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Infertility Can Affect Your Sex Life (and Water is Wet)

Nicole Smith, a researcher out of Indiana University, conducted a study that found — wait for it… — that infertility can affect your sex life.  It’s being reported as something along the lines of IVF can kill your libido and ruin your relationship, but the actual study seems to focus on the reason you’d be doing IVF (eg. infertility) vs. the procedure itself.

Now I know your jaw probably dropped open because this.did.not.occur.to.you.  Life crises often make us horny, and stressful situations such as cancer, unemployment, or the death of a loved one drive us to want CONSTANT sex.


I may have messed that up.

Forgive me if I feel a bit sarcastic reading about this study and the subsequent headlines.  It seems like common sense to me; something that doesn’t need studying per se unless the result will be that people will stop saying things such as “well, at least you get to have a lot of sex!” when you tell them that you’re experiencing infertility.

The university reports,

Compared to a sample of healthy women, women undergoing IVF reported significantly less sexual desire, interest in sexual activity and satisfaction with their sexual relationship. They had more difficulty with orgasm and were more likely to report sexual problems such as vaginal pain and dryness. Similar to emotional and relationship challenges associated with assisted reproductive technologies, the sexual problems intensified as a couple’s use of ART proceeded.

I agree with the researchers that people should discuss their sexuality with their doctor since there are sometimes solutions to symptoms.  But the reality is that infertility is a life crisis, one that happens to be tied to sex.  If someone told you that their sex life was decimated due to cancer or unemployment or the death of a loved one, we would tell them that their libido will hopefully return when they are not in crisis.  We would not expect their relationship to look exactly as it looks when there isn’t a crisis on hand.  So I wonder if the good intentions of this study (and I believe there are good intentions here) creates even more pressure to treat a symptom (lack of libido) even as you’re not in control of the underlying cause (infertility).  And that, in turn, creates more stress and more frustration in regards to a person’s sexuality.  In other words, is this helpful or would it be better if we all just admitted that sex may not be an enjoyable experience during this particular life crisis for many people and we shouldn’t stress about fixing it while we in the middle of the storm.

I’d also want to see a study that looks at a sample of women who learned about their infertility after trying to conceive for a year vs. people who go into IVF knowing full well that they will need to use some form of assistance in order to conceive.  I have heard that the emotional outlook is different for the two groups with one looking at IVF with a disbelief of “how did I get here?” and the other looking at IVF with the relief of “thank G-d there are options.”  Not saying that the stress doesn’t become the same in the end, but how you reach the knowledge of your infertility may play into how you process your infertility.

One thing the study gets right though is their belief (and mine) that in talking about sex and infertility that we let people know that they’re not alone.

You are not alone.

If you have no desire to have sex because the act itself reminds you of what isn’t working, if you have no desire to have sex because hormones have made you feel decidedly uninterested in orgasms, if you have no desire to have sex because it feels like a requirement instead of an enjoyment — you have experienced what so many women experiencing infertility whisper from blog to blog.  It’s the rare person who is unaffected emotionally and physically from infertility, and the effects of infertility are far-reaching, even into your libido.

I don’t know if you can really treat these feelings, especially when you are in the moment.  I think they are something to focus on at a later point when you are not in crisis as part of the idea of resolving your infertility, which is the idea of mentally coming to terms with reality (and not, as people seem to think, reaching parenthood.  Children resolve childlessness.  We all need to do the hard work individually to resolve our infertility).  But I do think talking about sex is important, if only, as Smith states, to let people know that they’re not alone.


1 EmHart { 11.01.12 at 10:53 am }

And there was me thinking it was because our mattress is so dang comfy we just fall asleep every night. Thank goodness they cleared that one up for us.

I agree, I am not sure this problem is ‘curable’ when you are right in the middle of it. At the moment my husband and I are concentrating on not totally loosing sight of each other. Once we come out the other side, then I think we will hopefully be able to heal and get back some of what we lost.

2 Kiran@MasalaChica { 11.01.12 at 12:01 pm }

I can’t believe that people get paid for this shit. And that they can then get published as if it’s newsflash worthy material.

Water is wet. Sorry, are you sure? That’s the only thing I am questioning here. (Can you write a study about it to prove it? – that’s the only way I am buying into that shit).

