.[3]

Prenatal care is one venue where both sexual function and dysfunction can be addressed. According to an integrative literature review of 36 articles published between 1996 and 2007, women's experiences of prenatal care vary from those feeling satisfied and respected to those feeling rushed, stereotyped, and neglected.[4] Women prefer adequate time with their providers, a personable relationship, comprehensive care, and interactive participation in health discussions and decisions.[4] Under the aforementioned parameters, sexual health issues could be more easily facilitated and included in routine prenatal and primary care visits. This literature review examines research published primarily after the year 2000 and a few seminal articles that investigated female sexual function, sexual dysfunction, and sexual functioning in pregnancy. The purpose of this article is to explore female sexual function and dysfunction, how they affect women during pregnancy, and present implications for practice.


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