Many couples experience a surge in sexual excitement and activity when they begin to try for a baby. They may be suddenly free from hormonal birth control methods or the barrier sensation of condoms and often feel they have a closer and more intimate connection than before.
However, after a short time, if a baby has not been conceived, this heightened sense of intimacy and sexual excitement may fade. What typically replaces it is a sense of monotony and routine—sex by schedule, goal-oriented sex, sex under pressure—as well as anxiety, grief, and loss. The emotional ups and downs can be hard for people to endure time and time again. Hope is erased by the first sight of your period, and then sadness and grief take over.
Sometimes, partners experience guilt on top of all these other emotions. Is it my fault we are not getting pregnant? Is it his fault we are not getting pregnant? Are we doing it wrong? Could we have done something differently? Is it because I did X, Y, or Z? Many people also feel guilty that they want sex only in order to conceive. What’s wrong with me that I don’t desire my partner sexually except to make a baby?
This can be an extremely difficult time for couples. They often feel alone, especially when they see “baby bumps” and strollers everywhere they go. The pressure to conceive often colors the mood and trajectory of the sexual relationship.
Here are some recommendations that may help you continue to enjoy sex while going through the process of trying to conceive:
- Even if sex is planned or scheduled, don’t forget the foreplay. Sex doesn’t have to be rushed just because you “have” to do it. Try setting a timer for 30 or 45 minutes and don’t begin intercourse until that timer goes off. This may help you focus on becoming aroused, touching each other, and enjoying one another.
- Focus on pleasure and the female orgasm. Though many assume the male ejaculation is all that’s really needed to create a baby, there are a lot of benefits to focusing on pleasure and even female orgasm. In one study, researchers R. Robin Baker and Mark Bellis found that female orgasms that happened between one minute before the male ejaculated up to 45 minutes afterward led to higher levels of sperm retention. Furthermore, getting into the habit of having sex only for procreation may bring about reduced interest in sex on the part of both parties. Once a couple gets into the habit of having sex as a matter of routine and without much arousal, it can be hard to get out of that habit.
- Try something different. Many couples get in sexual ruts from time to time. Consider changing the environment. Even having sex in the shower, in another room, or adding some new lingerie or candles can enhance the experience and make it feel less routine.
- Remember it can take time. It’s important to know that, for many couples, it can take several months to a year or more to conceive. Try not to get discouraged, exercise self-compassion, and give yourself the benefit of patience.
- Talk to your partner about your experience and listen to your partner’s experience. Grieve together. Share feelings. Remember people experience loss differently. Although your partner may not cry in front of you, it does not mean he or she does not feel sadness. Share your feelings, but don’t expect your partner to feel the exact same way you do. Listen and be compassionate. Relating on this shared experience grows emotional intimacy, which will help you have greater sexual intimacy as well.
- Consider taking a break from “trying.” Take a break from scheduled ovulation times and just have sex when the mood arises. Not only might this kindle sexual sparks, it may relieve some of the pressure and anxiety you both feel.
- Talk to someone in your support system outside of your partner. Be selective about who you talk to because some people may not be as helpful as you may like. Some people may give you all sorts of unwanted tips and “old wives’ tales” about what they heard will help you get pregnant. Some may be overly intrusive. Select a few trusted people to talk to, such as close friends, family members, or a therapist, who can help meet some of your emotional needs. Remember that your partner is also going through this difficult time and may not be able to fully support you the way you need because he or she is going through his or her own process as well.
- Schedule date nights or other fun activities you enjoy outside the bedroom. Having more fun together may remind you that you’re not just “partners”—you really like and love each other. Those positive feelings may carry over into sexual activities.
If you’re having difficulty conceiving, you are not alone. Reach out to your support system, get the medical attention and therapeutic support you need, and focus on what you love about your partner. Sustain emotional intimacy and focus on the pleasure of being together by not rushing to the male ejaculation. Extend foreplay and remember that just because sex may be scheduled does not mean you cannot also experience pleasure and even orgasm.
Baker, M. M., & Bellis, M. (1993). Human Sperm Competition: Late Manipulation by Females and a Function for the Female Orgasm. Animal Behavior, Vol. 46, 887-909.
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