When you’re not trying to have a baby, sex can be exciting, spontaneous, romantic, fun … and, well, SEX!
When you’re trying to conceive, however, sometimes, it can be quite a different story. If this is the first month you’ve decided to “try”, you may experience new feelings around sex. If you’ve been trying to conceive for several months, the new pressures surrounding sex can ramp up, and become an even greater source of anxiety, sapping what little “mood” you may feel remains your sex life.
The discussion of sex, and how trying to conceive affects our sex lives, can be noticeably absent from discussions about fertility, infertility, and conception. Not talking about how trying to conceive can affect a couple’s sex life and relationship, just promotes that idea that you and your partner, or maybe *just* you, are the only couple (or person) that struggles with these issues.
Part of my job is help us understand that what we struggle with is more common than we might imagine. Now, if you and your partner have a great sex life, and trying to conceive has not negatively affected one or both of you, that’s great news! Not everyone struggles with their sex life when trying to conceive. If you and your partner don’t, you have my permission to skip this post. If you do, or worry that you might, stick around. You’re not alone!
There are so many new things introduced into our sex lives that just weren’t there before we were “trying”. A schedule, pressure to perform on schedule, pressure to produce a pregnancy, tests, prying questions — it’s not surprising that sex may feel less exciting, less spontaneous, and less romantic just about now. If we add ambivalence or anxiety about becoming a parent — completely normal feelings — to our bedroom (or kitchen or car), we may wonder how we’re going to grow our family without wrecking it first.
So, how can you prevent “trying” (to conceive) from ruining your sex life? What about your relationship? In this article I’m going to discuss why this can be an issue for a lot of couples and then I’m going to offer some tips on what you can do.
Is This Really A Problem?
Yes. In fact, a recent study of couples who had been trying to conceive for 12 months or more found that over a third (35%) said the impacte on intimacy (sex) was significant. And, nearly 20% now only have sex at ovulation time. (*Please note that if you have been trying to conceive for one year without becoming pregnant, you should schedule an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist).
So, if you’re trying to conceive, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not having amazing sex. Trying to conceive can be emotionally draining, and you’re certainly not alone.
Why Is This A Problem?
Trying to conceive, especially if you’ve been trying for a while, can be a major stressor. Stress, we all somewhat intuitively know, has a negative effect on sexual desire, and may negatively affect conception rates.
Many couples can lose self-confidence as well, which can affect the relationship and damage intimacy. When intimacy becomes drudgery…in the midst of an already stressful experience…it’s tough to get back to normal.
Plus, there can be intense pressure on both parties to “perform” and to get pregnant.
Both men and women can start to feel like sex is more of a “chore” than something they enjoy. Men may develop situational erectile dysfunction because of the new pressure to perform at the exact moment “it’s time”.
Women can experience depression, shame, and helplessness if they find they’re not able to conceive “quickly”. With that can come a lot of negative feelings about their bodies, which can certainly be damaging to a woman’s sexuality. These feelings can also lead to frustration and emotional withdrawal which may perpetuate physical withdrawal. After all, it’s hard to be intimate when you’re stressed out and focused on a “result” that wasn’t the goal you had in mind in your “former” sex life. Feeling like you’re not succeeding, or that you may be failing at producing that “result”, does not engender confidence, spontaneity, or a positive body image, and can start to chip away at these components of a healthy sex life.
What Can You Do?
There are many “tips” “do’s” and “don’ts” that *may* be helpful in your particular situation.
But the most important thing I will say in this post is RIGHT HERE:
- Talk about how you’re feeling with your partner
- Listen to what your partner says about how she is feeling.
It’s important to do both. So that means be open about the fears you have about becoming a parent, if you feel like they may be affecting your interest in sex. It also means listen non-judgmentally if your partner shares that she feels unattractive when you have sex less frequently.
