14 Jun Is sex during IVF a good idea?
Read any fertility forum and you’ll find sex and IVF don’t get along too well. ‘I felt so unsexy’, writes one woman. ‘After my umpteenth trans-vaginal scan, sex was the last thing on my mind’. And: ‘We deliberately didn’t have sex before or after our IVF treatment – now we’ve forgotten what it’s like’.
It’s no laughing matter. An American study on IVF and sex found that relationships during fertility treatment suffered. Researchers polled IVF couples, healthcare providers and mental-health practitioners. Women having IVF reported less interest in sex than those not having fertility treatment. Orgasms were rare; vaginal sensitivity and dryness were not.
So as sexual intimacy wanes, it’s hardly surprising that some couples complain their relationships are affected. But the sex lockdown during IVF has been questioned by some. A leading Czech IVF specialist thinks patients should have sex during treatment, when it feels right and sensible, for their mental wellbeing. She points to the lack of any clear medical evidence that sex harms the embryo.
This is slightly at odds with a 2014 study that found sex after embryo transfer increased the chance of miscarriage and reduced the chance of a live birth. The small study recommended abstinence after embryo transfer, like many clinics and doctors do.
We all know that when you have sex away from fertility treatment, you could be having intercourse after implantation and not even know you’re pregnant. So why is sex after an embryo transfer a problem? No large-scale randomized trial has answered this. We just have small trials (like the one above), a play-it-safe approach (i.e. abstain) and a taboo that never seems to go away.
It’s an emotional time. You’re outside your comfort zone. You’ve volunteered for disruption. But unless you’re closely counselled throughout your IVF treatment, conversations about sex become less of a priority. Here’s another comment from a fertility website that crystallises the problem: ‘IVF is the most unerotic thing I ever did.’
It seems that sex and IVF may indeed be mutually exclusive. Your doctor might agree – and he sets the pace. But if sex during your fertility treatment feels right, here are four broad rules of engagement (double check with your clinic, as every patient is different):
(i) No sex after embryo transfer, for at least one week, is sensible.
(ii) Sex before egg retrieval, if your enlarged ovaries don’t make it uncomfortable, should be with a condom.
(iii) In an IUI cycle, it’s okay to have sex on the same day (morning) of your trigger shot, and in the evening after insemination.
(iv) Sex is not confined to intercourse. Other forms of sexual activity (we all know what they are) are always safer.
The reality is that, after all the financial and mental investment you’ve put into your IVF treatment, you’ll probably want to play it safe. Go with your instincts. The total-caution approach? No sex from the start of your stimulation till after the pregnancy test.
Keep communication channels open. If you can, laugh with each other about how IVF affects your sex life. Counselling can help: ask you clinic for a recommendation. Support from family and friends will help too: don’t be afraid to ask for it. They may not want to discuss your intimacy issues in detail, but they’ll be there for you if it all gets too much.
Sex and IVF may seem like polar opposites. But keep calm and keep close. Whether you’re eventually blessed with a baby or not, your relationship is everything. It’s worth fighting for.