By Charmaine Dennis, Naturopath and Co-director
It can be so easy to get caught up in the dos and don’ts of trying to conceive – don’t drink alcohol, go to your GP for testing, give up the cigarettes, exercise more … that we can forget to talk about the most important thing about getting pregnant – SEX!
When you first start consciously trying to conceive, sex with your partner may be the most potent love making you have experienced. To come together to make a baby is ultimately what it is all about – a culmination of your love together resulting in the formation of another human being whose every cell is made up of your union. Amazing times!
But it seems that it can quickly turn to stressful thinking, especially as we often assume that it will happen quickly and easily for us. We tried so hard for most of our reproductive lives to not get pregnant with intercourse, so it is easy to assume that it should happen on the first attempt without contraception. Right?
How long will it take to conceive?
We know that around 80 – 84% of couples with healthy and fully functioning reproductive systems will be pregnant within 12 months, and 93% within 2 years.  These couples have a 20% chance of conceiving on any one cycle and the chance is not cumulative. – it is 20% chance each time . We also know that a variety of factors can affect your chance of conceiving, including your age, diet, lifestyle, fitness and stress levels among other things . We will get to all of that another time – let’s focus on sex for a change!
So how often should we have sex?
It’s a common question our patients ask us when they are trying to make a baby. Sex 3 – 4 times a week or every other day will help to ensure there are plenty of fresh and healthy sperm ready and waiting up in the fallopian tubes for the release of the egg and the magic of conception to occur. Statistically, in healthy people, there is little difference in conception rates between daily conception attempts (37%) and those who are trying every alternate day (33%) and since many couples may find daily sex increases their stress, sex every other day will just as likely get you pregnant .
Research shows that if you can interpret your body’s signs of ovulation and time your sex and conception attempts to the fertile window, your chances of conceiving on any one cycle are significantly higher . Charting the women’s cycle is so beneficial for understanding signs of ovulation to get the timing right and something we are teaching our patients every day. This helps to focus conception attempts to the fertile window to ensure healthy sperm is ready and waiting for the egg to be released.
Is it normal for sex to become a chore?
If it is taking you longer to conceive than you expected or you have specific fertility issues that may reduce your chances, even the healthiest relationships can come under strain. Many couples trying for a baby so often tell us they are losing the romance and intimacy from their sex lives. Sex can quickly lose spontaneity and become a mechanical chore.
When Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) becomes involved, adding financial burden, multiple appointments involving pelvic procedures and the medicalisation of your fertility, the strain is further compounded. These stressors understandably put pressure on your sex life and make for uncomfortable bedfellows. With most forms of ART, IVF included, you don’t even need to make love to make a baby, and so many couples find good reason not to bother – too tired, too stressed, too bloated, too painful (physically and emotionally) and sometimes even too scared.
While this is obviously understandable and very commonly reported by couples who are asked about it , difficulty with intimacy and lovemaking does not contribute positively to making a baby! Even with IVF where sex is not needed, it has been shown that intercourse before a transfer can improve outcomes of a positive viable pregnancy as incredibly, there are components within the semen that help improve implantation .
Is there anything we can do?
Wherever possible, try to be conscious of the effect your fertility focus has on your relationship. If there are negative signs creeping in, do something about it! Spend some time connecting with your partner and enjoying each other away from the pressure of trying for a baby. Pay attention to each other’s needs for connection as well as space. Allow yourself some time to relax and let go, have fun together. Don’t forget or neglect intimacy with each other outside of the fertile time.
Tips on taking the pressure off your relationship; bringing spontaneity back.
- Take time to enjoy each other and the life you have now
- Plan for regular date nights or a date weekend
- Do fun things! Think about what you used to find fun and rediscover the reasons you got together in the first place
- Find ways to make each other laugh
- Physically nurture each other with long hugs, massages, take a bath together
- Change the time, setting and length of time that you normally make love
- If you are finding it all too stressful, then it may be helpful to take a break from charting your cycle for a month or two, still enjoying regular sex 3-4 times a week
- Take a break. Couples often tell us that having a break from “baby-making sex” for a few cycles can also relieve stress by not having to worry about whether they are trying during their fertile time.
All stress reduction measures can contribute positively to your relationship and your libido. Meditation, exercise, dancing, laughing, yoga, ensuring good quality sleep and time in nature to wind down are all worth considering making more time for. Your fertility naturopath or Chinese medicine practitioner can help support individual factors with specific herbal medicine and nutritional supplements to support the impacts of stress and libido or other health related concerns that may affect your conception attempts.
When the issues are bigger than the things you can control, or resentment is starting to build for any reason, it is so important to seek support as early as possible. Find someone that you can (ideally both) talk to comfortably and explore the issues impacting your sex life. Couples or individual psychology or counselling are good first options for support. Group work such as your local IVF support group or women’s or men’s group can also be a useful resource as discussing your issues with people who will lend an ear, understand and likely even share similar stories can help you feel less alone and more normal.
Infertility is often one of the first real-life stressful situations that a couple has to face together. It can be the breaking point of many relationships due to various factors but it does often seem to come back down to the impact on intimacy and sex. It certainly deserves important consideration. This challenge can also deepen and strengthen a relationship when faced fully together, with open communication, understanding, support and love.
Life is bound to throw many more difficulties your way, and how you face this as a couple will show you how you will face other challenges in the future – like parenting!
Who wrote this?
Charmaine Dennis is a naturopath, fertility and health expert, mentor, writer, mother, and businesswoman. She is the founding co-director of Fertile Ground Health Group, co- creator of the Be Fertile relaxation CD series and co-author of The Breakfast Project. Charmaine’s naturopathic career has followed a special interest in working with couples with infertility requiring IVF support since 1999. She has assisted many in realising their dreams to conceive healthy, beautiful babies in collaboration with GPs and fertility specialists, acupuncturists and other health modalities.
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