From the moment a couple decides to have a baby together, their perspective on their sex life changes. For most couples, there is a new tenderness and intimacy between them that comes with the shared intention to start a new life together.
However, for the 10 to 15 percent of American couples struggling with infertility, sex takes on a whole new meaning altogether that’s too often laced with shame, blame and anxiety. Even when the infertility journey results in a healthy baby, the nature of their sex life seems inextricably altered to feel awkward and forced. This often results in lower libidos or avoidance of sex altogether.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case. With some conscious shifts in perspective and behavior, there is no reason an infertile couple can’t come out the other side of their journey with a closer, richer and more intimate sexual connection than they had before their struggles began.
Going through infertility treatment is one of the most difficult things you will face as a couple. But it will likely be only one of many challenges you will face together throughout your lives. Couples that are very clear that their relationship is the main priority are those that make it through infertility treatment— as well as life’s other challenges— in tact.
Making each other more important than the treatment outcome will be the glue that holds you together. This means that you are committed first to each other’s happiness, then to becoming parents. If you are each putting the relationship first, you will find the decisions you have to make throughout the treatment process much easier and your romantic connection will remain a priority.
It may seem like a no-brainer that anyone who receives an infertility diagnosis is going to feel angry, scared, ashamed or some combination of all three at times. But that doesn’t have to determine how you are going to feel together.
Those difficult feelings are going to arise. But you can make it clear that you are also going to work to also feel connected, playful, joyful, silly, loving, romantic, even sexual too. Then it’s a matter of seeking opportunities to have experiences regularly that create those feelings in you, apart and together. Maybe it’s making sure that you take that new cooking class together or making a spontaneous decision to go rock wall climbing. When you don’t let the infertility struggle define you or dictate how you feel (at least most of the time), you are going to be much more successful maintaining an emotional and sensual connection between you.
Finally, separate baby-making sex from regular sex. That’s right, have both kinds! Perhaps you are having baby-making sex during ovulation or certain phases of treatment. But you can and should also have non-baby-making sex as well.
Make sure to distinguish the two. Perhaps have “baby-making” sex in the bedroom and “regular” sex everywhere else or in different positions. That way, your whole sex life isn’t defined by the stress of infertility. When your treatment is done, sex will still have many positive associations for you and there will be many fewer awkward or negative associations with sex.
The bottom line is that infertility isn’t easy, no matter what the outcome. But it doesn’t have to define you or your relationship. It’s the deepest connections that are built through the hardest times, and your relationship is no exception. We will all be faced with struggles in our life but with the right perspective you emerge stronger individually and together.
Laura Berman, PhD, is a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist; popular TV, radio and Internet host; New York Times best-selling author; and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. Berman is a New York Times best-selling author of many books on sexual health and pleasure, a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and host of the radio program "Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman."