Emotional Health

Infertility Treatment’s Toll on Sexual Intimacy

Cecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices in many articles over the years.

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Dear Dr. Ford:

I never wanted anything more than to be a mother, but I never met the right man. When I was 39, after a short courtship, I married a really nice guy who shared my wish for a family. We agreed to try to get pregnant even before the wedding, but nothing happened. We saw a fertility specialist right away and found out that my new husband had a very low sperm count. He was told to have an operation to repair a varicoele, and he never complained about the surgery or the recovery. His sperm count did improve, but we chose to go the IVF route after three months, because my eggs were aging. After six bouts of IVF, I did have healthy embryos, and finally became pregnant. I had twin boys who were healthy when I was 42. I am now 47 and am overwhelmed with all of this. My husband works all the time and I am exhausted when he comes home. We can’t afford help, and the 5-year-old boys require constant attention. He is withdrawn and barely interested in his sons, and we have no sex life. I am truly worried that, while I have the children I always wanted, I may not have a husband, and the boys may never have a father who is there for them. What can we do to repair the damage to our adult lives together, or have I waited too long?


Dr. Ford Responds:

Dear Jacqui:

I’m glad that you were able to achieve your lifelong dream of becoming a mother. But, as we have been discussing all month in our focus on motherhood, it is a blessing that always brings challenges. Though you say that all you have ever wanted was to become a mother, you were hoping, as we all all do, for the idealized version that included an attentive husband and a stable marriage. Very often it is the introduction of children themselves into a marriage that spells trouble for a couple, and when infertility is brought into the mix, the problems are multiplied.

Infertility treatment is notorious for the negative toll it can take on marriage. For one thing, the treatments that women undergo often contain mood-altering hormones. Furthermore, the monthly drama of hope and disappointment that accompanies each cycle is very taxing and disruptive. Finally, the focus on reproductive tactics, including timing of ovulation and other techniques used to optimize one’s chances of conceiving, take any chance of “romance” out of lovemaking. Indeed, there is hardly any chance of intimacy, since the procedure now involves an entire team. Ultimately, conception takes place—as it did for you—in the doctor’s office. Though “social” sex can resume once a pregnancy is established, any pregnant woman will tell you that it’s a gamble whether or not you will feel well enough to get back to a satisfying level. Add to that the fact that you carried twins and had just been through the wringer of three years of trying, then the odds of reverting to “normal” were probably not great.

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