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Enjoying Sexual Intimacy While Dealing with Infertility

Today’s question from a wife is rather straightforward:

How can couples reignite and enjoy their sexual intimacy while facing the struggles of long-term primary infertility? Any biblical encouragement you could share would be greatly appreciated.

Enjoying Sexual Intimacy While Dealing with Infertility

I’m glad you asked for biblical encouragement. Because I really can’t speak from experience on this one. I had some struggles with pregnancy and delivery, but not with conception. My heart breaks for those facing long periods of wishing and longing and trying to have a child, with no success. It always makes me think of this verse: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).

And some of you are truly heartsick.

I have not walked in your shoes, but I can certainly “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). I also believe that God is with you in this moment and knows your pain: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

I pray that you will have your longing fulfilled.

In the meantime, you and your husband still have a covenant love beyond what role you may or may not play as parents. Let’s look at two infertility stories from the Bible. These are often used as hopeful encouragement that God can “open” wombs and provide children after long spells of infertility. However, I think we can draw some conclusions about marital intimacy as well.

Sarah. Genesis 11:30 tells us, “Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.” Although God had promised to bless Abraham with descendants as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5), he and his wife, Sarai/Sarah, were infertile.

I wanted to Sarah to be a great role model with fabulous wisdom for us wives. But honestly, it doesn’t look that good for this couple. First, Sarah suggests her husband get sexual with her handmaiden to produce an heir (Genesis 16), then angels visit to declare Sarah will bear a son and she laughs it off (Genesis 18), followed by her husband pawning her off to a King Abimelek as his sister (Genesis 20). With all that hot mess, it’s sort of a wonder they got busy long enough to have Isaac (Genesis 21).

Then again, they’re not all too different from us — bungling our way through life trying to make things happen the way we think they should. Thankfully, they kept returning to God, and God had it covered.

My takeaway from Sarah’s story is that she and Abraham turned away from each other in their period of infertility. Each of those mess-ups happened when they failed to cling to one another and remind each other that they were in this together and God had it covered.

As difficult as it can be to go through infertility, committing to continued intimacy, in and out of the bedroom, can strengthen and comfort you both. Whatever happens, God’s got it covered. But you still have to prioritize your relationship and your sexual intimacy with your husband.

Hannah. In 1 Samuel 1, we’re told the story of Hannah, one of two wives of Elkanah. Verses 4 and 5 say, “Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb.” Elkanah was smitten with Hannah, and, when she wept over her situation, declared, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (verse 8). Which I’ve always read as also meaning that she meant more to him than ten sons.

Hannah visits the temple, prays for a son, and Eli the priest sees her and also prays that God grant her request. We often gloss over the next verses, which say, “Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son.” Read it again and notice in the course of time. This didn’t happen right away. They still had a period of infertility, but it seems clear that they continued to make love.

Takeaways from this story:

  1. You are currently in the course of time. I don’t know how long it will last, nor did Hannah. But Elkanah and Hannah turned toward God and each other. They continued to have sex regularly, even though Elkanah didn’t seem to expect she’d ever bear a child.
  2. Even if you don’t conceive a child, you are worth more to each other than ten sons. God Himself continues to smile upon your beautiful covenant love. Your marriage and your sexual intimacy remain a testament to His steadfast love and reflect the relationship Christ has with His church (see Ephesians 5:31-32).

Beyond these stories, there are principles to remember. First, God created sex not merely for reproduction. He could have done that without making it any fun whatsoever, simply a biological need. Rather, God’s gift of sex has at least three purposes: reproduction, intimacy, and pleasure.

When you are longing for a child, that first purpose feels paramount. But how many times do couples with children have sex that actually conceives a child? In my own marriage, our ratio is something like 1000:1. (And we’re working on upping that thousand number.) The point is that intimacy and pleasure are the outcome for the vast majority of sexual encounters in your marriage. Remember that as you’re approaching the bedroom — that even if this time doesn’t produce a child, it’s still serving a wonderful purpose in your marriage.

