Infertility is a condition in which a couple is unable to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term after one year of consistent vaginal intercourse. It is estimated to affect 12-16% of couples worldwide, and its diagnosis and treatment are often accompanied by several emotional, physical, and relational stressors.
On a personal level, infertility has been associated with depression, anxiety, and feelings of guilt, grief, isolation, and inadequacy. Women who are undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment also report physical symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, dizziness, and fatigue.
From a relationship perspective, couples may experience the stress of having to make several big decisions (e.g., when to start or stop treatment, whether to explore other family-building options, etc.), the financial burden of fertility treatments, and possible communication issues. Since many fertility treatment options require couples to have sex at specific times to increase their chances of getting pregnant, it can begin to feel less spontaneous and more like a chore. However, findings on this topic are mixed, and some couples report that facing the challenges of fertility treatment together has strengthened their bond.
Nevertheless, the heightened emotions, the stress around infertility, and the invasiveness of medical interventions may impact sexual function and satisfaction, according to a recent study of 185 mixed-sex couples seeking ART.
For this study, all of the participants completed the Fertility Quality of Life scale to assess the impact of infertility on their quality of life through emotional, mind-body, and relational stressors. To assess sexual function and satisfaction, the women in the study completed the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) and the men completed the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF). Here is what the authors of the study found:
Infertility-Related Emotional Stressors
Infertility-Related Mind-Body Stressors
Infertility-Related Relational Stressors
Infertility is a complex, multifaceted issue that is associated with stressors of many kinds. Couples who are going through fertility treatments should know that they are not alone if personal or relationship issues arise in the process. It is important to recognize that infertility is relatively common, and no one is at fault. However, for couples struggling to conceive, seeking support from family, close friends, and/or mental health professionals may be helpful.