To quote Salt N Pepper – “let’s talk about sex baby! ….let’s talk about all the good things, And the bad things that may be….let’s talk about sex”.
Sex … when we’re young it’s taboo or maybe even naughty. At the same time it’s fun and exciting (depending on your religion there may even be some guilt in there somewhere).
Remember those heady days when you first had sex with someone you’d newly started dating - the exploration and excitement you felt! Maybe the excitement has waned and now it’s comfortable? Or it might be a bit meh and saved for special occasions - or it’s scheduled?
One thing we can’t deny - sex is a huge part of our culture. Most movies include sex scenes and sex definitely sells!
There’s also no denying that sex when you’re trying to concieve changes the whole notion of “making love”. Can you relate?
Let’s take a look at one couple’s sex journey while they struggled with infertility.
Meet Kim and Jay *not their real names
Kim and Jay had a healthy sex life. The time had come for them to start thinking about starting a family. Like most couples, they started having sex more regularly … but after a few months of trying there was no positive pregnancy test.
This was their first hurdle as a couple.
They started wondering whether something was wrong so off they went to the doctor for some preliminary tests. Everything looked okay and they were told to keep trying ‘naturally’.
The word ‘naturally’ soon seemed a bit of a misnomer – there was nothing natural about what sex had become. By now they were tracking Kim’s cycles and temperature. They were tracking how often they had sex (not to deplete their sperm supply of course). Sex was planned around the best time during the cycle - the fertile window.
Kim was sending texts to Jay: “get home quick, we have to have sex!”. The message didn’t have any emojis, no I love you in the message. This was an order and it needed to be obeyed.
There was no spontaneity with sex anymore. Sex was becoming a focus of many arguments and the frequency of the arguments increased.
Jay didn’t love being told when to perform in the bedroom. “I’m ovulating” was definitely not foreplay for Jay!
Meanwhile Kim was feeling a huge sense of responsibility as she focused on tracking her cycles. For Kim sex had become simply a means to an end - it wasn’t about love - it was the way to realise her dream of being a mother.
Kim tried not telling Jay about her cycle so sex would feel more spontaneous and ‘natural’. Still - for her at least - there was no sense of spontaneity let alone fun! Sex was no longer about love - it was purly about procreation.
The focus on having a baby was impacting their sex life … and their relationship.
Is a change in your sex life and relationship common?
If you relate to Kim and Jay’s story please know you aren’t alone. It’s very common for couples to experience high levels of stress when they’re trying to conceive. And this pressure takes a toll - both on their sex life and on their relationship.
The pressure of trying to conceive can reduce sexual esteem, pleasure and the satisfactioon of sex. It can impact the frequency of sex both while you’re trying to conceivev and in the long term. The recommendation of frequency of sex can cause stress and tension - and it’s unnecessary. This stress, tension and lack of pleasure can lead to massive relationship tension.
This might sound obvious - but so many couples forget that keeping sex fun, vibrant and interesting is so very valuable when you’re on your fertility journey!
What you should know about sex and fertility
We know that reproductive efficiency increases with frequency. So, keeping things as natural as possible and having sex as often as you like can really help.
Remember though that optimal frequency is defined by you as a couple. When you were establishing yourself as a couple you (maybe unknowingly) established your very own optimal frequency. While you’re trying to conceive it becomes important to maintain this frequency.
So when is the best time for you to have sex? You likely know the ‘fertile window’ is best defined as the 6 day interval ending on the day of your ovulation. It can be handy to track your fertile window and IVF Australia have a calculator so you know the best time for you to have sex.
Ageing isn’t considered a factor in your fertile window - but the likelihood of success changes with increasing age (for men and women).
Clinical stuff you need to know
Have regular sex – couples who have sex every day or every other day have the highest pregnancy rates;
Track your cycles so you know when you are ovulating. It is usually about 14 days before the start of your next menstrual period. This may be a surprise to some women (it was to me when I was trying) who have no idea what their body is actually doing and when;
Monitor your fertile window is considered to be the 5 days before and at the time of ovulation.
What about swimmers?
Here’s a common myth: frequent ejaculations don’t decrease male fertility!
