“What do you mean you’re working late tonight?” I snapped when my husband called from work. “You need to get home now.”
“But I have to…”
“Do you hear the words coming out of my mouth? NOW! The ovulation test says so!”
During the last several months, this is what passes for phone sex between my husband and me. It’s not that any love is lost between the two of us. On the contrary, our relationship is stronger than ever. However as we (and countless couples before us) discovered, when actively trying to conceive, a couple’s sexual dynamics change.
In our case, the spontaneous rendezvous has been replaced by scheduled appointments during the narrow fertility window. Contraception has been replaced by basal thermometers and ovulation test kits. And a negative pregnancy test no longer leaves me heaving sighs of relief, but rather, renders me speechless (save for a few choice profanities) and hurling anything within reach at the wall in complete and utter frustration.
In an earlier story written for SexIs, I noted my public school sex education curriculum grossly misinformed me with convoluted information. The fear-mongering tactics used to discuss pregnancy led me to believe that becoming pregnant was as effortless as contracting a highly contagious illness of epidemic proportions. Once we started trying, I found it wasn’t so straightforward: There were windows of opportunity, signs to look for and accoutrements that might improve your chances. My OB-GYN was less encouraging than I’d have liked. There was my age (just shy of 31) that he said had the potential to make things a little more difficult. (A little more difficult than what? Than if I were 15?)
There Will Be a Test...
My doctor recommended I determine when I was ovulating by adding and subtracting numbers corresponding with days in my cycle, even drawing a number line reminiscent of junior high algebra. When I noted that I was a) chronically irregular and b) not so handy with an abacus, he said ovulation predictor kits could aid someone as irregular as me, although they’re not always reliable and counting the days of one’s cycle to estimate ovulation works just fine.
He said he rarely advocates basal thermometers as it takes months to establish a pattern; the body’s temperature variations are extremely slight; and because they alert you to ovulation after it’s already happened.
Still, I made a beeline to the store to purchase the allegedly unnecessary products for my pregnancy arsenal. In the months that followed, my frustration grew incrementally with each unsuccessful go-round. And Frustration did not come alone: He was accompanied by his pals Desperation, Urgency and Aggravation, all of whom were responsible for making the sex I was having less than stellar.
In talking to girlfriends in similar situations a pattern emerged. While we were all having more sex than ever, it wasn’t necessarily the most enjoyable sex. Sex had become a means to an end. There was pressure to perform. And our husbands and boyfriends—who initially enjoyed our newfound sexual aggression—were now becoming frustrated with the lack of intimacy.
“I’m your husband, not a sperm donor!” my friend claimed her spouse balked one night. When I relayed this to my husband and an empathetic expression crossed his face, I recognized something had to change.
I began researching ways to curtail the bedroom frustration, which I learned is a relatively common scenario. And so, to preserve your sanity, before embarking on the journey to parenthood I recommend familiarizing yourself with the all-too-common bedroom pitfalls couples experience while trying to conceive, and how experts recommend you avoid them.
Break the Routine
“When couples are trying to conceive, it takes the spontaneity out of the act,” Beverly Whipple, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, professor emerita at Rutgers University College of Nursing in Newark, N.J., said to Leslie Piper in an article for Conceive.com. This lack of impulse can quickly lead to boredom in the bedroom. But while conception may dictate the days you’re having sex, it need not dictate the other variables.
Making small changes to your sexual repertoire can work wonders. Try changing the location of your interludes: different rooms around the house or, for the more brazen, different destinations around your town (within reason … I’m certainly not encouraging any public indecency). Even changing the time of day can take the predictability out of the equation. Rather than going through the perfunctory motions after a long day, why not squeeze in a quickie before the alarm goes off in the morning?
The Power of Seduction
By the time you and your partner are trying to conceive, you’ve likely been together awhile. As relationships progress and sex becomes more of a “given” than a conquest, seduction and foreplay often wane. Combined with an “I-am-ovulating-so-you-need-to-perform-NOW” mentality, the stage is set for rushed, resentful and disconnected intercourse.
In their book italic], authors Patty Doyle Debano, Courtney Edgerton Menzel and Shelly Dicken Suthphen advise women not to underestimate the importance of seduction and foreplay during this time. While it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a sense of urgency during ovulation, both partners should remind themselves to slow down, relax and make the experience enjoyable.
Instead of the woman shrieking “It’s time” and lying spread-eagle on the bed, couples should recall the early days of their relationships when they couldn’t keep their hands off each other, drawing on those times for inspiration.
Women, try ditching that boxer/T-shirt combo and treat yourself to some new lingerie. Men, try giving your lady a sensual massage using scented oil. As Doyle, Menzel and Sutphen say: “While the goal of sex during your fertile window will always be the same, don’t lose sight of some sense of romance. You’re ultimately going to end up at the same destination. Why not enjoy the view along the way?”
They continually remind us that to get out of a rut—or sidestep it altogether—it’s crucial that you and your partner make your sessions vehicles for renewed intimacy, not merely exercises in reproduction.
Unfortunately, I cannot say my quest to conceive has ended. While, at four months of trying, we’re still within the average timetable for conception, I’m leaving nothing to chance. I’ve stocked up on this month’s supply of ovulation tests, downloaded an Iphone ovulation-tracker app and invested in a fertility bracelet which, if not actually powerful, will hopefully be effective on psychosomatic levels. What I can report, however, is that my husband and I have certainly found our way out of the rut we’d fallen into. And, with any luck, our next issue will be finding the time and inclination for sex amidst the pitter-patter of little feet.