IVF and Sexual Well-being
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a sequence of intricate medical procedures—they all take place in a lab—that assist with the conception of a baby by retrieving eggs from ovaries and fertilizing them with sperm.
For people experiencing fertility issues, IVF is a medical technology that provides a step forward, giving them the confidence to expect successful outcomes.
The highs and the lows
We’ve all seen popular images of the emotions most regularly associated with childbirth. On TV, in the movies, parents are pictured as being close to a happy hysteria. Off-screen, though, until a baby is born, the tests are complete, and mother and baby get the green light, parents will experience all kinds of anxiety throughout the pregnancy. But for parents who have to rely on IVF, the anxieties go way beyond becoming pregnant.
Regardless of the outcome of IVF, participants can experience depression as a very real part of the process. These anxieties could be heightened by their ongoing struggles against infertility, but more likely, for the woman trying to conceive, anxiety can be ascribed to the hormonal medications prescribed to prepare her body for the IVF procedures.
Even without medical side effects, the anticipation of success and fear of failure is a looming concern for people awaiting the outcome of the IVF process. The miscarriage rate, not coincidentally, is higher for IVF pregnancies.
Another more practical stressor that emerges is tied to the required financial investment. A single procedure and medication costs can be as high as $20,000, after insurance. Since the average patient undergoes the procedure twice or more—some may require IVF for every pregnancy—investment in IVF can escalate quickly and may present a burden on living expenses and savings. These costs increase by as much as $10,000 if a donor egg or sperm is required.
Women being treated in an IVF program can experience lower rates of sexual satisfaction, as studies have shown women report decreased sexual desire, pain during vaginal intercourse, difficulty achieving orgasms and vaginal dryness, owing to the hormones used in IVF.
Some couples have described their participation in an IVF program as feeling like they were taking part in a science project, because there is no romance involved. The entire procedure is regimented and both parties may feel disassociated at times.
Men experiencing treatment for male infertility associated with IVF and ICSI—intracytoplasmic sperm injection, where each ovum is individually injected with a single sperm rather than naturally letting the eggs be fertilized—will have their own concerns tied to their visits to a urologist.
Depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, all of which contribute to sexual health and wellness, are often associated with male infertility. Stress management is essential to combat low confidence and decreased feelings of worth. Some men feel some level of doubt regarding their value to their partner and their relationship.
How to stay confident and happy
Your primary healthcare provider and the various specialists you’ll be working with to get pregnant will offer advice about how to avoid anxiety and depression. But there are strategies you can introduce into your life that may be just as useful:
- Talk about your feelings with your partner and close friends.
- Look online for trustworthy support groups and other communities where you can share stories with people who have gone through similar experiences.
- Start a daily journal about your personal insights. Granted, it’s not for everyone, but many people find the process of translating feelings into words therapeutic.
- Relax, take time for yourself. Many people advocate taking up meditation for the mind and yoga for the body.
The most important strategy is to engage in self-care, mainly to benefit the relationship outside of the IVF process and to seek relationship help from a trusted professional if necessary.
Plan ahead to combat stress
A licensed therapist who specializes in sexual and reproductive health might be a good first-step advocate for individuals and couples to consult, as an information and experiential resource, before embarking on IVF.
While in vitro fertilization certainly brings a unique and wonderful opportunity for people who cannot otherwise conceive, a number of challenges and complications lie ahead on that journey. Paying attention to the source of each stressor is key to navigating IVF, and being ready with proven strategies to overcome each issue will ensure your sexual well-being.