In men with normal semen quality, sperm concentrations and motility, these remain normal even with daily ejaculation.
Even for male-factor infertility research shows the most optimum time to collect semen is after just 1 day of sexual abstinence.
Research also suggests that with longer abstinences (10 days or more) semen parameters begin to deteriorate - SO KEEP IT PUMPING.
Positions and orgasms
Here’s another common myth: standing up straight after sex doesn’t reduce youur odds of conceiving! Sperm are really good swimmers and they’ll find the egg.
Moving on to sex positions. There’s very little evidence to support sex in certain positions increasing fertility. However it is highly likely the ‘missionary’ position (ie man on top) or ‘doggie-style’ (ie man behind) do allow for deeper penetration bringing sperm closer to the cervix upon release.
Let’s get technical for a moment: missionary or ‘doggie-style’ could be beneficial if you are using a lubricant that could damage sperm life (keep reading). Remaining supine (lying face up) for a time after sex to facilitate sperm transport and prevent leakage of semen from the vagina has no scientific foundation. But, it can feel comfortable so it can’t hurt.
Sperm deposited at the cervix at mid-cycle are found in the fallopian tubes within 15 minutes, so they do get there. Sperm can be found in the cervical canal seconds after ejaculation, regardless of coital position.
What about orgasming? Obviously, it is necessary for a man to ejaculate for sperm to find their way, however there is no known relationship between female orgasm and fertility. We do know that female orgasm has many other benefits (see oxytocin release below), and there is evidence supporting that the movement associated with female orgasm promotes sperm transport – win-win!
Back to lubricants (aka lube) - some research has shown use of lubes have been detrimental to semen parameters when used in vitro, but not seen in couples attempting conception. Lubes are known to be toxic to sperm but they can be helpful to make sex more comfortable allowing both partners to relax and enjoy sex. That’s good right?!
Often sperm are deposited at the top of the vagina during intercourse and rapidly move into the cervix avoiding the lube. So if you are going to use a lube I recommend you check the research first and try to stick with mineral oil, canola oil, or hydroxyethyl cellulose-based (water based) lubes if you use - or want to use - lube.
The role of oxytocin
Oxytocin is known as the ‘love hormone’ because it’s associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity and relationship building.
Oxytocin is well known to be connected with birth and breast feeding - in fact it is used to induce and speed up labour.
Here’s the great news, this wonder hormone is also known to be highly influential in the baby-making process! The happy hormone is released by both males and females when they are sexually aroused.
Without Oxytocin sex can fall very flat!
Your oxytocin levels will be highest during the ovulatory and follicular phases and will lower during the luteal phase.
Staying happy and healthy are important for your relationship and your sexual intercourse, so keep the oxytocin coming.
Timed performance doesn’t help anyone, let alone your relationship. You don’t want to reduce your lovemaking down to a ‘dance monkey dance’ scenario just because your cycle and basal temperature say so.
These pressures are also likely to reduce the levels of oxytocin in both partners, and as a result reduce the fun and connection so valued in sexual pleasure!
Here are a few tips to keep your relationship alive and energised during the toughest time of your time together – who would have thought baby-making would be so hard!
The relationship stuff:
Talk about it – having open and honest conversations about the meaning of sex and how you are feeling about it really helps.
Talk about what you like - share with your partner what you really like. Be honest and take some risks. This conversation could change your relationship for the better for a long time to come.
Try something new – introduce some fantasy to keep things light and spicy (oooh-ah).
Learn your erogenous zones and explore them together (remember Monica on Friends explaining this to Chandler? – seven, seven, seven, seven, seven….ah 7).
Focus on foreplay – connecting during sex releases oxytocin which not only increases the pleasure but also increases your chances of orgasm. By orgasming you win on the emotional and physical side!
Above all, remember that this is the hardest thing you will likely face as a couple. Being open and honest brings some risks and many more rewards. Think of how much fun you can have as well as hopefully making a baby at the same time.
You guys have got this! If oxytocin has you fascinated, check out our blog on fertility and happy hormones - they’re free, they’re fun and they improve your fertility.