The Impact of Infertility on Sexual Intimacy
An oldie but goodie. Several years ago, I wrote this blog because sexual intimacy so often gets screwed up when infertility hits. Shining some light on this subject that still is so infrequently talked about can sometimes help.
For that matter, sometimes sex is just what you need. Making love might be a good possibility too. Consider it.
Why not make love? When baby making because of infertility gets in the way of your sexual life, our love making can become very pedantic. It can also become almost non-existent. Infertility takes away not only personal privacy, but also couple privacy and that is often reflected in our love making. Or lack there of.
What's the purpose of making love? If you're a teenager, it's all about raging hormones, a way to connect with someone else, perhaps even a way of saying more deeply that you care for someone. If you're a bit older, more mature, it can mean more than that. It's a sharing of your deeper self, a revealing of who you are. When we have gotten to a point that we have committed to another person in a relationship, marriage or not, then our love making gets vastly personal, intimate, and often very specific to that couple.
You may never talk about your sexual life with another human being, outside of your partner. This may be a subject that you don't chat about with your friends, probably not a subject that you discuss with your mother. It is private, intimate, perhaps even embarrassing.
Throw infertility into the mix and then sometimes suddenly, sometimes more gradually, love making becomes less frequent, shorter, less intimate, and yes, less fun. Rather than a reminder of the deeper connection between the two of you, it's now a reminder of "the problem". It's a reminder of the failure between the two of you.
Sex During Fertility Treatment
There was a point in fertility treatment when I became convinced that there was no way that my husband and I could conceive on our own. Um . . . think it was the 5 years in treatment?! Sometimes I think I'm a bit of a slow learner, at least with some things. Point being, that our sexual life improved the moment that sexual reproduction became a non-issue. While I don't advocate compartmentalizing your life, for me, it worked beautifully on this subject.
Baby making in that box over there, with the lid securely on; love making over here, lid exuberantly off. We resumed our sexual life and got our groove back, so to speak. I worked hard to remember that for us, love making was no more connected to baby making, than say, brushing my teeth was.
Then, overthinking things, as usual, I thought of it as a gift. A gift box that we could take out and open and play with. Instead of a black box, compartmentalizing things, I could see it as a special box, a gift box, for special occasions, to unwrap slowly or rip the paper and ribbon off.
And love making was back in the game and in the relationship. Taking that piece of our relationship back, reclaiming it, felt miraculous, affirming and joyful.
Infertility can't just be about loss, can it?
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What to blog about first. Some weeks, some days, I can’t think of a single thing to write about. That’s a little scary. Other days, I have 49 million ideas floating around in my head and it’s all I can do to stay focused on one idea about infertility and life.
Here’s a head’s up for this week, as long as we’re on the subject of topics. Sex. Sexuality. Dualism. Birth control. Spring (you know how much I love the weather), events coming up at Reproductive Medicine Associates of CT, pre-natal vitamins. Those days with 49 million ideas can be a little scary too.
Today, I’m going with sex. And it wasn’t really my idea. Not exactly, anyway. I did bring it up in the blog last week and then the conversation continued this week end in the peer support group. Interesting twist, perhaps predictable for infertility challenges, sex on demand.
There are times, while in fertility treatment, that you are asked to abstain from sex. Seems a little ironic. Want a baby? Don’t have sex. Ok, but it you’re in treatment, you know that things are timed very carefully, very methodically. Now, if you are laughing, don’t worry, I am too.
Yes, everything’s timed very carefully. And then your blood levels go up, go down, follicles appear, get larger, more of them, some blood levels go down, test results come back differently then expected and so on and so forth. The best laid plans of mice and men. Everything’s timed perfectly, except that each of us unique beings react differently to medication and stimulation, as well as having our own private rhythm. It is amazing how the body, mind and heart can override even the most powerful medications. So just when you think you have it all figured out, what to tell your co-workers about absences, planning your time off, it all changes.
How does this relate to sex? Don’t have sex. Do have sex. Don’t have sex now. Do have sex now. Plan having sex around work, travel, meals, etc. Turns out that this is not the most sexy, romantic, heart throbbing way to have sex.
I don’t say enough about men in this blog. One, I’m not a man. Two, I’m married to a man who doesn’t say a lot, doesn’t complain a lot and is very cooperative. (Most of the time.) But how about if your partner or husband isn’t like that? What if he would prefer that his sexual relationship with his partner not be dictated by someone else?
What about the pressure to have sex when the last thing that you’re in the mood for is sex? Again, not a man, but this pressure makes me, a woman, wince. How about a note of sympathy for the guys who manage the erection under pressure? How about a round of applause for all of us who manage to have sex and even enjoy it, even when spontaneity and desire are not even remotely involved?
It didn’t occur to me just how much men might not only resent being told when, but also might not be able to. Is there anyone out there, man or woman, who can’t get what a blow to the ego that might be? Even more than a blog to the ego, the sense of self and manhood that already probably feels under attack, has got to take a huge hit if, when under pressure, getting and maintaining an erection is impossible.
Sex on demand. Infertility and fertility treatment being it’s most invasive.
As usual, I have no answers. There are many simple answers that I can give you. This is not a simple problem and probably requires the two individuals in the situation working it out together.
I will tell you that my solution was to go to a therapist. My husband and I went for two years while we were in fertility treatment and I am quite sure that it not only saved my marriage, but quite possibly his life!
It’s not necessary to wait until you are on the verge of divorce or murder to seek help. Our two mental health professionals provide just the type of support that can help this type of situation, as well as address the other stresses that infertility challenges bring. Dr. Lisa Tuttle and Jane Elisofon LCSW, both have the experience and compassion to help. You do not have to do this alone.
Thanks for reading today. Comments? Suggestions?
Let's face it, infertility does not make anyone feel sexy. In fact, quite the opposite. Knowing that the anatomy is not cooperating does not make the heart, the mind or the libido feel confident or upbeat.
The whole concept that any of us are "less than" because of infertility does enter into this conversation. We are "less than" women or men because our reproductive system does not function perfectly normally.
We all know this isn't true. We do. But secretly, past our brains, in our heart, we feel that this is true. That without the ability to do easily, that which we were designed to do, that we are less than men and women.
After all, we were made to have babies. Women have wider hips made for childbearing, uteruses specially designed, menstrual cycles that ebb and flow in time with the moon and much, much more. Men make sperm, regularly, so as to have a fresh, healthy supply. They have errections so that the sperm can be placed in an optimal place for a woman to become pregnant.
Really though. How many of us ever only use our sexual organs when we want to have a child? Anyone? If our reproductive organs were only designed to reproduce, then why were they also designed to have the most sensitive tissue in the body? So that we could have sex every two years? Really? Come on. Doesn't make sense to me.
What does make sense to me is how most of us do operate in the real world. We have sex because it's enjoyable, because it creates intimacy, because it's a release. Not just because we want to have a baby and certainly, for most of us, not just WHEN we want to have a baby.
So is it possible to take reproduction out of sex? Infertility challenges will often do that for you. Often, in fertility treatment, we don't have to have sex to become pregnant, or only when prescribed. We are actually allowed to have sex almost whenever we want. Not a bad prescription actually.
It comes down to this. We take sex and intimacy out of infertility and treatment. Our feelings of being less than drain our libidos. Instead of enjoyment, sex and intimacy is a reminder of what our bodies are not cooperating with.
I'm not going to give you any easy answers here. As usual, I ask questions, try to raise awareness and ask you to ask questions.
Not being able to conceive is a tremendous heartache. Period. It made me sad when having sex with my husband was so drastically affected as well. Perhaps you have this in your life. If so, consider what can be done so that the losses around infertility don't start piling up too high.