Consider the Song of Songs couple. There isn’t a single mention of childbearing in this book about romantic love between husband and wife. They enjoy flirtation and expression and lovemaking for its own sake and the joy they bring to each other. That should be your focus in the marriage bed, and it’s a completely biblical perspective of sex in marriage.

As for reigniting and enjoying intimacy, look for ways to lighten things up. Your heart is understandably heavy, but your marriage bed shouldn’t be a place of tension or frustration. Return to what stoked your romantic fires to begin with. Flirt with one another. Be playful with initiation. (No “time to make the donuts” attitude toward sex for conception.) Take your time touching and massaging and fondling each other. Breathe slow and easy. Pay attention to your pleasure and his. Meditate on your love in the moment. Bask in the afterglow in one another’s arms.

Here’s a related post with some good ideas from Sheila Gregoire: Making Sex Fun When You’re Trying to Conceive

22 thoughts on “Enjoying Sexual Intimacy While Dealing with Infertility”

  1. My husband and I are a young couple and have been married about 5 years. I’m infertile as well, and understand her pain. I’m also a mental health therapist. What has helped us, and what is something I talk about often in therapy, is “shelving” the issue at times. We have dedicated times to focus on fertility, and then other times when it is put away. If we don’t do that, it overwhelms every part of our life. Mentally shelving it sometimes requires using distraction or positive imagery (just thinking of anything pleasant-good memories, the beach, praying). All of this allows us to engage in our life, including intimacy, without the focus always being on fertility. Even without children, life and marriage can be beautiful. We finally have been blessed with twins through the miracle that is IVF, and I pray she also gets her desire.

  2. Thanks for dealing with this issue. Its a hard one. We’ve dealt with infertility our whole marriage, save that first year we were preventing.

    I agree with DS. There are times when you just have to shelve that issue. Stop charting, stop the meds, and be done for a time. Give yourself time to enjoy each other with no other goal but enjoyment. No, this doesn’t mean you’ll just get pregnant doing this (as many will claim happened to so-and-so! so it will happen to you! talk about empty hope). But this is good for your relationship.

    I think also that there comes a time when you need to switch your focus. We stopped with clomid, b/c we knew the monetary, emotional and spiritual cost of pursuing IUI and IVF. (yes, its different for each couple, to some extent) But I think for each couple there comes a time to move on. There is adoption…. domestic, via foster care, international and embryo — something for everyone. Or perhaps your call is to remain childless, opening you to other kinds of ministry someone with kids can’t do.

    I know these might not be issues for your blog, J. But they are connected. Thank you for opening the topic up to us.

  3. Why does God allow some couples to be unable to conceive when He commands us to be fruitful and multiply? Could it possibly be because, in His infinite wisdom, he knew that there would be orphaned children who long for a loving home just as much as there would be husbands and wives who long for children? If you have a Godly desire to be parents, then that desire came from Him, and He has a plan to satisfy that desire. Perhaps you might prayerfully begin to make yourselves ready for that open door He will provide for you.

    1. That could well be. But I also know couples unable to conceive who chose to pass on adoption and devoted themselves to other endeavors for God’s glory. Definitely pray to understand God’s plan.

  4. As someone with an irreversible condition resulting in infertility, I desperately want to encourage any woman who happens to be reading and finds themselves in a similar position. There are very, very few losses that can compare to never being able to bear a child of your own. It is absolutely right and necessary to grieve. To gloss over or not acknowledge it will only lead to a greater depression down the road and make it more difficult to celebrate with your friends as they announce their own pregnancies or give birth. Infertility is an unspeakable sorrow, and it’s OK to mourn.

    There are many struggling couples who, instead of confronting their infertility, set their hopes on that future day when God will answer their prayers and they will finally conceive a child of their own. I absolutely commend such faith. However, a faith that does not acknowledge reality is not much of a faith at all. And while it is absolutely essential to pray and petition God for the desire of your heart and expect Him to answer (and I know that He is still in the business of miracles), we must remember that our hope does NOT rest in some future child. Our hope is in our merciful, infinitely kind God! Having a biological child is not the “one thing” that is going to satisfy the deepest longing of your soul. HE is!

