Feeling stressed out probably doesn't do much to get you in the mood for sex. And when stress involves worry and anxiety over ongoing fertility treatments? Then most of us are really not in the mood, according to a new study from Indiana University that looks at how assisted reproductive technology (ART), including in vitro fertilization (IVF), impacts a couple's sexual relationship.
One of the first in the United States to examine women's sexual experiences while undergoing ART, researchers used the Sexual Functioning Questionnaire to assess couples' sexual experiences. Approximately 367 individuals provided feedback.
Compared to women without fertility problems, women using ART—and, more specifically, IVF—reported decreased sexual desire, loss of interest in sex, less satisfaction with their sexual relationships, and difficulty achieving orgasm. Female respondents were also more likely to report sexual problems such as vaginal pain and dryness.
Sexual problems intensified in couples who needed to continue with more rounds of fertility treatments.
The culprit here is the dreaded S-word: Stress. "With assisted reproductive technologies, couples often report that they feel like a science experiment, as hormones are administered and sex has to be planned and timed. It can become stressful and is often very unromantic and regimented; relationships are known to suffer during the process," says Nicole Smith, a doctoral student at Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion, who co-led the study. So what can couples do to put the spark back in their sex life? For couples undergoing IVF, or another form of ART, Smith, and her study coauthor, Jody Lyneé Madeira, associate professor in the IU Maurer School of Law, recommend three basic steps:
- Talk to your doctor: Your sex life might not top the list of issues you want to discuss with your doctor—either because you're shy about the subject or simply because there are so many other important issues to discuss, Smith and Madeira find. Still, the doctor-patient relationship is key—and couples can be told up front about the potential sexual side effects of their chosen form of ART.
- Explore sexual aids: If women are experiencing physical issues such as dryness, for example, lubricant or other sexual enhancement products may offer practical help.
- Talk about it: To address stress that you might be feeling over fertility treatments, consider seeing a mental health professional to work through your issues.
One more way to revive your relationship in the bedroom? Put pleasure first. Says Smith, "Sex is for pleasure and for reproduction, but attention to pleasure [for couples undergoing ART] often goes by the wayside..."