What to do When Infertility Changes Your Sex Life & Marriage

Infertility can put stress on even the strongest marriages. In this piece, Rena Gower LCSW shares why infertility can wreck havoc on your love life, how sex for fun is different than sex for conception, and how to stay connected with your partner during the ups and downs of testing, treatments and all things trying to conceive.

Losing Your Sex Life to Infertility

A great sex life is another thing that you may feel is taking a hit from trying to conceive. If you are far into the process, you may not even remember the days where you thought that conceiving meant romantic candlelit nights. If you are feeling as though sex is no longer fun or joyful, you are absolutely not alone in this. It is not romantic or spontaneous to be told to have timed intercourse or to feel the pressure of conceiving every time you are intimate with your partner.


Too Much Pressure

Sex is now no longer for fun—it’s for a purpose. You are trying for a deliverable. You want a return on your investment.  Unlike before where you could just be intimate for the sake of fun, now every time you do it you want something more out of it. Every time that doesn’t happen, it feels like a failure. There is now so much pressure on sex—every human feels as though it is our biological and innate right to conceive and if this is taken away from us our system can go haywire.


Feeling Inadequate

These feelings go all the way back to Adam and Eve and are almost biblical in a sense, regardless of religious beliefs. It can lead to feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, anger at yourself or anger at your partner, just to name a few. Every month that you are intimate and you don’t get that positive pregnancy result, it can feel as though you are failing as a human and sex starts to become stressful and negative. It can become just another aspect of this process where it feels like you’re doing everything you’re told to do—you know that you’re doing it right—why aren’t you getting that gold star at the end? Where is the validation?


Performance Issues

It may even start to become difficult to “perform” during this time. You might experience your body not doing what you want it to do. Both males and females may start to have problems, either with erection or lubrication, which can lead to even more embarrassment and frustration. This often leads to confusion and added stress—it’s hard to reconcile why your body isn’t performing and doing what your mind is telling it to do.

If this happens, breathe. Again, this is normal. It most likely means there is a disconnect happening between your body and mind and they aren’t aligned. Try some deep breathing exercises and working on staying present and within yourself. Just because this happened or is happening, doesn’t mean this is your new normal.  t’s situational and based on a stressor—this isn’t an indicator that you’ll have bad sex for the rest of your life or lose your ability to be intimate. 

Remember that sex shouldn’t have to be something that feels forced or for a tangible—it should be for fun and because it’s a way of demonstrating your love for your partner. Now all of a sudden you may be dealing with ovulation kits, trackers, and doctors, nurses, and coordinators who all know when you are going to be intimate! That’s a lot of pressure.


Sex for Purpose vs. Sex for Pleasure

It is important to begin to differentiate sex for procreation from sex for pleasure. These are completely different and should be treated as such. As you may be experiencing, sex for procreation may now feel like a chore and a lot of pressure. We want to separate this experience from sex for pleasure, which should feel just as it sounds like it should feel… like sex for pleasure.

One way to differentiate between the two is to make the space where you do each completely different. If you have a house or apartment with multiple bedrooms (perhaps you have an unused guest room) delegate a different bedroom for sex for procreation and sex for pleasure. Keep sex for pleasure in your bedroom and move sex for procreation to the guest room. If you don’t have multiple bedrooms, make the room look different—use a different set of sheets, different lighting, different music. Anything to make the experience different and to help you disassociate the two. Different scents can also be helpful—try burning different scented candles or different scented diffusers for each type of intimacy. 


Not Feeling It? That’s Okay, Too.

If you are in a place where you aren’t even feeling as though you can enjoy sex for pleasure, that’s okay too.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t again sometime. Remember, at this point your body may have been on a rollercoaster of hormones which is playing a role plus the added pressure and emotional distress. It is important to start where you are at and not force anything, as that could have the opposite of the desired effect. 


Intimacy Doesn’t Just Mean Sex

Intimacy doesn’t just have to mean sex—find other ways to feel connected with your partner. Maybe you take a bath together or just explore each other’s bodies through touch. Maybe right now intimacy is just lying together and watching a movie and turning off your phones. Start small and work your way up. Remember that this won’t be fixed in a day—it took a long time to get here and it may take a long time to build back up. Go slow and celebrate the small victories—maybe you haven’t even enjoyed holding hands in awhile or hugging each other. Start where you are at.


How Has TTC Changed Your Relationship with Sex?

Has it changed? Has it gotten better? Way worse? Know that whatever you are going through is OK. Consider speaking with a therapist or couple’s counselor (preferably one who specializes in infertility, grief or loss) if you think you could use some professional guidance when it comes to your relationship. Infertility is intense and you don’t have to go through it alone.

Rena Gower, LCSW, is a New York based clinician who started her work in the space after her own struggle to conceive. She approaches her clients from a strengths perspective and helps them work to find the resilience and courage to carry on through the fertility journey. She fully believes that infertility sucks, but you aren't alone and we are stronger together. For more information, head to www.renamgfertility.com or @renamgfertility.
  1. Brittany Roy

    Brittany Roy

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