It may help infertile couples, but who can stick to it?
May 8, 2000 -- Like five million other Americans, Candace and Alan Saylor (not their real names) desperately wanted a baby but couldn't seem to conceive. After a consultation, they were sent home with doctor's orders: Have sex when Candace was most fertile, and have it often.
While that may sound like a dream come true, infertile couples like the Saylors say it can be stressful. "I didn't want to be one of those women tapping on her watch, saying 'Now' at the bedroom door," says Candace, "so I tried to be seductive in creative ways."
They both put more emphasis on foreplay, for instance, so they didn't view each other simply as an egg manufacturer and a sperm-delivery guy. "I'd try to think of my husband as a sexy man, not just the guy who didn't get me pregnant," says Candace. "Sometimes, before intercourse, I'd focus on some physical aspect of him that I particularly adore, and that would turn me on."
Obviously, it worked -- the Saylors' daughter, Caitlin, is now three.
The Stopwatch Mentality
Many other infertile couples who are still trying to conceive say that sex can become tedious when they have to time intercourse to accommodate numerous lab tests or maximize their chances of success. Spontaneity can be replaced with sex as a compulsory act -- sex on a schedule.
Besides this timetable pressure, there can be loss of self-esteem (if, for instance, the woman feels like a failure for not becoming pregnant) and the financial burden of fertility treatments. But through it all, there are ways to minimize the toll.
How Women and Men Respond
First, a couple should understand that each of them tends to react a bit differently, experts say. "A woman in this situation may feel alienated from her body, so it may be hard for her to feel sexual," says Andrea Braverman, PhD, director of psychological services at the Women's Institute for Fertility, Endocrinology, and Menopause in Philadelphia. "She may feel like little more than a set of ovaries and even begin asking herself, 'What's the point of having sex if I'm not getting pregnant?' "
Lack of desire, in turn, can decrease natural lubrication, making sex painful, Braverman says, and resulting in even less sex.
In addition, "A man may feel like nothing more than a sperm donor and become so distanced that he has difficulty achieving erection or orgasm," says Anthony Thomas, MD, a urologist at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio and co-author of Overcoming Male Infertility. "Some men even fake orgasm to get sex over with."
Relieving the Pressure
Both partners should avoid getting into "performance" mode. It can help to realize that the window of opportunity for conception stays open longer than what is suggested in movies and television shows, where characters often engage in lunch-hour sex in order to conceive while the woman is fertile. Sperm can live in the cervical mucus for about five days before ovulation, according to Thomas.