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Sex and Infertility

How Infertility Makes Sex More Difficult

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Updated March 17, 2011

It can seem like a cruel joke to spend the beginning of your sexually active years trying to have sex while avoiding pregnancy, only to find yourself ten years later trying to get pregnant, and discovering that it doesn’t happen. For most couples who are either dealing with confirmed infertility problems or who are worried that infertility may be a problem, the cruel joke is no laughing matter.

The impact of infertility (real or suspected) on your sex life can be enormous. Sex that is timed and filled with anxiety about the outcome quickly becomes mechanical and forced. What was once an intense expression of love, desire, and commitment can feel like an obligation, an expectation -- and practically coercive. As confusion and emotions run high it can be difficult to figure out exactly why you’re so sad or angry or frustrated with your partner and/or yourself.

If you are trying to conceive and either know that infertility is an issue, or suspect that it is, there are a few things you can do to make the situation a little easier. In addition to some basic tips on keeping sex fun while trying to get pregnant, it’s also worth taking some time to think about how the infertility is affecting your sex life and talk with your partner (and/or a professional) about your concerns.

Infertility Impacts Our Experience of Gender

Fertility is intimately linked to definitions of what it means to be a man and a woman in our society. Women are told that the most important identity they will ever have is that of “mother.” Men, on the other hand, are virile hunter-types, and while they are most valued for their ability to make money and get erections, they are also expected to penetrate and impregnate. As soon as you are associated with the idea of infertility, you become suspect as a man or woman, in part because you aren’t fitting into prescribed gender roles.

These expectations can feel like a huge burden, and no matter how hard you try, it’s unlikely you can eliminate the impact of these gender roles on how you feel about infertility. They also inform how we feel about sex, and how we have it. Talking with your partner and social supports about your feelings can help. Acknowledging that infertility doesn’t make you less of a man or woman is also an important step.

Infertility Changes Our Experience of Sex

Our society leads us to believe that sex means the same thing to all of us -- but nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing likely to be true for all of us is that sex is important, but beyond this, what sex means is as individual as we are.

Regardless of what sex means for you, if you are suddenly expected to have sex on demand, it can feel traumatic, and can, ironically, make you not want to have sex at all. One positive in the situation is that it provides an opportunity to talk with your partner about what sex does mean to you. This can open up new lines of communication and, in the end, even improve your sex life together.

Infertility Gives Us Time to Think

Infertility is all about waiting. Depending on your situation, you may have scheduled procedures, blood tests, and other deadlines to meet, but in the end, it’s a game of wait and see. And waiting means having lots of time to think about things. If you are trying to conceive, the time between ovulations can feel like eternity, and if you are worried about infertility it’s easy to fill that time with all sorts of pessimistic fantasies. You can easily convince yourself that you will never conceive, or that even trying is a mistake.

We often forget that sex isn’t just about the plumbing, it encompasses our thoughts too. The impact of all that negative and anxious thinking on our sex lives can be significant, and it can affect more than just our mood, it can actually affect our body’s readiness to engage in intercourse.

Infertility Brings Too Many People Into Our Bedrooms

Most of the time, sex is a relatively private act. While it occasionally can involve more than two people, it usually doesn’t include everyone in your social circle and certainly shouldn’t involve family members. But when you are dealing with infertility, and you start to talk to family and friends about it, your bedroom can quickly become very crowded (psychically speaking). The social pressure to get pregnant, combined with the knowledge that family and friends are worried for you, can put extra unneeded pressure on the two of you as you are trying to have sex.

At the best of times it can be difficult for us to focus on the experience of sexual pleasure without letting the stress of our daily lives into the bedroom. When you are dealing with infertility, this struggle becomes exponentially more difficult as the worry is about the sex (or at least the desired outcome of the sex). Taking some time to leave family and friends at the bedroom door (as best you can) can go a long way to making the sex a bit less heavy (and maybe even a bit more sexy).

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