3 Blanche { 11.01.12 at 12:06 pm }

Did she look at men in relationship to this as well? I know my husband expressed frustrations to me about how his part of the IF process was reduced to showing up and being expected to “produce” on demand. My lack of interest for all the reasons cited above also directly negatively affected my husbands perception of the process.

The above is the primary reason why we have decided to not undergo treatment and let the chips fly where they may when it comes to a second child. Together we cannot go through that a second time.

4 serenity { 11.01.12 at 12:51 pm }

Don’t forget the link between repeated failure to attain pregnancy and the affect on a woman’s self-esteem as it relates to her body. Even if it’s not true, BFNs and/or pregnancy loss can make a woman feel like her body is failing. Very unsexy.

I will say, for us, IVF was a “thank god there are options moment” which saved our sex life. After a year of trying, getting rid of the death march sex and having sex just because was a relief.

Repeated IVF failure, however, has brought our sex life to a screeching halt. And I know the first paragraph here isn’t true; just hard to get past the self-loathing to look forward to an orgasm.


5 serenity { 11.01.12 at 12:51 pm }

Crap. That should be “effect,” not “affect.” Maybe I should proofread before I click submit.

6 a { 11.01.12 at 1:06 pm }

Oh well, maybe it will be good for the uncomprehending masses to hear this…

7 Elizabeth { 11.01.12 at 1:19 pm }

Oh my goodness. I love you for this post. Thank you.

8 KeAnne { 11.01.12 at 1:22 pm }

Sounds like someone had a publishing goal to meet for tenure. Just…yep.

9 Jess { 11.01.12 at 2:03 pm }

I really really appreciate this post, as I also posted about this topic recently: http://alittleblogaboutthebiginfertility.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/the-tolls-of-if/

Even after the ART is done, this is one of the hardest parts to resolve for me personally. Even if it’s kind of “duh” it is a “duh” I don’t think most people think of (as you pointed out)…I think what’s helped me most is to know that I am not alone.

10 Cheryllookingforward { 11.01.12 at 2:24 pm }

Even though we all know it, this is a huge deal that isn’t really talked about. I’ve been afraid to talk about it on my blog, but it’s true for me and I’m not even going through IVF. We have recurrent losses. It hits every time he has to reach for a condom. We can’t get pregnant right now because we’ll just lose another one. How can I still be in the mood after thinking that? Impossible.

11 Melissa { 11.01.12 at 2:43 pm }

I have long said that treatments were the savior of our sex life. Sex before treatments was all about baby-making, which was an unmitigated disaster. When baby-making was taken out of our bedroom and into a clinic, sex became fun again almost overnight.

We got pregnant on the 1st month of ttc and lost that baby at 12 weeks. We waited several months (and one cross-country move) to ttc again, and got pregnant on the 2nd month of ttc… and lost that baby at 8 weeks. After the full rmc workup (and no diagnosis), we were sent home to get pregnant again, this time with progesterone, which thus necessitated the use of OPKs… and that’s when sex became a nightmare. We went from having sex every other night in my fertile week to having sex maybe twice in that week. DH developed “performance anxiety” and often couldn’t finish the job when he needed to the most. It’s no wonder we couldn’t get pregnant again. When we started IUIs our sex life snapped back almost overnight, because now there was zero pressure. We never “had” to have sex, we only had sex when we felt like it – what a novel idea!

Now almost 2 years, 2 more miscarriages, 5 IUIs, 3 fresh transfers and an FET later, we are somehow still enjoying sex. My fear is that when the dr says it’s time to stop treatments (which I fear is coming very soon), our sex life will die again… I’m not ready to accept that this will never happen with my eggs, so I’m afraid my brain will turn sex back into baby-making again when we’re done with IVF. I see lots more therapy in our future….

12 Denver Laura { 11.01.12 at 2:53 pm }

This post should come with a warning. I’m glad I wasn’t drinking something when I hit the second paragraph.

13 EC { 11.01.12 at 3:48 pm }

At some point, I stopped associating sex with trying to have a baby, and outside of our IVF cycle, I can’t say infertility really affected our sex life. I did feel sort of thankful and lucky to be able to try IVF, but I can’t say we really had much sex during the cycle, anyway. Half the time, we weren’t allowed to! The absence of sex is bizarre for me, and I think the fact that we can’t is creating some unwelcome distance.

