Infertility treatments, by their very nature, are scientific, routine and scheduled. They have one purpose: to conceive a baby under the most ideal conditions. The problem with this is intercourse is pivotal – you either need to refrain from it or do it on demand,” explains clinical psychologist Mandy Rodrigues.
When you marry, the last thing you think you’ll be faced with is fertility challenges,” says Mandy. You go about your daily life, making love to feel good while enjoying closeness and romance, knowing that when you’re ready to have a child you’ll stop all protection and conceive your baby in love and abandon. “But if that doesn’t happen,” explains Mandy, “you may be hit by a double whammy: the fact that you can’t conceive and the battering your relationship often takes as a result.” She says many couples present with intimacy problems when they’re dealing with infertility, but it’s not usually the infertility issue that puts pressure on the marriage, but rather the estrangement from one another as lovers.
What’s going on?
Even before couples seek fertility treatment, having sex often becomes routine and planned when trying to conceive. “When conception doesn’t happen, you start exploring ovulation dates and get familiar with the timing of intercourse”, says Mandy. “You’re thrust into a whole new world of temperature charts and ovulation kits, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes. Your husband is suddenly introduced to a woman who insists on intercourse at certain times and abstains at others. He’s expected to perform when you need him to, and he starts feeling as if the only purpose of sex is to produce a baby. For you, sex becomes a means to an end, so all enjoyment is removed and orgasms and spontaneity become null and void.”
Fertility treatments are challenging to your sexual intimacy, acknowledges reproductive medicine specialist Dr Antonio Rodrigues. “Even before you get to IVF, you’ll be faced with sex-related challenges – all of which transform what was previously a natural and enjoyable part of your relationship into something clinical and cold.”
Some of the situations that can make intimacy awkward include:
- Semen samples done at the practice. These can be invasive, so many men struggle with this. There are also cultural issues to consider.
- A schedule for scans following ovulation induction.
- Specific times for when, and when not, to have sex.
- A post-coital test that requires you to have intercourse and go to the clinic an hour or two later.
- IVF places even more performance pressure on your sex life and, coupled with the ongoing anxiety of whether it’s going to work, compounds the problem.
6 tips to stay connected
Mandy and Nicci Coertze, a birth, bereavement and adoption doula who has personally undergone six fertility treatments, offers the following advice on how to communicate and stay sexually and emotionally connected during this challenging time.
- Talk to your partner, then talk some more. Set aside a specific time to have a conversation and always be open and honest – you can’t have sexual intimacy if you aren’t emotionally connected.
- Try express your feelings surrounding intimacy with your partner in a gentle and caring way. Be understanding of how he’s feeling, too.
- Never forget, your husband wants to know that you want him. He doesn’t like the feeling of contrived intercourse. Show him you love him and falling pregnant isn’t the only thing that’s important to you.
- Plan a romantic getaway, go dancing or see a romantic movie together.
- Make a fuss of foreplay and if that’s all you do, but you’ve enjoyed the togetherness, that’s all that really matters.
- Talk about your insecurities and fears – it really helps.
Positive IVF language
When your relationship is strained due to fertility and intimacy issues, your actions and words can either improve or worsen the situation. Nicci maintains positive communication (not taking things personally and choosing your words with care) can go a long way in helping you negotiate a difficult infertility journey as a couple. She suggests you both try to put the following into practise:
- Think about your partner’s unique personality and communicate in a way he will understand.
- Choose to be kind and gentle when you speak.
- Try to express your feelings rather than blame and judge.
She highlights three common infertility scenarios where positive communication will help both of you:
Scenario: When he shuts down and stops communicating
Instead of saying: “You never talk to me!”
Rather say: “When you don’t speak to me about your feelings it makes me feel really anxious.”
Scenario: When he forgets an appointment
Instead of saying: “You always let me down – you’re never there when I need you most!”
Rather say: “It was really hard when you didn’t show up today, because your support means the world to me.”
Scenario: When you’re both tired and stressed out during treatment
Instead of saying: “I have to sacrifice a lot for this infertility treatment, and you don’t need to do anything.”
Rather say: “I appreciate all the things you’ve done, and are doing, for me. I know this is hard on you, too.”
A freelance journalist and content writer with a passion for people and health. She has worked in the magazine industry for many years and is a regular contributor to Living and Loving.