This week, we finish up with the final post on Infertility: How infertility impacts sex in a relationship.
As you have probably already gathered from the blogs earlier in this week's topic, infertility is not just about sex and conception. There is SO much more that a couple goes through with infertility, including the devastating impact that infertility can have on a couple's sexual relationship.
Many couples experience a loss of libido or sexual drive when going through infertility treatments. Because sex is such a scheduled event, based on ovulation, hormonal levels and menstruation, many couples experience a decrease in the desire for sex, because it has become so "planned". Some couples even report sex feeling like it is a chore. The spontaneity that is usually associated with sex can become lost for couples who are going through infertility. In addition, because many people (both men and women) struggle with the anxiety and depression related to infertility, this can pose an additional barrier to sexual desire.
Often times, because there is such intense pressure on both the individual and the couple to conceive each cycle that a pregnancy is attempted, if the pregnancy does not happen, it is excruciating and beyond devastating. Each person in the couple faces feeling the intense loss of the dream of conceiving and having a child-- every time a cycle does not result in pregnancy. When this happens repeatedly, it can have such an impact on how each partner views themselves in their sexual identity: Women often describe feeling "defective" (even though they are not!), and men often describe feeling "emasculated", since one of the most important things they want to be able to provide their wife, they are unable to do. When the couple feels both of these things, it can have a negative impact on sexual drive and sexual performance. If couples are not having open communication and sharing their feelings openly with each other, the added emotional disconnection can further the sexual distance in the relationship.
Finally, infertility includes a total loss of privacy. There are so many doctors appointments and other appointments with various medical professionals, a couple may feel like their medical history, as well as their sexual life is "on display" with medical professionals. Talking about their history in trying to conceive to medical professionals most likely happens repeatedly, and telling these details to people outside of the couple (even if they are professionals who are trying to help) can feel very intrusive. Some couples even describe feeling as though their sexual history is being reduced to "facts" (for example, questions such as how often the couple has sex, what positions they have sex, what time of day to they attempt sex) and feels both clinical and without feeling. Over time, this can dramatically wear on both the individual and the couple. It is exhausting. It can be very difficult to feel sexual toward your spouse and desire sex when you feel like your sexual life is on display for the professionals involved in helping you. Some couples describe it as no longer feeling as sacred as it once felt.
If you are experiencing infertility, we hope this week's blog helped you. If you are aware of someone in your life who is experiencing infertility, please read each topic from this week, and learn tips on how you can better connect with and support those around you-- because, chances are, if you aren't aware of someone you know going through this, they are, and you might not know about it. Be sensitive, be considerate, and be available. If you are the one going through infertility, we encourage you to seek out a good support system or marriage counseling to help you during this time of your lives.
Joleen Watson, MS, LMFTA, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.