I found non-medicated IUI cycles to be much worse, though – because then you HAVE to have sex, not necessarily when you want to, and may not even feel all that great physically. I feel like that would have been a better study (if there was a benefit to even having one), since going through IVF doesn’t give you very many opportunities for sex in the first place.

14 Jen { 11.01.12 at 4:38 pm }

It’s pretty hard to have good satisfying sex when it’s “prescribed.” I’ll never forget my husband and I, after a week of near constant sex, saying “it’s like trying to put a wet spaghetti noodle through sand paper!” Luckily we both found the humor in the situation.

15 Notlovingit { 11.01.12 at 5:05 pm }

IVF decimated our sex life. Well, my view of myself and therefore my libido. DH and I have had sex ONCE so far this year. It’s caused major issues in our relationship…but I just can’t seem to enjoy it anymore. 🙁

16 A Passage To Baby { 11.01.12 at 7:39 pm }

Clearly this study was done for moi. That way I have something to show my husband when he gets all handsy and I’m all like “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!”
Infertility hasn’t harmed his libido one bit. Damn it.

17 Chickenpig { 11.01.12 at 8:10 pm }

After we were diagnosed with male factor infertility, our sex lives actually improved. Since we could only get pregnant with IVF, the pressure to time intercourse…or to use intercourse for anything reproductively rated just went out the window and we were “free” to only use sex for pleasure. Having children on the other hand totally knocked the libido out of me for a long time.

18 Mim { 11.01.12 at 8:38 pm }

I love your post and the sarcasm :o) I also like your proposition for further research. It’s an interesting thought. While I am a sample size of 1, my anecdotal evidence as someone who knew from age fifteen that she would need IVF is that I try to be grateful for the options, and that was easy even after I met my husband and children were no longer far off. But from the moment they told me I wasn’t even allowed to carry a child and our only option would be surrogacy (Husband won’t yet adopt), being grateful became a struggle. And then donor egg IVF with a gestational carrier hasn’t exactly been a rip-roaring success thus far. But I wonder what other women’s experiences are.

19 deathstar { 11.01.12 at 11:12 pm }

Really? Really? OMG, this just makes me giggle with anger. You know like a hyena. And frankly it takes me back to a time when sex was just a dirty little chore dictated by ovulation and by the time IVF came along, it was just pointless.

20 Jen { 11.02.12 at 4:11 am }

Wow, that was a great use of research money! I like your take on it though. 🙂

21 Ana { 11.02.12 at 6:14 am }

As a scientist, I’m hoping this is just a “side project” from something actually worth funding. Like, they were studying something else about ART and handed out questionnaires about sex life, too. Because, yeah, duh.

22 Esperanza { 11.02.12 at 5:40 pm }

Almost a year into trying for number two I can barely stand sex. I’m trying SO HARD to want to have it, because I know it’s still an important thing for my partner, but it does, as you so eloquently put it, remind me of what isn’t working, what’s supposed to be happening but isn’t. I also have some pretty bad scarring from my daughter’s birth and it still hurts quite a bit when we have sex, both during and after. Luckily I understand why sex is not great (for me) right now and I don’t blame myself for it or stress about it. I just try to combat the blahs as best I can so it can at least still be something positive for my partner. That is where I am right now.

23 Cherish { 11.04.12 at 9:37 am }

Yeah let’s see here…so around O time I feel like I’m required to have sex like a bunny whether I’m mad, tired, etc. Then I want a few days break. Then it’s POAS time and it’s such a roller coaster of emotions analyzing every symptom and not knowing whether to be hopeful or protect my emotions. Then I’m depressed after AF and suddenly it’s O time again. Who can possibly have a normal sex life in the midst of all that? But hey, now I’m getting divorced and IF is on the back burner. Sigh. Anyway, it is ridiculous that people focus on hey you get to have lots of sex if you have IF!!

24 anna { 09.24.14 at 11:18 am }

To those who are critical of these types of studies, you are one of the lucky one’s who did not lose their sex drive/sex life due to planning their sex life around a calendar given to you by an infertility specialist for 5 years. When you want to have sex, you can’t, and then there are the days that you really aren’t up to it, but you have to. Why…because today is the BEST day, because the doctor says so. You might not even be talking to your husband that day, but you have to have sex with him. Makes for a great relationship. At the end of that 5 years when you find out that you have 0% of conceiving, and they take your fertility calendar away, the sex just pretty much goes away too.

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