Sometimes getting pregnant has very little to do with sex. Here’s how some couples have faced that challenge.
We’re raised thinking that baby-making will involve lovemaking, but for some same-sex couples, single parents by choice, couples experiencing infertility, and trans folks, sex and getting pregnant can have nothing to do with each other. Yet, many people are finding a way to bring sexiness into a conception process that can be anything but sexy.
When my wife and I started trying to get pregnant with donor sperm at home, our first insemination involved being naked together on a bed strewn with red rose petals.
I was intent on making sure this process could still involve some intimacy even if a needleless syringe of semen was far from my idea of attractive. I had never seen semen in my life before (and it was a turn-off) but we still connected physically as much as we could without going near the sample after it was inside my body.
We had heard that chances of conception are higher if the recipient orgasms after insemination, so we made sure to incorporate that into every insemination. Well, by the fifth or sixth insemination to conceive our first child, the rose petals were long gone.
And by the 20th insemination, 2 years later when we were trying to get my wife pregnant with our second, my wife regularly asked me to leave the room so she could be alone with a vibrator and pics of her celebrity crush.
We didn’t find a way to keep up that intimacy we strove for at the beginning of our journey, especially trying for our second while our first kid was in the next room. When you inseminate a few times per month, every month, for months on end, conception becomes a tedious and even stressful chore, not an opportunity to have sex.
Surely we couldn’t be alone in this, right? I asked around and found that we weren’t the only couple not using sex to get pregnant but still working to incorporate sex into the process anyway.
“KN,” a 29-year-old woman in Palm Beach, Florida, told me that she and her wife both got pregnant through intrauterine inseminations (IUI) at home.
They would have sex the night before their IUIs to bring intimacy into the equation, and they ended up having more sex than usual while trying to conceive even though they didn’t have sex for a week following the IUI to “keep it in.”
On the other hand, a nonbinary person in Canada who wishes to remain anonymous told me that home inseminations with their partner are tough for them: “I often do not feel in a space of wanting to be sexy as I am watching everything in my body which brings up a lot of gender feelings and that also doesn’t help me feel sexy. It has impacted our relationship a lot, as my partner sometimes thinks it’s them even though it’s not.”
In their case, they have their known donor make a deposit into a receptacle in another room and he leaves it at their bedroom door. While he does this, the couple “makes out and tries to get in a more sexy turned-on space with masturbation, etc.”
They said they “try to climax once it’s injected into my body, but don’t always as it is, well, not sexy.”
Jess and her husband in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, went through 4 years of trying to conceive their now-5-year-old daughter before and after being labeled with “undiagnosed infertility.” From 2013 to 2015 they worked with a clinic to undergo IUI and, after multiple rounds of that didn’t work, IVF.
When I asked Jess about how she and her husband found ways to connect intimately through that grueling four years, she replied, “Honestly, we didn’t do very well in that department.”
She continued: “Many months of calculated intimacy had an impact. I personally wasn’t feeling very attractive or well while on all the hormones. Also, if I remember correctly, my clinic took a very conservative approach and advised that we not be intimate during parts of our IUI/IVF cycles. [This was] something that I have definitely seen in the Facebook IVF groups I’m in that differed from other clinics advice and instructions.”
When the couple did have sex, it “became very planned, and basically a chore. It was definitely hard on both of us during that time.”
Psychotherapist Haley Neidich, LCSW works with couples on this issue through online therapy and says all the struggles the prospective parents above mentioned are common.
“The most common concern voiced by couples about their sex life while dealing with infertility is that sex has become robotic and all about conception rather than connection,” she shares, adding that partners often share they feel “disconnected” from one another. “The longer it takes for the couple to conceive, the bigger the impact this has on the emotional relationship as well.”
So, what to do about it? Neidich says, first, learn to be vulnerable. “Setting time aside at least once per week outside of the bedroom to discuss emotions and listening with an open heart is important. Putting to words the frustration or challenges can often diffuse the experience. For example, simply stating, ‘I feel distant from you and it feels strange to have sex right now,’ is a great way to open up a meaningful conversation and shift the energy around sex.”
Indigo Stray Conger, an AASECT certified sex therapist, agrees that communication is essential: “Engage in detailed discussions with your partner about how you are approaching infertility, how you have noticed it impacting your dynamic (sexually or otherwise), how far you are each willing to go in order to pursue having a child, and whether there is a different pace than the one you are engaging in which would better support your relationship.”
Remember that your partner may be experiencing very different emotions than you, especially if only one of you is the one trying to get pregnant: “Take the time to understand your partner’s frustration or sadness and how it may differ from your own.”
And no matter how you’re trying to conceive, give yourself a break. “I encourage couples to give themselves permission to have ‘only okay’ sex during this time. The sex does not need to be mind-blowing every time and that doesn’t mean you’re failing. Often when the pressure has been taken off, the couple begins to enjoy themselves much more,” Neidich explains.
To work on making the connection, “build anticipation throughout the day and focus on what you love about your partner.” If you’re single and trying to conceive, the same applies to finding sexiness with yourself: take the pressure off, focus on what you love about yourself, and voice the tough emotions that go along with trying to conceive (with a journal, therapist, or friend).
Conger adds that you should make quality time for intimacy whether or not that is sex itself: “Make sure you have quality time and intimacy (which may or may not include intercourse) built into the rhythm of your lives in a way that does not intersect with trying to conceive. Focus on non-goal oriented intimacy, taking time and space away from stress to be naked while talking and touching. Rediscovering basic communication around touch and traveling less familiar paths towards connection can reignite pleasure and appreciation for one another.”
One fun way she recommends doing this is the “3 Minute Game,” where you touch your partner for 3 minutes in a way they want to be touched, and they reciprocate.
There are even insemination sex toys to help folks spice up trying to conceive. The Way dildo has a bulb at one end that can hold semen and be pressed to send the sample through tubes into a vagina where the dildo is inserted.
Way is still just a prototype, but the award-winning POP dildo does the same thing. You can even buy an accompanying harness. This is a groundbreaking option for couples using donor sperm and for single people as a way to inseminate themselves.
If an ejaculating dildo is a bit outside of your comfort zone or needs, there are other ways to revive a sex life suffering from the trying-to-conceive slog. For my wife and I, it was having sex totally unrelated to fertility timing, since inseminations just weren’t sexy.
Even though it wasn’t what worked for us, you might try what “KN” and her wife did and time lovemaking exactly around fertile times so that you are bringing sex into the baby-making process. Regardless of timing, you might try some toys, role-play, or any of the other recommended sexy standbys.
What matters most is feeling connected through this path to parenthood. Being a parent is hard and can take a toll on the relationship of the parents, and you want to go into it as a team who is united and in love, not feeling distant and unsatisfied.
Treat this as your first challenge as parents and work on the communication and commitment that will help you make it through the years to come.
Sex is infamously not a typical part of the life of parents of newborns, so make sure you’re talking through what your postpartum sexual expectations are, too. Talk, talk some more, and then go get it on.
Sarah Prager’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic, HuffPost, SheKnows, NewNowNext, JSTOR Daily, Bustle, The Advocate, Motherfigure, and many other outlets. She is the author of two books for youth about LGBTQ+ heroes of history, both Junior Library Guild selections published by HarperCollins. “Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World” is for ages 12 and up and “Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History” is for ages 8 and up. Sarah has spoken to over 150 audiences across five countries on LGBTQ+ history at venues from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City to Twitter’s headquarters to Harvard Business School. She lives in Massachusetts with her wife and their two children. Learn more about Sarah here: www.sarahprager.com.