When you're working hard to conceive a baby, you often get mischievous winks from people who think that sounds like so much fun. But if you've slammed headfirst into the frustrating, agonizing disappointment of infertility like I have, you know that imaginary world of frequent, passionate sex can be far from the truth.
Sex can lose its spice when it has to take place in certain positions on certain days of the month, or when you're injecting yourself with crazy-making hormones. What used to be joyful romps can become mechanical and fraught with emotional and financial weight. I mean, who is really going to get turned on by a partner who examines her underwear and declares that all signs point to imminent ovulation?
I recently led a panel on this topic at the Fertility Planit conference in Los Angeles which brought together experts on IVF, egg donation and surrogacy, fertility preservation and egg freezing, acupuncture and optimizing your health, adoption and fostering to adopt, coping with infertility, choosing not to be a parent, and more.
I asked several speakers and organizers to share their wisdom on keeping sex passionate while trying to conceive. Here’s what they had to say:
Remind yourself why you wanted to make babies together in the first place.
Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, an OB and integrative health doctor at Women's Care of Beverly Hills tells her patients that keeping romantic novelty alive is incredibly important to any relationship over the long haul, and there is no better time to practice that than when baby-making has become a science for you and your partner.
What it requires is communication. Dr. Gilberg-Lenz recommends talking about your fantasies with each other, sending a surprise "sext," making plans for lunchtime quickies, trying out role play, and doing whatever it takes to get yourself in the mood – whether that's wearing lingerie or greeting your partner at the door in nothing but a robe.
Besides keeping you connected with your partner, stimulating your sex drive can also help with your end goal: getting pregnant. Estrogen and testosterone, which increase feelings of attraction and attractiveness, also increase lubrication, blood flow, and sensitivity in the genital organs.
The release of dopamine and testosterone in fantasy and anticipation also pump more blood where it's needed. And orgasms, or even just loving physical touch, produce higher levels of oxytocin, the hormone of bonding and love. All these factors can contribute to helping you conceive.
Create a ritual of care. When Sara Naab, cofounder of Trak Fertility and mother of two, was dealing with the stress of trying to conceive, she and her husband set aside one night a week to care for each other. They dimmed the lights, lit candles, traded off making each other's favorite dinners, enjoyed dessert (a key part of the evening Naab says), and then took a shower and treated each other to spa treatments such as exfoliating scrubs or facials. "We would set aside life," says Naab. "Fostering that space facilitates trust and opens lines of communication."
Don't forget about the men. When we talk about the stresses of infertility, we usually focus on the woman or, at most, a couple. But according to Paul Turek, MD, founder of the Turek Clinic in Los Angeles and San Francisco, "questions about how men can keep sex passionate hardly ever come up."
"For many men, scheduled sex is a stressor, and stressors can pull the romance plug," says Dr. Turek. When you add furiously chasing details at work and fighting snarled traffic on the way home into the mix, you've made it that much harder to produce, as Dr. Turek puts it, "wood on demand."
Dr. Turek recommends that his patients "kill the stress button by idling for a while, buying some flowers, ditching the cell phone, disconnecting from WiFi, and beginning to anticipate sex." And if your best efforts don't get you where you need to be? Take comfort in the fact that "morning is just around the corner," and you can try again.
Naab found that she could help her husband reduce the stress he was experiencing by talking about fertility stuff while doing something else. "Chatting side by side (in the car, for instance) can be easier than face to face," says Naab, who adds that men sometimes prefer to use analogies, humor, and other forms of indirect communication when they have to discuss difficult topics.
Develop a sense of humor. "Sometimes you can find intimacy in mechanical sex just by joking about it," says Naab. "Be honest about how ridiculous it is for both of you." Having the expectation that sex when you are trying to conceive is always going to be amazing will "set you up for disappointment. Being able to joke about the times that are less than amazing can deepen your underlying bond, enabling you to enjoy more deeply spontaneous, passionate moments when they come."
Share the scheduling burden. When Stacie Krajchir, a writer and producer and mother of a 1-year-old boy in Santa Monica, was trying to conceive, she was grateful that her husband became the "self-appointed 'ovulation calendar tracker.'" On sex days, Krajchir's husband would alert her in a humorous way, either with a sexy, sarcastic text or a funny note. "It showed me that he was present and paying attention," says Krajchir. "It also demonstrated that he really wanted to make this happen – and that, to me, was sexy."
Don't knock the quickie. Despite all your efforts to make sex romantic and feel connected to your partner, sometimes there will be no time (or interest) in doing so, even if it's the optimal moment. "It's hard to walk in the door at 6 PM knowing 'it' has to happen in the next three hours or oops! You missed your window," says Krajchir. "It's ok to agree to quickies on certain sex days so you both just have a break from the romance."