Tomorrow, read what Dr. Cynthia Murdock wrote for you about infertility and birth control. And on Thursday, we'll resume the conversation about infertility and sexuality. If you have had problems responding to this blog, please try again. If you continue to have problems, please email me directly and let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr.Mark Leondires is going to talk about sex and infertility later this week. Yes, really, your sexual practices as related to conceiving a child. How those practices can increase or decrease your possibilities. Some of the questions that he will be answering: Do we have to have sex every day while I'm trying to get pregnant? Does having an orgasm help you to get pregnant? I think my husband masturbates sometimes. Should he stop while we're trying to conceive?
Is it possible there are more embarrassing questions to have to address than these? Of course there are, yet these are pretty intimate questions to address in a blog. Think about it though, what is more connected than sex and conception? I applaud Dr. Leondires for being willing to address what can be an uncomfortable subject, at best.
There are few subjects less comfortable to discuss than sex, especially with a doctor. Another one on the top of the hit list is probably weight. Ugh. As if we needed our doctor to tell us the perfectly obvious, that we need to lose weight. Still, when it comes to infertility and conception and success, it's another uncomfortable conversation that is helpful, even necessary, to have. Statistics and research have shown that losing as little as ten per cent of our body weight, (when necessary) can have tremendous impact on all aspects of our health, including conceiving.
Two uncomfortable subjects being discussed this week on this blog. Luckily, we have two wonderful experts to speak on the subject. Dr. Mark Leondires, Medical Director of Reproductive Medicine Associates of CT and Carolyn Gundell, MS. If you have questions on either of these uncomfortable subjects that you would prefer to ask anonymously, please know that you can post them here and we will answer them. We do not have to, and will not; post your name or any other identifying information, and we will make sure that you get your answers.
Don't let embarrassment or shame get in the way of your conceiving or growing your family. Ask your questions, get your answers. A slightly red face is something we can all get over.
How is your infertility affecting your sexual life? I don't mean to intrude on your privacy when it's already being so intruded upon; I almost feel like I don't have a choice. Which one of us really wanted to have a doctor, nurse, medical assistant, patient coordinator and the rest of our RMACT team (that we are so proud of!) involved in our efforts to reproduce? For that matter, who wanted to reproduce? We all just wanted to get pregnant, have a baby, and start a family. Who wanted to know more about our reproductive health and cycle; past we get our period, we ovulate, we get pregnant, we go into labor and have a baby?
I did not. I did not ask for the privacy and intimacy of my sexual life to be intertwined with my reproduction abilities, beyond making loving with my partner. I do not know or understand the inner workings of my spleen; I try to eat well, sleep enough, exercise and hope that, if my spleen crosses my mind, those things are enough to keep it happy and healthy. I'm a fairly well educated person who was brought up in a family of doctors and nurses. I have a pretty good idea of how my body works, for a lay person. I did not want to learn all the intricacies necessary for a pregnancy to occur. When I saw all the different hormones that need to be triggered and in which order, in which amount, (and hormones are only one piece of it) and the timing mechanism that is involved in having said egg be fertilized by said sperm, I was amazed that anyone in the human species ever got pregnant at all. I'm still amazed.
Everyone now knows things about our lives that had been private. Often including our partners, who probably preferred things that way. Ok, not everyone, but way more people than any of us ever expected or really wanted.
So how do we keep a healthy sexual life? Stop laughing. If you're laughing, it's because your healthy (fun??) sexual life went out the window when conceiving became such a challenge. Remember when it was fun? When making love actually was about making love and not trying to conceive (TTC, love that acronym). How long ago was it that you made love with your partner out of sexual desire and love? Can you remember? If yes, congratulations, keep it going! If no, let's think together about how to distinguish between fertility treatment and sexual fulfillment and make sure that your sexual life remains vibrant and joyful.
It's my understanding that a fair amount of people out there are reading this blog. I love that! Thank you. If you are out there, reading, and have some ideas on this subject, please share. Suggestions are so welcome and can and will be kept anonymous (unless you insist otherwise). Share with the rest of us what has worked for you (or what has not); ideas that you are wondering about; things that you have tried in the past. We need you!
There's so much loss around infertility; loss of privacy, innocence, and control, to name a few. Let's see if we can keep our healthy, loving sexuality from being one of those losses.