    For all of my friends who are struggling through this dark reality, do whatever it takes to find your joy in the One who created you. He is writing your story, and He doesn’t want you to have to wait until one day in the distant future – He wants your heart to have peace and to be whole, today 🙂

    1. Well said. I hope you write a book on the subject. When 🙂 you do please include a chapter on when one spouse wants a baby but the other doesn’t (for a wide range of reasons).

  5. We struggled with this also. It’s so hard not to think about becoming pregnant every time you have sex when you want so desperately to be pregnant. It can consume you, it did me. I think no matter what your situation this issue takes a toll on you and your marriage. Keep praying for God to lead you through this what ever the outcome, to help you steer clear of bitterness and to draw you to your husband not away from him.

  6. I think it’s important to note that certain fertility treatments require periods of abstinence, so it’s important to encourage couples going through those times to find other ways to connect. We dealt with several years of infertility and ultimately went through three rounds of IVF (after 4 failed IUIs) to conceive our daughter (and we’ll have to do it again if we want another child). Even during the times when the treatment didn’t require abstinence, the fertility drugs often messed with my libido and caused very unpleasant side effects that made sex uncomfortable and borderline painful. I definitely think these times could be considered one of the instances when there’s a mutual understanding between spouses that there will be a short break from sex.

    Also, I understand the intent and heart behind the comment that someone made about how infertile couples should consider adopting. However, I urge anyone who knows an infertile couple to think twice before suggesting that they “just adopt.” Before my daughter was conceived, we started the process to do foster/adopt with our county. It was an extremely emotional process, and very invasive. And it means opening yourself up to different risks and possible losses. Had we continued, I would have needed a long time to heal from the grief of not being able to conceive on my own before I could have given my whole heart an adopted child. There is no “just” adopting.

    1. I also agree with Lisa. As an IVFer myself, I can attest to the toll that the treatment takes on your body.

      I also 100% agree with her comment about adopting. As I mentioned in my previous comment, I’ve been blessed with twins through IVF. Infertility is still a huge burden I bear, though, for so many reasons. Before I had my successful IVF, and while I was still childless with no way of knowing if that would ever change, people recommending I “just adopt” was one of the most hurtful comments ever! I, too, have had to grieve the loss of natural conception, along with many other losses along the way. I always had hope to bear my own biological child, and when someone suggested adoption, it felt as though they thought me ever being pregnant was impossible, which made me lose just a bit of hope, too. Not to mention how difficult the process is.

      Honestly, infertility is the hardest thing I’ve EVER dealt with in my life, and the things that sting the most are never the things I expected. When my husband and I were dealing with extended periods of medically necessary abstinence, we still expressed the verbal desire to be sexually intimate and our plan for taking care of it ?. Which is obviously not a substitute, but it made it waiting more romantic and exciting.

  7. I’ll just add one more comment to the adoption thread going through here. I have several friends who have adopted, and I am deeply moved by how they opened their homes to a non-biological child and made him/her their own beloved child. It is absolutely the right choice for some. And I love the idea that the church as a whole supports bringing children into godly homes, because our children are our biggest mission field.

    That said, before trying to get pregnant my husband and I discussed what we would do if unable to conceive. We decided that if we couldn’t have children, we wouldn’t have children. I don’t believe that decision was outside God’s will, because we would have used our time and resources to support other efforts that reached out to children. I know couples who do this very thing — two couples spring right to mind who were childless themselves and taught wonderful Bible classes for children at their church for years and years.

    Many couples who struggle will conceive, but some will not. It’s a tough and prayerful decision what to do next. I wholeheartedly believe in adoption, but I also believe that choice rests with husband and wife and God.

    1. Agreed; adoption is a wonderful choice. When we were unable to have any more biological children, God all but dropped a baby boy in our lap via adoption. I can’t imagine my life without him now, but there were certainly a lot of additional concerns brought up that typically *don’t* come up with biological children. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly

    2. I don’t think people should say “just adopt” like there is nothing to it. However, adoption is a wonderful thing. For a number of years it’s been the way I would want to have children, rather than biologically. The book of James’ description of pure religion includes caring for orphans. I think it’s safe to say that adoption is very close to God’s heart. Why does it have to be a very last resort?

