Maintaining a sexually satisfying relationship can be difficult for couples struggling with infertility. Judith C. Daniluk, author of an article entitled, “Keeping Your Sex Life Alive While Coping with Infertility” explains that, “Infertility affects a person’s feelings about themselves – their masculinity or femininity, their self worth, their self esteem, their body.”
Many women experience a deterioration of sexual satisfaction during infertility treatments, often related to feelings of disappointment, guilt, or low self esteem. These feelings can decrease a woman’s sexual desire, arousal, ability to lubricate, and overall satisfaction.
A study published by Fertility and Sterility (October 2007) found that women experience greater levels of anxiety and sexual stress due to infertility than men. For some women, infertility treatments directly decrease desire and arousal because of altered hormonal levels.
Although these articles and studies show that decreased sexual satisfaction can be related to emotional and mental health, it is imperative that women know sexual dysfunction or painful intercourse is not always, “all in your head.”
At CPT, we often find that female infertility and sexual dysfunction are physically linked. Frequently, a woman will experience a common event such as a car accident, vaginal infection, STD, sexual abuse, or surgery that causes adhesions to form within the reproductive tract. These adhesions can lead to infertility by restricting or pulling the fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, and vagina. Although some women may not initially experience any pain or sexual dysfunction at the time, the continued pulling and restriction can cause more adhesions to form, eventually resulting in painful intercourse and sexual dysfunction six to twelve months later. Because of the delayed onset, women often do not see the connection between their infertility and sexual dysfunction.
CPT therapists see sexual dysfunction as a clue to discover the cause of a woman’s infertility. We often ask patients, “When did your sexual dysfunction begin? How often does it occur? Are you experiencing trouble with arousal, desire, satisfaction, orgasm, pain, or lubrication? In what sexual positions does sex hurt? Where exactly does it hurt and what does it feel like?”
The answers to these questions shape our individualized treatment for each woman. Many women find that when we resolve the cause of their infertility, we also resolve the cause of their sexual dysfunction and pain.