Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Infertility and Bad Sex

Sometimes, I read about studies and I wonder about who decides why money is spent. For example, this article in Slate tells us of a study out of Stanford which found that "40 percent of infertile women suffered from sexual problems that caused them distress, compared with 25 percent of a control group of healthy women. They experienced low desire and had trouble becoming aroused. They engaged in sexual intercourse or masturbated less frequently. The research is important because it highlights a problem few women talk about. Also, the data make a clear case for fertility doctors to collect couples' sexual histories and refer them to counseling, especially given the growing awareness of how patients' emotional health affects their chances of treatment success, explains Janet Takefman, psychologist and chair of the mental health professional interest group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine." Emphases are mine.

Why was I so emphatic? As a veteran of a long spell of infertility, I can tell you, no one who's going through fertility thinks sex during this time will be what it once was. Your self-esteem and physical joy is severely challenged and your fertility doc, better described as a reproductive endocrinologist, is the last person you want to talk to about it.

When you live your life dreading the monthly curse and hoping against hope that it won't show up, your relationship with your body and it's functions is not quite healthy. (I once flew home early from London because I knew I hadn't gotten pregnant and I couldn't stand the thought of being an ocean away from home when the proof arrived.) If you're going to a fertility clinic to try to get pregnant, the odds are good you'll be treated more like a number than a person. You might not see your doctor with any regularity and when you do, you might find him or her to be a bit of a, how can I say this?, a bit of a cold fish. A really good reproductive endocrinologist is a really good scientists and a stickler for detail and it's the exceptional doctor who manages to be both really good and at all warm. These are not the professionals who should be counseling couples on their emotional well-being and sex lives. A good fertility clinic will refer patients to a good clinical social worker or psychologist.

That said, the article and the study make one good point:

"Although one-third of childless women in this study reported that infertility had a negative impact on their marriages, Takefman notes that infertile couples have a lower divorce rate and can recover from sexual stress. "You're fighting a crisis together and learning how to cope quickly with something traumatic," she says. "If you survive that, you'll be in good standing for the rest of your marriage."

A good, solid relationship can be carved out through all those trips to the fertility clinic. It's the silver lining of a huge dark cloud.

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