For couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization, or IVF, sex life can suffer, according to a new study and reportedly one of the first of its kind to examine sexual dynamics of couples navigating the quagmire of fertility treatments.
"Sex is for pleasure and for reproduction, but attention to pleasure often goes by the wayside for people struggling to conceive," said researcher Nicole Smith of Indiana University in the US. "With assisted reproductive technologies (ART), couples often report that they feel like a science experiment, as hormones are administered and sex has to be planned and timed." She adds: "It can become stressful and is often very unromantic and regimented; relationships are known to suffer during the process."
The study involved 270 women who completed an online questionnaire, as well as interviews with nearly 130 men and women undergoing IVF treatments. Also the researchers interviewed 70 physicians, nurses, and mental health experts who work directly with patients.
Compared to the control group, a sample of healthy women not undergoing IVF, women undergoing IVF reported less sexual desire and interest in sex, as well as more difficulty with orgasms. They were also more likely to report vaginal pain and dryness. Also, when talking to their physicians, the researchers noted that sex life issues weren't likely to come up.
"There's just a dearth of knowledge on how infertility affects sexual behavior," researcher Jody Lyneé Madeira adds. "The focus is more likely to be on the social and support dimensions of the relationship, but sex is a big part of that. Just letting patients know they aren't alone in this would be helpful."
The researchers say patients could benefit from being told up front about potential side effects, counseled on remedies or referred to a sex therapist. "Women interested in ART are generally well-educated and tend to spend time researching these issues," Madeira said. "They would be very responsive to this information, and proactive."