By Lyndsey Harper, MD
Infertility affects more than 6 million couples in the United States alone. Why is something that is so common also so misunderstood and stigmatized? Simple, no one is talking about it. This stigma also contributes to a deeper issue that couples experience during infertility: the negative impact on their sex lives.
When women and couples are left feeling alone, isolated and ashamed, it’s not hard to understand how that will change not only their relationship with each other but their individual sexual desire and function.
Infertility issues affect sexual function in a few different ways, especially desire for sex. The following causes of sexual problems are not exclusive to infertility but are typically amplified by an already difficult situation.
Stress is the #1 libido killer for women. Struggling with infertility is stressful. The process is stressful and there is also a lot of stress on the relationship. If the mindset is “we have sex to make a baby” and that’s not working, that negativity is going to fall back on the sex itself. Try shifting your focus from having sex to make a baby to having sex and being intimate for the health of your relationship. This removes some stress from the situation and helps to keep the relationship you value intact.
Depression & Anxiety:
Depression and anxiety are described as common consequences of infertility. There is a good chance that if you’re struggling with depression and anxiety stemming from infertility, you could experience sexual side effects as well. In fact, people who suffer from depression and anxiety are 2x as likely to struggle with sexual problems. Symptoms commonly seen with depression include loss of interest in doing things you used to enjoy, decreased energy, feelings of unworthiness, and decreased activity level. When you apply those to the bedroom, it’s easy to understand how it affects sex.
The same is true with anxiety, if your mind is busy thinking about how you are performing, if sex “is working” to make a baby, what’s going on at work, it impacts your level of enjoyment and desire for sex. There are several treatment options including therapy and/or medication. It’s important to let your healthcare provider know how these symptoms are affecting not only your everyday life but also your sexual function so you can get the help you deserve.
“Being open and honest, not only with yourself but also with your partner and healthcare provider is a critical first step in finding the right way forward.”
If you’re experiencing sexual problems during your infertility journey, take note of what symptoms may be affecting you and try to treat them individually at their source. Being open and honest, not only with yourself but also with your partner and healthcare provider is a critical first step in finding the right way forward.
There is already so much kept quiet when it comes to infertility, let’s not add our sexual health and satisfaction to the list too. Make an effort to talk about it and keep the lines of communication open. When we share our experiences with others and find the support we need, we can wipe out the stigma of infertility and sexual problems and feel more connected to the world around us and the millions of others on the same journey.
Lyndsey Harper, MD is a board-certified Ob/Gyn and the Founder and CEO of Rosy, an app for women with decreased sexual desire and other sexual problems.