Pleasure, Sex & Fertility

by T'Keyah Royal

Women’s Health Expert

Before deciding to have a baby, sex often seemed a little more fun, spontaneous, connecting. But after learning about your fertile window, tracking your cycle, obsessing over cervical mucus, temperature, ovulation and trying for a few months or, for some, years, it can quickly become a chore rather than a pleasure. Add in assisted reproductive technology and what once was romance between two people has now turned into multiple appointments, financial burden, pelvic procedures and medicalisation. The impact on sexuality is profound. [1]

When we consider that the probability of conceiving in any given cycle is 25% at the age of 25 and 12% by the age of 35, it becomes clear that getting pregnant is not quite as easy as year 8 sex-ed made it seem.[2] Such pressure can quickly dissipate the passion of your relationship. 

So, here are some practices you can incorporate to assist in finding pleasure again.

Reducing Stress ​

All-day-everyday our bodies are put under mountains of stress. High levels of stressors gives your body the impression it needs to stay within the fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) and reserve sexual and reproductive function for a time when survival is not the immediate priority. [3-4] In order for fertility to be optimised, the brain suddenly needs to switch from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system–our rest and digest response. This takes time and the right environment. If fight or flight is your daily dominant response (i.e. you’re stressed out of your brain every day), it can take time and space to encourage the body back to a restful state ready for pleasure. 

By creating a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems throughout the day, your body can better respond and come back to a place of peace and pleasure. Incorporating activities such as a slow walk in nature for 10 minutes, deep breaths or box breathing for 5 minutes, laughing, dancing, singing, yoga or meditation, will assist.

Enjoy sexual activities outside of your fertile window

The more you focus on having sex during your fertile window, the more your brain and body associate sex with baby-making, rather than with fun, connection and pleasure. Remember: it doesn’t have to be penetrative sex or involve ejaculation to be pleasurable. Set time aside each week (even just 30 minutes) to connect, talk, touch, relax. Enjoying this time without a goal of penetrative sex but simply connecting, is a wonderful way of meeting your partner where they are at, assisting the nervous system to calm down, and taking away the pressure that has snuck in due to the pressure of trying to conceive (TTC).

Prioritise communication

Sometimes speaking with the person you are having sex with is the hardest person to speak to. Vulnerability can be intimidating and fear-inducing but consider the fact that your partner often does not know your thoughts or feelings until you share them.  

Take the time to sit together, use “I” statements, share honestly and listen and ask how your partner feels. If this is a challenge for you both, consider seeing a sexologist to help facilitate that conversation through your fertility journey.  Communication can really enhance connection and understanding between you and your partner while creating a space for intimacy that you both enjoy.

A word for mums postpartum

For those who already have a child/ren, it can often feel as though sex is another task on your lengthy to-do list and you can often feel touched out (understandably). When getting back to sexual activities postpartum it is important to get to know your new body, how pleasure has changed and how to separate yourself from being mum to being a sexual being again.

An example of how this may have changed for you is the feeling that parts of your body are no longer your own–breasts have become a form of nourishment rather than a sexual object. A recent statistic has revealed that up to 30% of mothers experience pain during sex that persists 6 months post birth.[5] Also, 1 in 3 mothers describe the birth of their baby as traumatic which contributed to poor mental health and can absolutely hinder the process of pleasure.[6] If we consider these major change,s it is clear that your postpartum body requires patience, support, understanding and a whole lot of love.

If this is true for you, have you communicated this with your partner? They may not realise what you are experiencing.   

Whether you are currently TTC or are in the depths of postpartum, it is important to remember that everyone’s experience is a little different and you are not alone. Speak with your partner, friends, health team or support group.

[1] Tao, P., et al.The impact of infertility on sexuality: A literature review. The Australiasian Medical Journal, 2011. PMID: 23386877.

[2] American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Gynecologic Practice and Practice Committee. Female Age-Related Fertility Decline. Fertility & Sterility, 2014. PMID: 24559617.

[3] Hamilton, L.D., et al.  Chronic stress and sexual function in women. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2013. PMID: 23841462.

[4] Galanakis, The Association between Stress and Sexual Dysfunctionality in Men and Women: A Systematic Review. Psychology, 2015. doi: 10.4236/psych.2015.614186.

[5] Alligood-Percoco, N. R., et al.  Risk Factors for Dyspareunia After First Childbirth. Obstetrics and gynaecology, 2015. PMID: 27500349.

[6] PANDA. Childbirth trauma and recovery. 2023.

by T'keyah Royal

Women’s Health Expert

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