Dr Bella Ellwood-Clayton, sexual anthropologist and author of Sex Drive: in Pursuit of Female Desire,


Dr Bella Ellwood-Clayton, sexual anthropologist and author of Sex Drive: in Pursuit of Female Desire. image001.jpg

Doctors should routinely inquire about the sexual wellbeing of parents of young children, a medical conference has been told.

It has been estimated that at least one-third of couples develop serious, long-lasting psychosexual disturbances after the birth of their first child.

The problem was considered serious enough to be placed on the agenda of the annual scientific meeting of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Canberra this week.

Sexual anthropologist Bella Ellwood-Clayton, who was invited to speak at the conference, said sexual disturbances could last for years after a child was born.

''Rather than setting the bar for six weeks [after birth], I think it's more likely to set at six years,'' she said.

Dr Ellwood-Clayton said pre-existing sexual problems in couples tended to worsen after the birth of their first child and were at their most pronounced three to four years later.

''It's really important that somebody know that a lower libido is what the couple is going to be dealing with for a few years because it might not come as such a momentous shock for the couple,'' she said.

''I think it's important for people in the medical profession to take more of an active role in discussing the sexual side of pregnancy, of birthing and of new parenting and for them to routinely inquire about couples' sexual wellbeing.

''And if they do respond with concern to discuss these concerns and offer a wealth of reference material.''

Dr Ellwood-Clayton said a loss of sexual desire in women after childbirth could be linked to a range of factors, including post-delivery discomfort, exhaustion, post-natal depression, being overwhelmed with new responsibilities and body image issues.

Men could also be traumatised as a result of watching their partners experience difficult labours. Some studies also suggested that mothers who breastfed for longer periods may have slightly less sexual desire than other women and experience less enjoyment from intercourse.

''There's this myth of ever-lasting passionate monogamy when in all likelihood it is natural for us during the life course to go through periods of having a low libido and I think that should be perfectly accepted and fine,'' Dr Ellwood-Clayton said.

''But we have these enormous expectations and also a very real issue: two people have different desires in a relationship and some people's sexual needs aren't being fulfilled. That is often the cause of relationship breakdown and I think that's reflected in our current divorce rate of 40 per cent.''

Dr Ellwood-Clayton said it was important that couples talked about how happy they were with their sexuality and whether they were willing to make a commitment to having a more sexual life together.