Sex and IVF: It's Complicated
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Sex and IVF. To be honest, I’m not even sure if those words should be in the same sentence.
Yeah I know, anything is possible, so I suppose ruling sex out completely during IVF isn’t the wisest choice, but when you need to undergo fertility treatments to have a baby, sex gets thrown out the window…right?
Let’s start from the beginning.
You’re trying to conceive. It’s so exciting, and all you want to do is have sex. It’s fun for a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, since we all know it can take several months to conceive. But as the months go by, or in my case when you visit your OB and they tell you that most likely you won’t be able to make a baby the “natural” way, sex stops being fun. You realize you don’t want to do it all the time, you’ve lost desire, and all you want to do now is focus on what’s next to help you make that baby.
Sex During IVF
So now you have started treatments. You’re being pumped with extra hormones ranging from Clomid, estrogen supplements, patches, shots, letrozole, antibiotics, menopur, progesterone, testosterone, and yes even birth control. Every single one of these plays a role in making your baby, but they also contribute to a huge shift in your body. Side effects vary from headaches to nausea, from exhaustion to weight gain. Not to mention acne flare-ups, rashes, bloat, food cravings, tender breasts, hair loss, bruising, and of course a loss or gain in your sex drive.
The thing is, no matter what’s happening to your body during IVF your focus is still on the end goal, your beautiful miracle child. Nothing else seems to matter, and so much of your normal life starts to fade in the background. Suddenly, making plans and having a life revolves around doctors’ appointments and when you have to administer your shots. Everything else, including sex, takes a back seat.
Sex is also not allowed at certain points during your IVF cycle. After retrieval, before retrieval, days before transfer, during your two-week-wait, and usually until six weeks of pregnancy if you get there! We are literally told not to have intercourse so many times along the way that sometimes it’s just easier to put it away altogether. I personally go into “what if mode” with this one. What if it’s a day too early? What if I’m ruining whatever is going on in my body by having sex? So many things start to mess with my mind that I sometimes would rather just table the whole idea of sex during IVF.
The other conflicting piece to this puzzle is our little friend, birth control. Before, after, and in the middle of each cycle (most of us) are told to take birth control pills. Usually, it is given to us so that our cycles can be monitored, regulated, and so that our estrogen can get suppressed before starting stims or having certain procedures done. Whatever the reason, birth control is a big part of IVF, which is a huge mind f*&k in and of itself.
So once again, the little tiny feeling of hope you might have had of conceiving on your own (because anything is possible, I suppose) is quickly shut down. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I went into an appointment hoping that they would find a little fetus growing inside of me. I mean you do hear about it all the time, so why not me?
Well, let’s just say that’s yet to happen to me. But that’s okay—I’ve made peace with it. But let’s get back to sex during all of this. As you can see, there isn’t much room for it. When I say room, I mean mental space because a lot of a woman’s sex drive comes from our minds, and I know that during my treatments there is little room for anything else up there (and down there sometimes).
When I first started IVF in September of 2017, I put sex on the back burner. I honestly didn’t have that many side effects from my treatments the first time around, but I was too anxious and excited. Needless to say, that round didn’t work, and after that, I fell into a little depression (as I seem to do after every failed transfer). At that point, sex was not on my top ten list. We tried IVF again and basically had the same pattern happen—I went from not being mentally ready for sex to a one-track mindset, and then another failed FET. So, for the whole summer of 2018, we took a break from treatments. I got back to myself again, I felt sexy, I drank wine, and we had sex.
We started treatments again in September of 2018. This time, the hormones were making me really horny! It was very exciting. I’m not sure if my body reacted differently, or if I simply mentally allowed myself to live my life AND do IVF at the same time. Whatever it was, it was a welcome change. I was enjoying sex again!
That is until I got pregnant in December and ultimately had a miscarriage. Once again, I went through a long period of depression, and once again my identity—and my sex drive—was taken away from me.
But we kept trying, and every time after that I allowed myself to feel sexy, to feel human, during IVF. I drank wine (moderately) throughout all of my cycles, and I enjoyed having sex with my husband again. Don’t get me wrong, I still gained weight, bruised, got acne, got headaches, and was very moody throughout all of my IVF cycles, but I also learned to enjoy the moments when I felt good.
I wish I could tell you how to navigate having sex with your partner during all of this, but the truth is that it’s different for everyone. I can only speak from my own experience, and after 7 frozen embryo transfers and 4 egg retrievals, I can finally say that I’ve learned how my body reacts to medications. I’ve learned to embrace the good and remind myself that I’m still making a baby, even if it’s not the “conventional” way. I try to let that connect me back to my husband.
I remind myself that I’m beautiful, that my body is changing because it needs to, that nothing is permanent, and that my partner is my biggest support. I know that I don’t want to look back on these years and regret not being close to my husband or not enjoying my life.
Don’t get me wrong. In no way am I saying you should have sex during IVF if your doctor advises you not to. I am in no way saying it’s easy to do amidst all of the side effects and emotions that come with IVF. I am a huge believer in being your own advocate, listening to your mind, and your body. But what I have learned is to trust my doctor, and to listen to my body when I feel like fooling around if I am cleared to do so. I have decided to honor and cherish my body for all that it is doing for me because ultimately, that’s the sexiest part of it all.
Erin Bulcao is 36 years old. She lives in Encinitas, CA with her husband of 10 years and their twin girls who were conceived through IUI 9 years ago. She is also pregnant with her rainbow baby girl via IVF. Erin is a certified yoga teacher but had to put teaching on hold due to fertility treatments. She loves hot yoga, taking long walks with her husband, which they use as therapy (although she does that, too). Her favorite food is chocolate, eating off of her kids’ plates, and ceviche (but never all together!). She is also a big Bravo TV junkie. Her favorite place to be is in NYC, and she hopes to move there one day once she can convince her husband. In the meantime, they will keep working on that third baby. You can read Erin’s blog here, and follow her on Instagram here.