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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