For most couples, the decision to make a baby is romantic. It’s like a delicious secret that only you know about, and that intimacy can lead to passionate and connected sex. But for couples who are struggling to conceive, baby-making sex often stops being fun.
I’ve counseled infertile couples for over two decades and have watched as my patients move from hope to despair and back again every month as, once again, they find out they’re not pregnant.
Peeing on a stick, having sex on a schedule, assessing your vaginal mucus, and limiting your sexual positions become the norm. And none of these things are hot! Over time it takes a toll on your mental health, relationships, and sex life.
Is infertility stress ruining your sex life?
After months of trying to get pregnant with no success, it’s easy to feel like a failure. Especially when it seems like everyone around you is getting pregnant with ease. The resulting shame makes sex more of an emotional minefield than it used to be.
At this point, many couples seek medical advice and are grateful for professional help. However, this also means that your once-private sex life involves various healthcare professionals advising on everything from sexual positions to fertility-friendly lubes to timing intercourse. And that’s before expensive fertility treatments that involve disrupted hormones and invasive procedures. As one of my patients put it with a wry smile, “I’m penetrated by a doctor wielding an ultrasound wand more often than my husband at this point.”
A Stamford study found that 40% of women with infertility suffer from emotional distress that affects their sex-life, making it harder to get aroused and enjoy sex. And men, too, feel under pressure. They complain that sex has become disconnecting, making them feel like a sperm donor rather than a loving partner. It’s common for men to feel psychological pressure and anxiety when their partner is ovulating, affecting their sexual performance. Some couples pull together and get closer during this time, while others retreat to their respective corners to nurse their hurt alone.
But there are things you can do to reconnect, and bring back that spark during sex. So here are the six pieces of advice I give to my patients when they tell me baby-making sex has become a chore.
1. You’re not alone
Most people don’t discuss their struggles to get pregnant with anyone other than their partner and their doctors, but 1 in 8 couples have fertility problems, so many people share your experience. Joining a Fertility Support Group or Coaching Group connects you with people in the same boat and can help you develop a good plan that restores a feeling of control.
2. Make time for connection
And as the stress builds, it’s important to make time for activities that support your relationship, such as a weekly date night or picking a fun activity to do together. This can be as simple as watching a film, baking a cake, exercising together, or walking hand-in-hand in your neighborhood after work.
3. Prioritize intimacy
It’s easy to slip into a routine where you only have sex for a few days around ovulation. However, it’s helpful to have sex outside your fertile window so that your sexual connection is about more than just baby-making. Take the pressure off by removing all of the fertility paraphernalia from your bedroom. Hide the basal body temperature thermometer, the fertility books, and the ovulation kits and concentrate on giving each other pleasure.
And at other times, touch each other in a way that fosters closeness. Spend some time cuddling or giving each other a massage. And why not try a kissing game? Taking turns, kiss your partner in the way you’d like to be kissed. This is a fun activity that also teaches your partner new ways of giving you pleasure.
4. Communication is key
People deal with disappointment in different ways. Some want to talk about it while others shut down. These different communication styles can lead to resentment, with one partner blaming the other for either overreacting or being distant. Acknowledge that you’re both going through a difficult time and try to hear each other without judgment.
It sometimes helps to sit down and give each of you ten minutes to talk about how you feel and how infertility affects you. As you speak, try to use words that express your own experience without blaming the other person. As you listen, try to be open and empathic and really hear what your partner is saying. Paraphrasing their words, here and there, can help them feel heard and also allow them to correct any misunderstandings.
5. Ask for help
You may feel that you have enough doctors involved in your sex life as you troubleshoot your fertility problems. Still, a couples therapist can guide you through your frustration and support you to hear each other and work together to tackle your fertility problems. Learning how to stay connected in a difficult time can give you skills to support your relationship for years to come.
6. Don’t forget to laugh!
Many couples have told me that a shared sense of humor has helped them get through infertility with their bond intact. Laughter soothes tension, relaxes muscles, and prompts your body to release stress-relieving chemicals. And a shared joke can create a connection between the two of you as you navigate your way to being parents.
Most of my patients solve their fertility problems and go on to be parents, so there’s much reason for hope. The key is staying the course, and that involves supporting yourself and your partner through a difficult time, so you with your physical and emotional bond intact or even stronger.