Valentine's Day is fast approaching and the hype is ramping up. It's hard not to fall victim to subtle and not so subtle messages of romance, flowers, chocolates and candlelight dinners. For most it's fun but couples who are desperately trying to become pregnant may feel the pressure in a different way. For them, sex is now all about the procreation process and the joy that such intimacy should provide is sadly lacking.
You may find it hard to talk to your spouse about your sexual relationship or admit that your physical desire is somewhere in the distant past. Sex is, 'yawn', just ho hum.
According to Dr Juliet Skinner of the Barbados Fertility Clinic, couples often feel so overwhelmed by the infertility experience that they can't even remember how it used to be for them. Intrusive fertility treatments make sex 'work' with someone telling them when and how it should take place. Sometimes the long-term impact on marriages can be disastrous as infertility can cause a crisis with sexual satisfaction and expression.
According to research some 50 per cent of couples report significant decreases in sexual satisfaction during fertility treatments, with the percentages getting higher the longer couples are treated. Another 20 per cent of men report episodes of sexual dysfunction including impotence and premature ejaculation. Women report decreased sexual desire and difficulty achieving arousal or orgasm. Sex on demand makes coupling a procreative chore with intrusive thoughts on the invasive and sometimes humiliating fertility investigations and treatment. Add the progesterone hormone into the mix and women feel exhausted, bloated, constipated with a libido (pardon the pun) in the toilet.
So how do you bring sexy back when infertility alters feelings about yourself as a man or woman, your self-esteem and attitudes towards your body?
Dr Skinner suggests a mind shift.
Remember how it used to be
Relationships, like anything you want to grow and thrive, have to be tended to flourish. Think back. What made those early days in your relationship exciting? Make a conscious decision to re-create those moments and keep that relationship simmering throughout the journey to parenthood. It doesn't have to be expensive – date night, a hike, a movie – the main goal is reconnection.
Love your body and take care of it. Eat well, exercise and wear your sexiest clothing. Act sexy even if you don't feel your sexiest! Cover up signs of bloat and shot marks with a t-shirt and your favourite underwear.
Separate 'Procreation' from 'Recreation'
According to Dr Skinner couples can designate a different room in the house for 'work' and save the bedroom for lovemaking and for sleeping - no reading, no computer, no TV, no phones, no eating, and especially no talking about problems, including infertility. Keep the room associations on sexuality, intimacy, desire and emotional closeness.
Let your imagination roam free and plan romantic encounters at non-fertile times. Use fantasy, sexual erotica or anything that works for you. Sexual intimacy does not have to mean intercourse; show your love by kissing, caressing, massaging and fondling, 'watching' or reading sexy books together, whether or not you orgasm.
Don't Do It Alone
Men tend to withdraw while women want to talk it out, sometimes incessantly. Agree on a "20-minute rule" to talk about the infertility issue, with each person giving undivided attention. At the end of the 20 minutes, stop. If you find that your usual coping strategies are not working, don't wait.
Educate yourself on what to expect – menstrual cycle analysis, sperm samples, vaginal probes and examinations, uterine x-rays, intrauterine inseminations, egg retrieval and more – all physically and emotionally invasive and demanding.
Dr Skinner says that Barbados Fertility Centre insists on privacy during consultations and procedures, and welcomes partners to be present for examinations, ultrasounds and other medical procedures.