      1. That’s actually my point exactly. Adoption is not a substitute for having a biological child, and it definitely shouldn’t be viewed as a last resort. Adoption should be a priority of all Christians, not something that is offered to infertile people as their obligation or their substitute. My younger sister is adopted, and I find adoption to be a beautiful thing.

  8. My husband and I had years of infertility. We did IUI and conceived our first baby only then to lose that baby through miscarriage. Then we did more fertility treatment. We were emotionally spent. So we shelved the treatment and started to try naturally. I had less than a .5% chance to get pregnant every month. It was stressful to keep romance alive when all you wanted was to bring home a baby. But i was determined to not pet our sex life suffer because of tue stress of infertility. After years of trying and hoping, we explored adoption and it wasn’t for us at the time. We decided that at that point in our lives, if we were to be childless, then we would continue to make a beautiful life with each other. It was hard to get to that point. To truly be ok. I wanted a baby so much and I spent so much time crying and mourning the life I imagined we would have. We knew God would bless us tremendously no matter what. We had a beautiful life. My husband always would tell me “we are a family” and that my husband wanted to be enough for me. So sometime in those years of waiting, i got to the point where i was completely ok with whatever happened. The Lord was good to us always. And we were shocked when we naturally conceived our son with no treatment! Unfortunately, he was stillborn when I was just a month and a half from my due date. He died and with him all of my dreams died too. He was so wanted after many long year . God performed a huge miracle in creating him and he was gone. That was the most difficult thing I have ever been through. To say goodbye to our son until we join him in Heaven . We knew we would want to have more children after that. I was no longer ok with being childless because I was a mom, just a mom with no baby in my arms. I missed my firstborn so much, but we both wanted more children. So we decided to try again once I was cleared from my doctor. We got pregnant again 3 months after our first son was stillborn. This time, we were lucky enough to give birth to a living baby boy who is now 4 years old. We wanted to try for another baby and had more infertility. We were now part of the world of secondary infertility, having infertility when you have a living child. We did minor fertility treatment and concieved our 3rd son about a year after we started trying (we actually concieved twins and lost one of the twins in my first trimester). We welcomed him home last summer. I made it a point to have fun while tying to get pregnant. I made sure that we would not let it get stale and boring. To continue to enjoy each other. Our journey to parenthood has not been what I dreamed it would have been all those years ago when we started. But no matter what, God has been faithful to comfort us and give us a clear direction. We had to lean on him so much over the years. But He is always constant and He always reminds me that no matter what, my husband and I are a team. We have been through the depths and I know that my relationship with God comes first and my relationship with my husband comes 2nd to that.

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  10. Thank you for saying that you would mourn with us! It means so much to hear that. I often feel like I am expected to rejoice with all the pregnant mamas I know, but no one wants to walk with my in my sorrow. It is so painful. Intimacy can also begin to feel draining. I know that seems impossible for couples who can’t imagine having sex often to be draining, but when the problem centers around sex, it really can be…

    Also, my heart goes out to all the women commenting here. I am one of you (22 cycles to conceive; my precious first pregnancy ended in miscarriage; now attempting to conceive again). I have PCOS and extremely low estrogen. If I can be so bold, I would like to encourage those experiencing infertility to look into NaProTechnology. It has higher success rates that IVF and is a lot cheaper! And I say this with no judgment, just a desire to let more couples know about this option.

    NaPro takes an intensive review of hormones, cervical mucus, anatomy, etc. and seeks to address and return a woman’s fertility. IVF, in essence, skips over the causes of infertility. If you have ever been told you have unexplained infertility, your doctor is not knowledgeable enough in hormones and cervical mucus. Basically, when IVF came on the map in the late 70s, it dominated the medical field, and only a select number of doctors continued to research hormones and cervical mucus. They now have a clearer picture and can help couples achieve pregnancy without excluding sex.

    1. Very cool! I’ve never heard of NaPro technology. It won’t work for me (no Fallopian tubes), but I know tons of people with unexplained infertility that may not know about it. Glad you commented!

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