The more a couple can communicate about the barriers they are facing in their sex life, the better their chances of surmounting any barrier. If you’ve never felt comfortable talking about sex with your partner, this may be great time to think about engaging a professional. Many individuals worry that if they bring up concerns or feelings about their sex-life, the act of talking about sex with their partner will further damage their intimate relationship in and of itself. If talking about your sex life makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. A neutral professional can often help you and your partner create the safe space you both need to understand one another, and ultimately grow together, rather than apart, in your sex life and relationship.
What else can people do?
Take A Break
This might sound counter-intuitive. After all, if you stop actively trying to get pregnant, you’ll probably feel like you’re further from your goal. However, for some couples, this may be not be the case. Taking a “break” from “trying” can alleviate pressure.Sex is nearly “allergic” to pressure. So taking some of that pressure off line for a time can help.
Try A Date Night Without Sex
It may also seem counter-intuitive to skip a chance to conceive when you have quality time together, but connecting for the sake of connecting, without feeling the pressure of making a baby can be a de-stressor in itself.
Yes, it’s one more thing to do, but taking the time to exercise is a great stress-reliever. Plus, it can help you sleep better and feel better about your body. It may help improve your chances of having sex and conceiving!
Step Away From The Charts
It can be very helpful to stop worrying about your basal temps and ovulation prediction apps. Many women (and men) feel that this simple act almost feels like a “vacation” from work. Yes, there’s an app for that … but if you have four or six of them, take a moment to consider if they’re actually contributing to the problem. Often-times, you’re increasing stress, and you may not be doing any better than you would with a regular old calendar.
Give Yourself Permission
With all the charting and pressure to time sex just right, it’s easy for it all to start feeling like a chore. If you’re not in the mood, even when you’re in your “window”, give yourself permission to skip it. And, if you are in the mood, go for it! It may be difficult to keep conception out of your sex — but if you do have corners of a sex life that aren’t strictly related to growing your family, by all means, enjoy them!
Dealing with conception challenges can be a heavy weight to bear emotionally. That’s especially true if you’ve always planned on having a family. Feelings of guilt, self-blame, failure and inadequacy can sprout. It can be a wise move to seek counseling, either individually or together, to deal with these issues.
Discuss the available options
Yes. Many couples decide that the pressure of conceiving isnt doing wonders for their sex life or their relationship. This is as valid a reason to seek an alternative route to achieving a pregnancy as any, if it is consistent with your values! Options are wonderful. If you love your partner and want to be a parent, there are many options. If the timing of working on your sex life doesn’t align with your family planning goals – you can be committed to resolving both problems, in either order. Your doctors can help you!
Keep It To Yourself
You’re not alone. More couples encounter a time in their relationship when they struggle with their sex life, than don’t. More women (and men) feel like they’re failing at having sex, when their intercourse has failed to result in a pregnancy. Dont go through this alone. Talk with your partner, talk with a professional, or both.
Force It When You’re Not Feeling It
If you find yourself thinking “I’m sooo not in the mood for this, but let’s just do it” then — you’re just like many of your peers. If you find yourself thinking, “I’m sooo not in the mood for this, but I have to do this, and now” — give yourself permission to be human.
Be Afraid to Have Sex When You’re Not Ovulating
Intimacy helps with connection. That bonding can relieve pressure and stress. Of course, it’s fine to know when you “should” be having sex, but also remember that there is no restriction on having sex outside of “the window”.
Blame One Another
It’s common to develop feelings about what your spouse is doing that’s getting in the way of your sex life, a pregnancy, or a happy relationship. It’s also common to worry about whether your partner blames you for the bumps in your sex life or the reasons why sex hasn’t brought about a pregnancy. Come in and talk. If you’re willing, you actually have a lot of what it takes!
Trying to keep the family you have happy and healthy, when you’re trying to add a new family member, can be incredibly challenging. There is help!
My name is Amanda Itzkoff, MD. I am a New York City based Psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
For additional information about conception, infertility, or any other or other reproductive issues, please feel free to email our office at Amanda.Itzkoff@gmail.com.
To schedule an appointment, call our offices at 917-609-4990.