Trying to Conceive and Your Sex Life

From Frustration to Shame to Lower Libido

woman and man sitting on bed, struggling with their sex life during infertility
Infertility can negatively impact your sex life, but with time and attention, you can recover and have a good sex life again. Philip Lee Harvey / Getty Images

Long term trying to conceive can negatively impact your sexual life. Before trying to get pregnant, sex was likely a fun and hopefully passionate. It was a way to connect with your partner. Your early trying to conceive days may have also been wonderful. After years of using birth control, having sex without fear of getting pregnant can be thrilling.

However, trying to conceive for an extended time can change all of this.

If you or your partner feels that your sexual relationship has deteriorated because of infertility, you are not alone.

These are some of the many ways infertility may affect sexuality.

Sex Becomes Frustrating

Sex can be a source of frustration when you're trying to conceive.

Sex becomes a reminder of what isn't working the way it should.

We all know from high school health class that sex is for making babies. (And if we believed our health class teacher, we believed that sex -- just once, at any time -- could make us pregnant teens.)

Few people ever consider the idea that sex might not lead to pregnancy quickly and simply. When things don't "work the right way," sex goes from being a stress reliever to being a stress creator.

The experience can be very frustrating.

Sex Begins to Feel Like a Chore

Ever whisper to one another, "Let's make a baby," right before sex?

These words may be a turn-on in the beginning.

But after months or years of trying to get pregnant, those words are the last thing you'd want to hear.

Sex may feel like a chore. It may feel like something you have to do in order to accomplish a goal. And that goal -- making a baby -- feels impossible to reach.

Add in the stress of timing for ovulation, or being told by your doctor to have sex on particular days, and sex may feel more like homework.

Sex and Shame

Shame is no stranger to infertility or sex.

Dr. Brene Brown defines shame as a feeling of being unworthy of love and belonging.

Shame in sexuality may be expressed as feeling unworthy of being attractive to another person.

For women, infertility may make them feel less womanly. The breasts and hip are often thought of as sexual symbols of childbearing and child nourishment. Infertility may take those thoughts away.

A woman may not understand how her partner can find her attractive, especially if she feels "damaged" by infertility.

For men, infertility can harm their feelings of masculinity.

While women are more likely to struggle with feelings of depression or anxiety during infertility, men with male infertility struggle terribly with shame.

Men may feel they are "less of a man" if their sperm counts are low or they can't get their partner pregnant, for whatever reasons.

They may worry that their partner will leave them for a "real man."

When you don't feel worthy of love, or don't feel sexy or attractive, your sexual relationship is going to suffer.

Anxiety, Depression, and Sex

Anxiety and depression are common in couples dealing with infertility, especially women. In turn, both anxiety and depression can impact your sexual relationship.

Lower sexual desire is a common symptom of depression.

Anxiety can also lead to sexual tension. Anxiety specifically around sex is common in couples dealing with infertility.

Sexual Dysfunction in Women and Men

Research has found that women and men with infertility are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction.

Sexual dysfunction refers to having problems with any stage of the sexual act, including the desire to have sex, arousal during sex, and orgasm.

It's not hard to imagine how the problems discussed above -- shame, anxiety, depression, and frustration -- can lead to sexual dysfunction.

Pressure to perform can also lead to sexual dysfunction. Both men and women may experience this while trying to conceive.

For men, performance anxiety, premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction may occur.

In one study, when comparing infertile men with a control group of fertile men, almost twice as many of the men with infertility experienced erectile dysfunction. 

In another study on female sexual dysfunction, 40% of women with infertility were found to be at risk for sexual dysfunction. This is compared to 25% of the control group.

The Bottom Line on Trying to Conceive and Sex

The stress of trying to conceive, plus the diagnosis, testing, and treatment of infertility, causes tension in the sexual relationship for many couples.

You may feel that you are alone with your experiences. You may even wonder if your partner feels the same feelings of shame and frustration that you feel.

It's important to know that you are, by far, not alone.

Research has shown again and again that infertility changes how we see ourselves as sexual beings. It changes our sexual relationships.

But it should be like this forever. There's reason for hope.

A long-term study of couples who went through IVF treatment looked at whether the sexual and marital relationship was affected years after treatment. They specifically looked at how couples were doing 10 years after treatment.

Ten years after infertility, couples rated their level of marital and sexual satisfaction as being "adequate" or "more than adequate."

This was true regardless of whether they succeeded in getting pregnant, went on to adoption, or remained childless.

While you may be struggling now, once it's over -- and it will be over eventually -- things will get better.

More on sex and fertility:

Sources:

Drosdzol A, Skrzypulec V. "Quality of life and sexual functioning of Polish infertile couples." The European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care: The Official Journal of the European Society of Contraception. 2008 Sep;13(3):271-81.

Leiblum SR, Aviv A, Hamer R. "Life after infertility treatment: a long-term investigation of marital and sexual function." Human Reproduction. 1998 Dec;13(12):3569-74.

Millheiser LS, Helmer AE, Quintero RB, Westphal LM, Milki AA, Lathi RB. "Is infertility a risk factor for female sexual dysfunction? A case-control study" Fertility and Sterility. 2010 Nov;94(6):2022-5. Epub 2010 Mar 6.

Nelson CJ, Shindel AW, Naughton CK, Ohebshalom M, Mulhall JP. "Prevalence and predictors of sexual problems, relationship stress, and depression in female partners of infertile couples." Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2008 Aug;5(8):1907-14. Epub 2008 Jun 28.

Peterson BD, Newton CR, Feingold T. "Anxiety and sexual stress in men and women undergoing infertility treatment." Fertility and Sterility. 2007 Oct;88(4):911-4. Epub 2007 Apr 11.

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