When Making Babies Is Hard Work: How to Keep Sex Fun

How to cope with scheduled sex and the pressure to produce. When the end (a baby!) becomes more important than the means (sex!), life takes a little bit of adjustment.

When my husband and I were first married, we didn’t need an excuse to have sex, just an opportunity. Making love was fun, dramatic, and spontaneous.

Deciding to get pregnant just added to the excitement. We’d have intercourse for the four days before I ovulated, the four days afterward, and sometimes twice on the day the ovulation predictor test turned blue. Who could have predicted that the words, “My basal temperature is elevated!” could be interpreted as foreplay?!

But as month after month passed with no signs from the stork, as the nagging worries about infertility loomed over our martial bed, sex became the means to an end. It was less about pleasure and more about timing. Instead of postcoital cuddling, we hurriedly propped my fanny with pillows. The ovulation predictor kit wasn’t a turn-on anymore. It was a taskmaster.

Sex had become a chore.

Elizabeth C., now a mother of three, saw the same thing happen when she and her husband were undergoing fertility treatments. Even her husband was affected. “He traveled for work and would have to juggle his client meetings around being home at a certain date,” she says. Instead of being delighted to be called home on a sexual errand, Elizabeth says, “He’d sigh, ‘OK … I’ll see.'”

Donna Y., a 39-year-old mother of two can relate. She endured Clomid, artificial inseminations, and in vitro fertilization to conceive her second child. With a conception schedule so rigid that she had to mark her calendar with green dots to indicate the must-have-sex days, she says being intimate was “just a check in the box on our to-do list for the day. I just wanted to get it done so I could go do a load of laundry or watch my favorite TV show.”

So what’s a couple to do when making love becomes making a baby and both of you have lost that lovin’ feeling?

Talk About It

Sexual tension can be difficult to discuss under ordinary circumstances, so it’s even harder when someone’s libido is influenced by the anxiety of infertility, the worry that despite all your love for one another and all your medical efforts, the entire process will leave you empty handed in the end. But those feelings of futility and despair will only fester if they’re not brought out in the open.

Dr. David Yarian, PhD, a licensed psychologist and sex therapist, recommends scheduling time for a discussion on a day when intercourse isn’t required. Dr. Madeline Licker Feingold, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Berkeley, California, and specializing in the psychological aspects of reproductive medicine, agrees, “Communication is very important. People need to state what they miss and what they need. Tell your partner directly what he or she can do to make you feel better.”

It also helps to admit that sometimes your body might show up for the baby-making, but your heart won’t always be in it. Explain that it’s not a function of your desire for your mate, it’s just that sex-on-demand takes away some of the spontaneity that normally revs your motor!

Stop Obsessing

Between the conception calendars, the medication schedules, and the ultrasounds, baby-making can quickly become an all-consuming endeavor. Ironically, that obsession with having a child can come between the very act that will produce one.

Women often find that constantly ruminating about their fertility directly affects their mood once they enter the bedroom. How can you concentrate on feeling good when your brain is totally focused on the state of your eggs?

Likewise, nothing puts the brakes on a man’s desire like a partner who constantly bends his ear about the same stressful topic. When he’s about to have sex, he’d probably like to concentrate on certain female body parts that don’t include ovaries or fallopian tubes!

One way to stop obsessing is to be mindful of how often you bring the topic up in conversation and pay attention to the reaction of your partner. If your spouse gets that glazed-over look, changes the topic, or gets upset, those are clear signs that they’ve had enough.

Dr. Feingold says, “If one person is expressing tremendous anxiety, it can cause the other person to feel helpless and then to withdraw. This leads to couples feeling disconnected. It may be important for a partner to express anxiety to their significant other, but these talks are best if they are time limited, say 15 minutes that are devoted to worries. However, during this time, the partner needs to be attentive; no checking email, playing solitaire, or watching TV. Afterwards it is important for discussions to move from talking about anxiety to talking about planning and coping.”

Joining a club, taking up a hobby, or becoming interested in something other than becoming pregnant is another good way to keep from becoming fixated on your fertility. “If you can, take a month off,” suggests Dr. Feingold. “Remember that there are other important things in your life.”

Change the Venue

One way to keep baby-making from turning into drudgery in the first place is to make it extra special, even better than ordinary sex. “During the Clomid cycles, I planned little ‘we’re making a baby’ weekend getaways,” Elizabeth says.

If you can’t get away from home, you can do something as simple as dinner and a movie on your conception days. Or cook a special dinner together before retiring to the bedroom. Or skip the bedroom and try a change of location within your own home! Couples can take turns being in charge of planning a special evening. Anything to make it unique will lighten the mood and add an element of fun.

Change the Pattern

Dr. Yarian says that one of the reasons couples seek his help as a sex therapist is because their lovemaking has falling into a predictable, and therefore boring, pattern. He makes the analogy, “Nobody wants to eat hamburgers for dinner every day.” And that means trying to make your lovemaking as varied as your diet.

If you’re not sure exactly how to do that … just ask. Both Dr. Feingold and Dr. Yarian suggest asking your partner what would make them feel good. You may be surprised by the answer. One partner might like to try something new, but another might think that a backrub would ease the tension and ignite a spark.

Bring Sexy Back

There’s no denying that when we act sexy, we feel sexy. Think back to when you were dating and tried to look good every time you saw your lover. Remember calling each other during the day and planning the evening ahead. So try ditching the sweatpants and flirting a little like the old days.

Donna says, “Reminding my husband that ‘tonight is a green dot night!’ was a bit like teasing or foreplay when we talked during the day.”

A good friend who declined to be quoted directly said that her pregnancies were the result of Chardonnay and KY jelly. “When all else fails,” she says, “inebriation and lubrication are the keys to a successful encounter.” While that may seem indelicate in the face of long-term infertility, the bottom line is that whatever helps sperm meet ovum on those all-important days is a good thing.

Grin and Bear It

Sometimes, despite the wine and candles, your inner spark fails to ignite. And that’s normal. If you can just show up and give it the old college try, you’re doing fine.

“There’s a cultural myth that you’re supposed to be in the mood or wildly aroused to have sex with your partner,” says Dr. Yarian. “The reality is that in long-term marriages people figure out that one person is in the mood at one time and the other at another time.”

Donna laughs that during a few of her “green dot days” neither she nor her husband were in the mood! “Sometimes he’d get warmed up in the bathroom first, then come wake me up for the finale,” she recalls. “Lower your expectations for those times you’re required to have sex because a quickie can get you just as pregnant.”

This Too Shall Pass

Scheduled baby-making isn’t exactly romantic, but with persistence and a little luck, it can be a temporary rough patch. As a couple, your intimate life will continually evolve; it will ebb and flow throughout your lives together, so consider this time a single chapter in the story of your life. While sex-on-demand can be a mood killer, this too shall pass. When things get really boring or even downright stressful, try to remember that a child is the physical manifestation of your love for one another, and as Elizabeth says, “The reward is well worth the troublesome process.”

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