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Sexual function during infertility

Infertility has been shown to be a substantial source of distress: the two-week wait, ovulation predictor tests, the hopefulness of each cycle, and the disappointment with a negative test. Infertility can feel like a rollercoaster sometimes. Not only is it emotionally challenging and physically demanding, but we also may begin to notice it creeping into our relationships with our partners. Maybe you find yourselves arguing about taking a break from trying to conceive or if you might be ready to try medical interventions. It is well recognized by many that infertility can be extremely burdensome in many areas of life. One relatively unexplored aspect of well-being that has been unexplored in individuals attempting to conceive without medical intervention is sex. Sex can be extremely impactful to our everyday lives and health. Difficulties with sex or sexual function can pop up in many different ways. You might find difficulty with desire, arousal, or even experiencing pain. We noticed this gap in our understanding and aimed to understand how sexual function may be impacted by attempting to conceive in those not undergoing medically assisted interventions. Two hundred and thirty women experiencing infertility completed a survey about their quality of life, relationship satisfaction, sexual function, and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

We found that in this study, over half of the women met the accepted cut-off for experiencing sexual dysfunction. Their difficulty with sexual function was found to be related to adjustment in their relationship and infertility-related quality of life. Such that women who had better sexual functioning reported feeling better adjusted in their relationship and having a higher quality of life. Sexual function was found to have the opposite relationship with anxiety and depression; women with greater sexual function had fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.

It has been long recognized that time trying to conceive is often found to be associated with psychological outcomes. Infertility can be a very distressing experience, and the longer you may be engaged with attempting to conceive, the more difficult you may find it on your mental health. A surprising finding of this work was that sexual function might play an essential role in the relationship between time trying to conceive and mental distress. Women who reported greater sexual dysfunction overall found less of an impact of time on their mental health.

Sexual function was positively associated with relationship adjustment and infertility-related quality of life and negatively associated with anxiety and depression. Sexual function moderated the relationship between time trying to conceive and psychological outcomes. These findings highlight several domains of sexual functioning that could be manipulated via psychological interventions to potentially improve distress among women struggling to conceive.

If you are struggling with infertility, it might be helpful to reflect on your sexual behaviour. When was the last time you engaged in any kind of sexual activity to be intimate with your partner? How long has it been since you engaged in sex for pleasure or enjoyment? Infertility has a tendency to take over many areas of life, and sex is one of those things it can easily take over. It makes sense why infertility may want to take over sex and why we can get so focused on sex for just the purpose of attempting to conceive, but don’t forget that it can also be a source of pleasure and intimacy with your partner.

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