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The stress of “timed sex”

6 July 2020

When you decide to try for a baby you might start having more romantic nights in. Treating yourself to a new candle and sexy underwear set doesn’t hurt either. However, as the weeks and months wear on sex can begin to feel like less of a way to connect with your partner and more like a stressful obligation. Just as infertility causes emotional stress to an individual, it also impacts relationships— especially, your romantic relationship. Sex with your partner brings you closer but the tension of not getting pregnant can tear you apart. Here’s how to cope with the mental strain in the bedroom when you’re trying to get pregnant.

Why can 'trying' be stressful?

Pregnancy and giving birth is often portrayed as one of the most wonderful things a family can go through. It’s said to be filled with new milestones, lots of laughs, and a baby at the end. So, when you spend months and, in some cases, years trying to conceive it can become one of the most stressful and tense times in your life. If you speak to couples going through fertility treatment or struggling to conceive it’s more than likely they’d tell you their sex life changed dramatically when they started to try for a baby. Sex might be necessary at this time but it also could be the first thing to fall as a sacrifice when you’re trying to conceive.

No two couples have the same experience when they’re trying to conceive. However, when you decide you want to have a baby it’s encouraged that you get to know your menstrual cycle and when to expect your monthly bleed. Monitoring your ovulation period is also recommended, as is having sex every other day during your fertility window. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, fertility window describes the five days prior to ovulation and the day of. Knowing when the best time to have sex in order to increase your chances of conception is incredibly helpful. However, blocking out a six-day sex window on your joint calendar may not have the aphrodisiac effects you hope. 

The reality is “timed sex” works for many couples, that's why knowing your unique LH curve and when your most fertile days are, are key. Using a fertility tracker can help you understand your body and allow you to pinpoint your most fertile days. Assuming that neither partner has fertility problems there’s a 42% chance of conception on the day before ovulation, the most fertile day of your cycle. However, timed sex also brings its own issues.

According to research published in the Journal of Andrology, after six months of timed sex four out of ten men said they suffered from erectile dysfunction or impotence. Some said they’d avoid having sex with their partner at the designated time and one in ten began having extramarital affairs. The stress linked to infertility can cause a breakdown in the bedroom.

Check-in with yourself before sex

It might not seem obvious but your mental health and sex life is intrinsically tied together. “I absolutely do think that mental health and low libido are linked,” says sex and relationships expert Sarah Louise Ryan, “When we feel low we can find ourselves in a vicious circle of trying to figure it all out, trying to swim against the tide when we feel like we’re sinking and that can cause further stress which we know is linked to cortisol in our bodies which doesn’t lend itself well to the sex drive.”

Tension or stress isn’t just an emotional reaction, your body reacts physically. Your nervous system releases stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. This kicks your body into fight or flight mode to help you survive but not necessarily thrive. You may notice your heartbeat quickens and your blood pressure rises but this can be a killer for your libido. Cortisol can throw your menstrual cycle off track, make it harder to orgasm, and make your mind wander during intercourse.

“Sex is both a mind and body experience. This means that our mental and physical health can hugely impact our sexual experiences. If we are anxious or stressed it can be really hard to get out of our heads and experience more in our bodies,” says Kate Moyle Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist and Psycho-Sexologist, “For example, if you are struggling to get pregnant you can get preoccupied with distracting thoughts or worries that take your attention away from enjoying what you are doing. We only have a certain amount of available attention at any one time, and our thoughts can take a lot of it.” 

When sex becomes a timed, pressured activity rather than a way to get closer to your loved one it can really affect both of you, physically and mentally. If you’re constantly thinking about your window of fertility and the fact that you’re yet to get pregnant it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy yourself in the moment.

Release yourself of guilt

If you’ve noticed that sex has become another monthly obligation on your calendar then you’re not alone. “We often don’t see much representation of people struggling to conceive or that in reality, it doesn't happen right away. More often, hear the stories of the people that ‘it happened first time’ for and these narratives can cause more stress,” says Moyle, “The definition of sex, and how we relate to it changes very quickly when you’re trying to conceive as suddenly sex has a purpose beyond us just enjoying ourselves. It’s because of this that our relationships with sex may change.”

Taking the pressure of conception into the bedroom with you can be crippling. Many women report that they can’t get away from all the things they feel they should have, would have, and could have done before trying to conceive. It’s easy to turn the blame on yourself. However, stressing out about where you think you’ve gone wrong and then worrying that stress makes conceiving even more difficult is a very vicious cycle. Understanding that both you and your partner deserve a break and aren’t to blame for any struggles you’re going through is key.

Remember what attracted you to your partner

As you break your months up into fertility windows, pregnancy tests, and monthly bleeds one month very quickly rolls into six, which easily becomes 12 and then 18. Living your life by numbers and calculations can make you feel out of touch with your own sexuality and your relationship. However, remembering what got you into bed with your partner in the first place may alleviate some of the worries you have to get pregnant.

Ryan suggests that the best place to start is acknowledging what’s driving a wedge in your sex life and looking at it straight on. Remind yourself that you’re not just sex buddies but best friends and a family. She says, “communicate the good, the bad and the ugly but never stop communicating, that’s when all will start to feel lost in love. Learning to communicate really clearly but empathetically to both of your needs and from both sides of the table can help to open the pathways of conversation.”

Having a conversation outside of the bedroom and knowing what you want to say to your partner may help spice things up again. “Be clear about what’s going on. Communication is the best tool for any sex life or relationship and too often couples assume that their partner knows what is going on in their head. They can’t as that would be mind-reading,” says Moyle, “Use ‘I’ statements to take ownership of your feelings rather than putting them onto your partner and talk about it outside of the sexual context. If you know that there are ways you can help each other, or to change things, then talk about the specifics. You may find that they have some ideas, thoughts, and anxieties too.” 

Prioritise sex as a pleasurable experience 

Once you’ve relayed how you’re truly feeling to your partner you can start to book in time between the sheets together again. However, instead of looking at it as timed sex where it’s imperative that you get pregnant, try to see it as prioritising sex and pleasure for yourself and the person you love. “Making a conscious effort to seek out what makes your partner attractive to you and the other way round, what drove you to want to get between the sheets in the first place with them, and keeping the sexual air of mystery alive makes for an interesting and intimate relationship,” says Ryan. You deserve a full and satisfying sex life, especially when you’re trying to conceive.

There’s no denying that there’s somewhat of 'a science' behind getting pregnant. However, once you’ve worked out when you’re most fertile and taken all of your doctor's advice and it’s still not working, it’s very easy to become despondent with your relationship and yourself. It would be easier if there was a winning formula for conceiving but every couple goes through completely different things.

Remembering why you’re with your partner will take some of the strain of conception off you in the bedroom. Similarly, taking time to alleviate yourself of any of the stress and guilt you’re feeling is crucial for your mental health. Sex can feel like a chore when you’re trying to conceive but you still deserve to have a pleasurable and fulfilling sex life.

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