To describe the timing, quality and patient concerns regarding the first sexual encounter after surgery for pelvic organ prolapse (POP) or urinary incontinence (UI).
Women scheduled to undergo POP or UI surgery who self-identified as sexually active were recruited to this qualitative study. Routine counseling regarding the return to sexual activity was provided 4–6 weeks postoperatively. Participants completed interviews 2–4 months after their surgery. Interviews were tape recorded, de-identified, and transcribed. Transcriptions were coded for major themes by two independent researchers; disagreements were arbitrated by the research team. Analysis was performed using Dedoose software.
Twenty patients with an average age of 52.4 years participated. Most identified themselves as White (85%), one quarter had a history of hysterectomy, and 15% had previously undergone pelvic reconstructive surgery. Nineteen (95%) patients resumed intercourse 2–4 months after surgery. Thematic saturation was reached with major themes of Outside Influences, Conflicting Emotions, Uncertainty, Sexual Changes and Stability, Normalization, and Self-Image. First sexual encounter timing was strongly influenced by partners' desires and fears and physician counseling. Fear of damage to repairs affected patients' comfort with return to sexual activity. Although uncertain of how anatomical changes or presence of mesh would affect function, women hoped that changes would be positive, regardless of preoperative sexual function. Some women found their experience unchanged, whereas others reported need for change in sexual position, use of lubrication, and sensation of foreign body. Positive changes included increase in desire, pleasure, and improvement in orgasm. Self-image generally improved after surgery, which increased women's sexual confidence.
The return to sexual activity after surgery for POP or UI represents a great unknown for many women. Reports of initial sexual activity after surgery are often positive, and physicians strongly influence initial postoperative sexual encounter timing. Frank counseling about patient and partners' fears regarding the effect of repair on sexual activity would likely improve patients' outcomes.