Depression, anorexia, childbirth affect sex life

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Childbirth and the psychiatric disorders anorexia and depression can affect a woman’s sex life, but in different ways, a small study suggests.

Research has shown that women with mental health conditions, including major depression and eating disorders, tend to report more problems with their sex life than other women do. The same has been found in studies of new mothers.

But the nature of this sexual dysfunction has not been clear.

In the new study, researchers found that women with either anorexia or depression typically had sex more frequently than new mothers did. They were, however, more likely to report having “problems” during sex, according to findings published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

This suggests that anorexia and depression have similar effects on a woman’s sex life, while childbirth has a different sort of impact, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Frances A. Carter of the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Otago University in New Zealand.

The study results are based on questionnaire responses from 76 women who had taken part in three previous, separate studies and included 10 women with anorexia; 24 women with major depression; and 42 women who’d given birth within the past two months. All of the women were married or in stable relationships.

Overall, Carter’s team found that 80 percent and 79 percent of women with anorexia or depression, respectively, said they’d had sex in the past two weeks, compared with only half of the new mothers.

On the other hand, none of the women in the postnatal group said they had any problems during sex, while roughly one third of those with anorexia or depression said they did.

The fact that new mothers had sex less often is not surprising, according to Carter and his colleagues. However, the reported lack of any sexual difficulties is “more optimistic” than the results obtained from other studies, which “suggested that sexual difficulties were the norm.”

The researchers add that their findings should be considered preliminary, in part because the study group was so small, particularly the number of women with anorexia.

SOURCE: International Journal of Eating Disorders, November 2007.