Trying for a Baby Takes a Toll

IVF treatment and sexual dysfunction or dissatisfaction linked for women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A couple struggling with fertility will often go through a lot to have a baby. But fertility treatments can sometimes negatively affect the most basic part of the process — sex.

A recent study found that in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment can hurt women's sex lives and satisfaction in various ways. But women can seek help for these issues.

The study was presented at a conference and is currently undergoing peer review for submission to a journal.

"Get help dealing with IVF treatment effects."

The study, led by Nicole Smith, a doctoral student in the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University's School of Public Health-Bloomington, aimed to find out how in vitro fertilization treatment impacted the sex lives and relationships of women going through it.

IVF involves stimulating a woman's body to produce eggs, which are then taken out of her body, fertilized with sperm and put back into her body.

It is usually the last step couples try after other fertility treatments have not helped them successfully have a baby.

The researchers gave 270 women the Sexual Functioning Questionnaire online to find out how their sex lives were affected by IVF treatment. About half the women (120) were going through IVF treatment and the other half were not experiencing fertility issues.

The researchers also interviewed 127 men and women going through IVF treatment and 70 medical professionals who work directly with patients receiving IVF treatment.

In general, they found that going through IVF cycles takes a toll on couples' sex life, as well as their sexual satisfaction and enjoyment.

Women going through IVF therapy reported less sexual desire, less sexual activity and less satisfaction with sex in their relationship compared to women not having fertility issues.

Women undergoing IVF treatment also found it harder to reach an orgasm and were more likely to have problems during sex, such as dryness or pain in the vaginal area.

"Sex is for pleasure and for reproduction, but attention to pleasure often goes by the wayside for people struggling to conceive," Smith said in a release about the study.

"With assisted reproductive technologies, couples often report that they feel like a science experiment, as hormones are administered and sex has to be planned and timed," she said. "It can become stressful and is often very unromantic and regimented; relationships are known to suffer during the process."

During their interviews, for example, one woman participating in the study said her husband feels like he's a science project. "We can cuddle all night, but sex just feels foreign and hard to enjoy," the woman said. "It’s hard to enjoy because nothing is fun anymore. How can sex be fun?”

The problem can sometimes perpetuate itself too, the researchers found. Women who had less sex also had poorer sex lives when they were intimate with their partners.

Compared to women who had had sex in the past month, those who had not had sex within the past month reported lower levels of interest, desire, arousal, orgasm, masturbation, sexual problems and overall sexual function.

However, the researchers noted that several of these problems can be addressed if the woman talk to their doctors about these issues.

Doctors can offer treatment suggestions for some sexual problems and offer referrals to other professionals to help couples improve satisfaction in their sex lives.

Another bit of silver lining in the study was that 63 percent of the respondents said their relationship had grown stronger while going through their infertility issues. Nearly 20 percent said their relationship had become "damaged" and 18 percent said it remained the same.

The study was presented October 30 at the Annual Meeting and Exposition of the American Public Health Association in San Francisco. The findings of this study should be interpreted with caution because they are preliminary and are still being reviewed by other researchers.

The research was funded by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction within the Indiana University School of Public Health - Bloomington and the Faculty Research Support Program in the IU's Office of the Vice Provost for Research. No disclosures were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 29, 2012
Last Updated:
October 31, 2012