Both men and women with fertility problems may suffer from anxiety and stress over their sex life, new research suggests.
In a study of 600 men and women about to undergo infertility treatment, researchers found that both anxiety and stress over sex were fairly common problems. One-quarter of women and 7 percent of men had mild to severe anxiety symptoms, while 17 percent and 21 percent, respectively, reported high levels of sex-related stress.
Overall, the study found, the greater the general anxiety study participants had, the greater the sexual stress. This was particularly true of men, the researchers report in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility.
The findings are based on questionnaires sent to men and women two months before they started fertility treatment at the same university clinic.
Sex life no longer private
It's likely that at this point, couples would have gone through an "extreme change" in their sexual relationship, explained Dr Brennan D. Peterson, an assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University in Orange, California, and the lead researcher on the study.
For couples trying unsuccessfully to have a child, sex tends to lose its spontaneity and instead becomes a scheduled appointment - and a potential source of stress, Peterson told Reuters Health.
What's more, he explained, once couples decide to seek medical help, their sex life is no longer private, which may exacerbate any stress they are feeling.
In this study, men and women with particular anxiety symptoms were more likely to be stressed over their sex life as well. Both "subjective" anxiety - such as general nervousness and an inability to relax - as well as anxiety symptoms related to revved up nervous system activity - like indigestion and sweating - were related to a greater likelihood of sexual stress.
Anticipate sexual anxiety
Doctors may be able to help couples by letting them know that such anxiety symptoms may "spill over" into their sexual relationship, according to Peterson.
"If physicians and mental health care providers normalise this reality and help couples expect it, it can help ease the burden on infertility patients," he explained.
Couples also need to have realistic expectations about "scheduled sex," according to Peterson, noting that it "won't necessarily be passionate." They should not take this drop-off in passion as a sign their whole relationship is in trouble, he said.
Once couples decide to try in vitro fertilization - where the woman's egg is fertilized outside the womb, taking sex out of the equation - they could try taking a break from sex, Peterson said.
This, he explained, might allow them to get some distance from any stress they've come to associate with their sex life. - (Amy Norton/Reuters Health)
SOURCE: Fertility and Sterility, October 2007.
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