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Performance Issues Trying to Conceive
When a couple decides to officially try to have a baby, the initial part of the process can be a lot of fun. Suddenly thinking about baby names is no longer the equivalent of a school girl doodling her fantasy married name in a notebook, but a within-reach reality. The birth control and condoms go flying out the window, and in their place come hope and sex with a purpose. There are periods in a month where you know that no matter how rough your day at work is, when you get home you're having sex. Not only is sex this great, fun thing you get to do strictly for a few moments of pleasure, but it's actually a down payment on a life goal. It's like waking up one day and finding out that raw chocolate chip cookie dough is actually going to make you thinner.
Fast forward a bit and add some fertility issues to the mix. What was once the high of consequence-free cookie dough may now be the low of finding out that's ALL you get to eat. When a couple has been trying to have a baby without success for months or even years, technically speaking the process can stay the same but it somehow feels completely different. Sex is still sex (although maybe now there's fertility drugs involved, so you've really gone pro in the sport). There are still periods of the month where you know that no matter how rough your day at work is, when you get home you're having sex. Only now instead of feeling like a guaranteed treat at the end of a bad day, it feels like one more, tedious thing you're expected to do despite your mood or level of exhaustion. Fertility issues are not sexy - anxiousness, concern and the editing of a lifelong dream does not psychological lingerie make.
So how and why does sex seem to change once it's on a schedule? What can a couple do to keep sex as fun as possible? Are there things NOT to do?
For insight, I spoke to Aaron Buckwalter, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist here in Los Angeles who specializes in infertility counseling. Performance issues when a couple is going through infertility are fairly common, even for couples who never previously had any issues in that department. A lot of it has to do with the removal of spontaneity.
"Most couples that have normal/healthy sex lives have a fair amount of playful engagement and spontaneity. Initially, when trying to conceive, couples often just remove birth control and engage in their usual sexually activity. However, after 6 months of no pregnancy, people start to get a little worried. Part of this worry derives from hearing so much about infertility, that people start to get anxious and move rapidly into concern about infertility," Aaron explains. "So when a couple starts to try to have sex at a regular interval in order to maximize fertility, suddenly the fun and spontaneity is gone and it can become work. When a woman is tracking her ovulation either through morning temperatures or a fertility kit, sudden news of ovulation kicks the couple into high sex gear. Some books and doctors recommend having sex twice a day during the ovulation period. Having sex 6 times in three days sounds like it could be fun, but can lead to performance anxiety and often anger and resentment."
In an ideal world, when we picture creating our family, all the emotions involved in that picture would be positive ones. Hope, promise, excitement, all the feelings associated with a dream becoming a reality. Issues with infertility, however, start to bring negative emotions into the picture and make it very difficult not to bring them with you into the bedroom. Both halves of a couple are likely to experience these negative emotions when it comes to infertility, but in looking at how that specifically translates to their 'roles' in their sex life, men and women experience it differently.
"Men do typically bear the brunt of performance anxiety as couples try to conceive. When the pressure is on to have sex numerous times in a short time period, many men have erection difficulties and also difficulty achieving orgasm each time. If there is a “failure” in one of those attempts, it can compound the pressure later in the day or the following day to perform their duty successfully," Aaron says. That's not to say that women don't experience performance issues as well. He adds, "Women can also have performance anxiety. For a woman the anxiety can be around whether she is really ovulating and fear that her body isn’t working the way it is supposed to be working. Also she may worry about whether her male partner will perform adequately. These anxious thoughts can detract from the sexual experience and create disconnection from her partner. Also if a woman is anxious or angry and not sexually aroused during intercourse, she may need to apply lubrication, which could negatively affect the success rate of pregnancy."
Sex and feelings about your body, like it or not, go together and therefor feeling in the mood for sex when your body feels like a traitor can be a difficult accomplishment. It's entirely possible and not altogether surprising if sex, after you've been trying to conceive for a long time, becomes less fun. In part because, by no one's fault, it's hard for it not to become a job. The man's job being to perform and have an orgasm every time, and the woman's job more than likely being to create a schedule and, of course, to get pregnant. So if you're having issues performing and sex is starting to feel like a stressful job, what are some things that a couple can try to help the situation?
"Rather than giving into the timetable and feeling rushed, the couple should relax and try to re- introduce playfulness into the situation. It can be a good time to check in with each other about fantasies or role playing ideas and other ways to distract them from the timetable," Aaron suggests. "Often consulting a sex therapist or a therapist specializing in fertility issues can provide an outlet and also give the couple ideas that would be more specifically tailored to their relationship."
Those are some things to DO if performance is becoming an issue. Are there things to NOT do?
"If performance is an issue for a couple during the ovulation period, then it becomes important that the couple not force the issue by sticking to the ovulation timetable. The key is to not get caught up in it and add additional stress and resentment into the relationship," Aaron explains."Of course the couple wants to have a child, and sooner rather than later. However, remaining united and focusing on the couple and what it needs to sustain itself is often the best way to achieve that family."
As hard as it may seem and as unfair as the situation is, if performance is an issue it's a good time to start getting creative. Even though the purpose is to conceive, try to remember, revive and renew the reasons that sex used to be fun before infertility came into the picture. It is, of course, a total injustice that anyone has to have their relationships put through the stresses of infertility in the first place. However, if that's the unfortunate situation a couple is in it's vital to remember that one of the most important components of any vision you have of your family is a solid relationship with your partner. As counter-intuitive as it may seem when you want to have a baby as soon as possible, taking just a month off of the schedule may be the breather that you both need. Even though it's a difficult step, counseling is a great thing to consider if performance is an issue - consider it a tune-up for an otherwise solid relationship.