You are not alone in your fertility journey. Almost 30% of women in the U.S. under the age of 35 use IVF or other fertility treatments. Trying to conceive is a taxing process, both physically and mentally, to both partners in a relationship. One major way that infertility can impact the body is by decreasing sexual satisfaction, which can contribute to even more dysfunction both internally and externally.
Conceiving requires a handful of moving parts -- it demands a partner who can produce healthy sperm, a partner who can make viable eggs, careful timing of when these elements are brought together, and, if all of those things fall together, a consistently healthy embryo that potentially matures into an infant. The chance that these elements work together in a flow, allowing a couple to conceive, can take years of trying both naturally and with fertility treatments.
These years of trying for the perfect opportunity, a perfect blend of the sperm and egg and healthy embryo, can take a major hit on not only the physical wellness of partners, but also the emotional wellness.
Physically, trying to conceive can be a strenuous task especially when attempted over long periods of time. Sticking to an ovulation schedule and only attempting to conceive during those three days before a partner ovulates can feel like a physically demanding task regardless of the methods used.
This can be particularly true if a partner is going through IVF or similar treatments where hormone stimulation medications are used. These routine shots can come with some intense side effects like headaches, nausea, and hot flashes, which can make an already stressful experience even more difficult.
While the physical demands of conception can wear down the body heavily, many couples would agree in saying that the emotional and mental impact of trying to conceive packs an even harder punch.
The process of trying to start a family is often a long one, and even more often, a difficult one. Especially when going through fertility treatments to conceive, the cycle of hormone treatments, egg and sperm retrieval, fertilization, and embryo transfer can involve multiple bumps in the road that can lead to feelings of guilt, depression, and anxiety.
This experience of depression and anxiety can contribute to a lesser-considered aspect of wellness impacted by infertility, sexual arousal and satisfaction.
While little research has been conducted on the exact effects of infertility on sexual satisfaction, all signs have pointed to infertility contributing to sexual dysfunction and overall dissatisfaction in the bedroom. Studies on the subject have found that the stress of trying to conceive simply leads to couples not feeling in the mood. Additionally, news of infertility can bring about unexpected feelings of shame and guilt, contributing to a partner’s questioning of their self, identity, and abilities. This, in turn, can lead to a cycle of self-doubt and lowered self-esteem, causing more stress and diminishing arousal in the process.
One study, conducted by the University of Finance and Management in Warsaw, found that women who were experiencing fertility issues were also experiencing higher rates of depressive symptoms and sexual dysfunction.
With the use of the Mell-Krat Scale to measure sexual satisfaction, the results of the study showed that about 90% of the women experiencing infertility in the study reported scores that indicated the presence of dysfunctions in sexual reactivity. Not only did the infertile women in the study show signs of sexual dissatisfaction, the results of the study also presented a negative correlation between these women and their satisfaction with control and task management, role performance, and affective involvement.
While this study is not representative of the entire population of women or partners who are having issues with conceiving, it does present a relationship between infertility and its impact on satisfaction in multiple areas of life.
Despite these results, those who are experiencing fertility issues should never feel that all hope is lost. There are a plethora of ways to take back control of satisfaction in the bedroom and beyond with a little bit of perseverance.
The first step in taking the reins of your sexual satisfaction is realizing that you are not alone. Over 10% of women in the U.S. from ages 15 to 44 experience infertility, and an even larger percentage have conditions that make trying to conceive a challenge.
In heterosexual relationships, the women tend to take on much of the guilt caused by fertility struggles, but these issues can arise from a variety of different sources. It is estimated that about one-third of fertility issues derive from the man in the relationship, and another third derive from unknown reasons. Regardless of the cause of fertility issues, it is essential to positively affirm that it is not your fault and you are not alone with infertility, regardless of your role in the relationship or gender.
To possibly repair the sexual dissatisfaction caused by infertility, breaking out of an old sex cycle can vastly improve both partners’ experiences. Trying something new in the bedroom, maybe at a different time of day or place, can switch up an old routine and break both partners out of the routine of stress caused by a conception schedule. Focusing on pleasure, and finding different ways to evoke pleasure, is also a great way to improve feelings around sex and help both partners to regain feelings of desire and self-esteem.
Before any improvement of sexual satisfaction can happen, reconnecting and forming a more intimate relationship with your partner is essential. Sharing feelings around your fertility issues and being open to one another about the satisfaction, or lack of, that you’ve been feeling in the bedroom can go a long way in remedying the negative impact of infertility. Being more open with each other can foster a less judgemental and more loving relationship, making the process of starting a family just a little bit easier.
Infertility issues can cause an intense strain on a relationship, on partners’ self esteem and feelings of control, and, especially, their feelings of desire. By choosing to actively repair your relationship through sharing feelings surrounding your fertility issues and changing up your sex routine, you can take back control over infertility.