Roundups Sexual Health

Sexual Health Roundup: Childbirth May Cause Post-Traumatic Stress but Not Memory Loss

Martha Kempner

In this week's sexual health roundup: one study shows us that a significant proportion of women experience post-traumatic stress disorder in women (especially those who don't use pain medications) while another one suggests that childbirth may improve memory function. A study in men suggests that obesity is linked to erectile dysfunction. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Common after Childbirth

After having my first child, I remember telling friends that while I didn’t think it was a great way to spend a day, childbirth wasn’t nearly as bad or scary as I thought. For many women, however, this is not the case. A new study published in the Israel Medical Association Journal suggest that one out of three women experience some of the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (which is more often associated with natural disasters, accidents, and returning war veterans) and three percent have full on PTSD.

Researchers interviewed 89 women between the ages of 20 and 40, first within two to five days after delivery and then again one month after delivery. They found that 25.9 percent of the women interviewed displayed symptoms of post-trauma, 7.8 percent suffered from partial post-trauma, and 3.4 percent exhibited symptoms of full-blown PTSD. The most common symptoms included flashbacks to labor, avoidance of discussing the events, physical reactions like heart palpitations during such discussions, and a unwillingness to consider having another child.

Moreover, the researchers found that pain management during labor had a large impact on PTSD symptoms later on. About 80 percent of women who experienced partial or full post-trauma symptoms had delivered via natural childbirth, without any pain relief.  According to one of the authors:

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“The less pain relief there was, the higher the woman’s chances of developing post-partum PTSD.”  

In addition, 80 of the women who experienced PTSD said they were uncomfortable being unclothed. 

Other factors such as having a midwife or doula during labor, socioeconomic status, marital status, level of education, and religion did not help women avoid PTSD symptoms caused by childbirth according to this study.

Given the vitriol with which the topic of pain relief during labor is often debated, I can imagine that this study could become controversial especially because the sample size is so small. At the very least, though, it should remind us that women have different reactions to childbirth and for many women it is a very frightening and stressful experience and we should all (whether we are health care providers, family, friends, or total strangers) respect this possibility.

I did not, by the way, have the same mild reaction to childbirth the second time around. It was shorter but much more painful and scarier and at the end all I could think was “Thank goodness I never, ever, ever have to do that again.”

Childbirth Actually Improves Memory

Childbirth may make leave some women with symptoms of PTSD but contrary to popular opinion, it does not make you lose your memory. The finding of a series of experiments–which were presented at a recent meeting of the American Psychological Association–found that: “new mothers scored better on tests of visuospatial memory–the ability to perceive and remember information about their surroundings–compared with women who didn’t have children.”

Researchers tested the visuospatial memory of 35 first-time mothers whose children were between ten and 24 months-old and compared it to that of 35 women who had never been pregnant. The women were shown a paper containing six symbols for 10 seconds, and then asked to draw what they remembered. This task was repeated several times. The first time women were shown the paper, both groups remembered about the same amount but the second and third time the mother performed better. The mothers also did better when they were shown a different set of symbols and asked which of them had also been on the earlier paper.

Pregnancy brain–which I describe as the inability to remember anything for more than 30 seconds while pregnant–is not a myth. Pregnant women are scatter-brained. In fact, studies show the brain may shrink up to five percent during pregnancy but it returns to its normal size within six months. Researchers suggests that the brain may “re-map itself during this time” and that may be why the mothers performed better in this study, though they admit the results have to be verified with a larger sample of women over a longer period of time.  

I’ll be interested to see if the finding hold up because I firmly believe that my once steel-trap memory became more like a stainless steel sieve during my first pregnancy and has not gotten any better in the six years since.  

A New Reason for Men to Lose Weight: Erectile Dysfunction

A whole host of health care specialists from cardiologists to neurologists to nephrologists have been telling us for years that we need to slim down prevent problems with our brains, hearts, kidneys… you name it obesity has been linked with countless health problems. New research suggests that for men, at least, sexual dysfunction may be added to that list.     

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical Center set out to study whether obesity was linked to urinary tract issues including frequent urination and incontinence by looking at 400 men ranging from 40 to 91 years old. About a third of the men had a waist circumference of less than 36 inches, a third had a waist that measured 36 to 40 inches, and the rest had waists greater than 40 inches. The results, however, went beyond urination.

The study, published in the British Journal of Medicine, found that three quarters of the overweight men suffered from erectile dysfunction compared to a third of those with trim waists. Moreover, it found the heavier the men were, the more likely they were to experience problems. The good news is that newer research conducted by the same team suggests that reducing your stomach’s circumference by just two-and-a-half inches could improve sexual health. Now if that’s not incentive to get back to the gym, I don’t know what is.  


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