“How’s your sex life?” What fertility patients need to know about treatment

           One of the unfortunate results of fertility treatment is that it can contribute to a change in your sex life. Whether it is the stress of not becoming fertile or a hormone imbalance, many women going through fertility treatment experience a disquieting drop in their libido. Aside from the additional challenge that this can create in conceiving, if ignored, it can also have untoward effects upon your relationship.  New information is providing greater insights into this dilemma and along with that solutions are more accessible. Here’s what we know.

           In 2009, the largest clinical study [G1] completed to date found that 43% of women in the US experienced sexual dysfunction. Maybe more surprising was that two thirds of these women that were distressed by their symptoms were in their reproductive years. By far the most common complaint was low sexual desire; often referred to as “low libido.” More recently, studies began focusing on a particularly vulnerable patient population, women that were trying to become pregnant.

           A new study [G2] that is scheduled to be published in the journal Fertility & Sterility surveyed couples at Stanford University that had at least a 12 month history of infertility and planned to undergo fertility treatment, either ovulation induction or IVF treatment. Each couple completed a validated questionnaire used to diagnose sexual dysfunction. Researchers found that 40% of the women undergoing infertility treatment tested positive whereas only 25% of the control group experienced sexual dysfunction. Additionally, the women undergoing fertility treatment noted a decline in their sexual satisfaction as the length of their infertility continued. This study only confirms what has been found in other studies but it’s also not a problem that is limited to women in the USA.

           Using the same validated questionnaire as the Stanford study, a recent publication [G3] has similar results when applied to women treated for infertility in Turkey. They compared over three hundred women going through fertility treatment to those just in for a routine exam and found a significantly higher risk for sexual dysfunction associated with infertility. In their patient population, nearly 2/3 of women undergoing fertility treatment were experiencing sexual dysfunction with problems related to low desire as the most frequent finding.

           The reason that it’s so important to recognize the association between fertility treatment and sexual dysfunction is that failure to do so can place avoidable stress upon a couple’s relationship[G4] . That stress also further lower the chance for success from fertility treatment. By contrast, recognition of this common problem can not only validate an underlying hormonal imbalance but also initiate steps toward diagnosis and management for couples. That’s important as well since even when fertility treatment is successful, sexual dysfunction often persists.

           There are several well researched treatments that are available and others are under consideration for approval. So if you’re undergoing fertility treatment with your partner, it might be worthwhile to request a questionnaire [G5] to assess whether you may be experiencing signs of hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Acknowledgement can be your first step toward resolution.