Your to-do list could fill an entire legal pad. Even if you could add an eighth day to the week, you still wouldn’t get everything done. With day-to-day stress sapping your energy, it’s no wonder that your libido is sinking as well.
If you’re also struggling with a medical condition—like infertility—the stress amplifies. Between the stress of the treatments themselves and your own natural feelings of worry, sadness or insecurity, there’s little respite.
“The stress of infertility can absolutely ruin one’s sex drive,” confirms Puneet Masson, MD, director of the Male Fertility Program at Penn Fertility Care.
When you’re under chronic stress, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that sparks your fight or flight response. High cortisol levels equal low sexual arousal.
Now sex—once a fun and pleasurable activity—feels like yet one more thing on your to-do list. And if you’re struggling with infertility, it can be a constant reminder of your challenges with conceiving.
When intimacy becomes drudgery—in the midst of an already stressful experience—it’s tough to get back to normal.
Here’s what you can you do to decrease stress, so that sex is something you want to do—not just something you have to do to conceive.
Make Sex Enjoyable Again
When you’re not trying to have a baby, sex can be exciting, spontaneous and romantic. Sex on a schedule, multiple times a week, with the constant pressure to have a baby? Less exciting, less spontaneous and definitely less romantic.
And if you think only women struggle with this, you’re wrong. Men have difficulty as well.
“Many men tell me they’re worried they have erectile dysfunction. A lot of these guys don’t have erectile dysfunction. They have situational erectile dysfunction because they come home from work, their wife’s ovulating, and they have to have sex right now. And that’s a lot of pressure," says Dr. Masson.
When men can have normal erections at any time other than when there’s an on-demand need to perform, they struggle because the process is not natural.
“It’s not healthy for the relationship, either,” Dr. Masson adds.
To stop sex from becoming little more than a dreaded appointment, don’t make it all about the baby. Have sex for the sake of it. That could mean spending a little more time getting in the mood—date nights, lingerie, soft music, candles… whatever does the trick.
Make Time for Exercise
Yes, it’s one more thing to do, but heart-pumping exercise can lower your stress level.
It can also boost your sex drive, explains Laurie Mintz, PhD, author of "A Tired Woman’s Guide To Passionate Sex", in an August 2010 article in Psychology Today. Exercise helps you sleep better, reduces anxiety and boosts your body image.
The National Infertility Association says breathing exercises can help stave off stress by boosting the hormones that lead you to feel relaxed.
If you’re more relaxed, it’ll be a lot easier to stop thinking about your fertility for a while and enjoy some quality time with your partner.
Dealing with a diagnosis of infertility can be a heavy weight to bear emotionally. When you’ve always planned on having a family, it can bring on feelings of guilt, self blame, failure and inadequacy.
Some couples seek counseling, individually or together, to deal with the psychological problems that accompany the stress of infertility.
Dr. Masson also recommends sex therapy for his patients.
“Sex therapy is not at all psychiatry. It’s a very active behavioral and cognitive process for couples to reintegrate some intimacy back into their lives as they’re going through this,” he explains.
Take a Break
If you’ve tried everything and you feel like you’re still stuck, Dr. Masson suggests going on a baby-making hiatus.
“It might be worthwhile to take a month off if it’s ruining your sex life, ruining your relationship, or affecting your intimacy with each other,” he says. “Just forget about this and really try to focus on your health together as a couple.”
Infertility treatments can be mentally and physically taxing, so don’t blame yourselves if your sex life becomes a casualty as a result.
“Take a step back,” Dr. Masson advises. “Remember, sex has more than a functional purpose. It should still be intimate, fun and romantic, regardless of the goals you’re trying to reach.”