There is a lot of conversation about sex after baby — what feels different, how to recapture the romance, when to find an ounce of time — but what about sex before baby, particularly when trying to make one? All of a sudden this natural activity that you enjoyed without pressure comes with rules, charting, tracking, and expectations. All of that can really zap the spontaneity and passion out of getting hot and heavy, and sex with added tension makes things, well, a no-go for some couples. But is male performance anxiety when trying to conceive normal?
“Sexual performance anxiety is actually quite normal for couples who are trying to conceive,” Dr. Lakeisha Richardson, a Mississippi-based board-certified OB-GYN, tells Romper. “The anxiety tends to increase the longer the couple tries without success.”
Trying to have a baby, after all, is a big choice that will undoubtedly change your life, and most people go into it with that in mind, which can cause performance anxiety. “Change can be overwhelming and when stress goes up, so does anxiety,” Sarah Watson, a licensed professional counselor (LPC), certified sex therapist (CST), and sexuality educator, tells Romper. “Anxiety doesn't lend itself toward a successful interaction.”
Given that, here’s what the experts want you to know about performance anxiety when trying for a baby.
What is psychological erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction can happen for many reasons, one of which is psychological. “If medical reasons are ruled out, then we know that ED is a mental health issue,” Watson says. “Stress, anxiety, and perceived ideas of ‘how they should be’ are often seen as causes of ED.”
Sexual performance anxiety as a result of trying to conceive can definitely be a catalyst for erectile dysfunction. “When we put pressure on when penetration has to happen, it can throw anyone off,” Watson says.
In addition to the pressure that comes with sex taking on a new meaning, fertility issues are one of the top causes of performance anxiety, especially is a couple has been trying to have a baby without success for a while. “This is most cases of performance anxiety in couples,” says Watson. “There is a short window during ovulation and couples know this. It’s the idea of taking something that has been about connection and pleasure and shifting it to something different.”
How to combat performance anxiety when trying to conceive
Of course, if you have been faced with many unsuccessful attempts, you should speak to your healthcare provider about a fertility evaluation. Richardson notes, however, that there are several ways to prevent sexual performance anxiety.
Sometimes all it takes is reframing your approach to sex when trying to conceive. The top method? “Keep the romance,” Richardson says, adding that even though the goal is to achieve pregnancy, couples need to remember that the relationship is still about them. “It is imperative that they make each other feel special, sexy, and desired,” she says. “Otherwise, sex begins to feel like a job instead of for pleasure, and people tend to have anxiety when they feel like they have to perform on a set schedule.”
Communication, or lack thereof, is another major contributing factor. “Often I have couples that haven't talked about sex at all, then try to get pregnant,” Watson says. “If clients aren't talking about their sexual connection, I would suggest that you work on that before trying to conceive. Talking about what feels good, what time of day is best, what doesn't feel great, and what is pleasurable are very important for the couple to know about each other. Creating a connection based on pleasure and fun is going to be so helpful for the couple. Try to focus on each other and not the goal of conceiving.”
Remember, the process should be fun, and the two of you are there to support each other in reaching your shared goal. “The key is trying to stay present with your partner and find pleasure together!” Watson says. “Talk about the stress or anxiousness outside of the bedroom. Find out what creates a sense of eroticism and pleasure with your partner. Communicate about what feels good in the moment. It’s OK to take a break and come back to it. The key is to talk about it and work on connection, making sure that you are doing fun things together and finding joy.”
Take the pressure off by keeping in mind that it is normal for a person to take up to one year to become pregnant, which is especially important to know to keep from jumping to conclusions about infertility. And remember to do other activities the two of you enjoy together, be it exercising or Netflix binging, to take your mind off of TTC.
It reminds me of the age-old advice that "a watched pot never boils." Translation in baby-making terms: Trying to conceive feels way more difficult when you put the pressure on. Relax, enjoy the unprotected sex, and try not to stress your partner or yourself out.
Dr. Lakeisha Richardson, Mississippi-based board-certified OB-GYN
Sarah Watson, LPC, CST, sexuality educator
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