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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Barren Advice: Twenty-Six

This is the 26th installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.

Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday-ish. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.

Dear Mel,

Has IF decimated your sex life? I would love to hear if any fellow mules have had their once healthy, happy love lives destroyed by the stress of prolonged stick-peeing, head-standing, and mucus checking. And even better yet, has anyone figured out a way to cope?
Please help!

--The Genetic Mule

I don't know why a sex life would take a hit. I mean, it's pretty romantic to inspect your toilet paper for cervical mucous and use that to get in the mood. Or to fuck through a lupron headache. Or to make sweet love in under twenty minutes because you want to get it over with before you have to time that injection. Or to have sex knowing full well that afterwards, you're going to be in that most erotic and sensual of positions with your ass on a pillow and your legs in the air. Smokin'! Sultry!

Just writing about it is enough to get you wet.

I've always wondered what chefs do. You know, to eat. I mean, I can't imagine after standing in a kitchen all day cooking food for others that they want to go home and start cooking a fancy meal for themselves. I'm just thinking about how I feel when I'm pulling together a meal like Thanksgiving that takes a few days to cook. Those meals in between the making of the pumpkin pies and stuffing tend to be of the boxed pasta variety. Or take-out Thai. Or microwaved vegetarian bacon and eggs. In other words, I'm not going to make cranberry sauce to serve our guests the next night and then turn around and make a full Thanksgiving Eve meal for the twins and Josh. I am just too damn tired and I can only focus on one thing.

And it's fine to stop cooking full meals a few times a year, but what does a chef do who has a job to stand in a kitchen day in and day out? Who is around food all day; thinking about food, working with food, worrying about food? Do they come home and cook? It seems like some do--Alton Brown crushes Cornish game hens at home. And some don't--Grant Achatz asked if ramen noodles count when questioned about his go-to homemade meal.

The same seems to be true in the infertility world. There are some who can have all the baby-making sex AND all the regular, let's-just-do-it-in-the-kitchen sex. There are some who can fuck through the lupron headache and others who suggest sex at 8 pm instead of 9:40 pm when they have a 10 o'clock injection. There are those who can still laugh through it. And then there are the vast majority who cry or exist somewhere in the middle where their sex life is neither terrible nor wonderful. It simply is.

The point is that you can't be someone you're not and your relationship can't be something its not. So let's focus on what you've got--the type of relationship you have and your emotional tools--and work with that. It's much easier to make what you have better than try to make what you have different. Get what I'm saying? Be yourself. And let your relationship be itself. Don't worry about what anyone else is or isn't doing.

Back to sex.

I can't speak to the cooking world and how they balance that dance of food and work, but I can speak to the infertility world and I think the way you keep trucking in bed is to separate out procreative sex (your job) from intimate sex (your relaxation time). Same act but a different way of looking at it just as Alton Brown must separate out what is cooking for work and cooking for his family at home. In both cases, he's in front of the stove, but he must take a different attitude in order to crush those Cornish game hens rather than grumble about how sick and tired he is of cooking all. the. time.

Because he does have to cook all. the. time. Get it? He has to eat. He can't just cook at work and come home and say, "I'm done with food!" He still has to put something in his mouth. Just as you need to keep bonking each other right before ovulation as your job, but your relationship needs sex too in order to remain healthy. If Alton didn't eat, he'd shrivel up like dried herbs and if you don't have raucous, intimacy-drenched sex, your relationship is going to shrivel a cake of Follistim at the bottom of a vial.

The first thing you (and every chef out there who doesn't want to shrivel up like dried herbs) need to do is reframe. A chef needs to separate out cooking from eating. Cooking is something Grant Achatz does for others. Baby-making sex is something you're doing for someone else...namely, the baby. I mean, you truly get nothing out of it. An orgasm, maybe, just as Alton Brown gets to taste the sauce he's preparing. But it's not for him. It's for someone else. And that is his job; that's cooking. And baby-making sex? That's not sex--that's procreation. That's something else. We can stop calling it sex if we're getting the act confused with the leap-across-the-bed variety of sex. But sex to create a human being--that's a job. That's for someone else. That's the equivalent of cooking in a restaurant.

Down-and-dirty sex or making love--that's eating. That's preparing food at home. That's personal and intimate. When Alton cooks at home, it's about eating. He is making something for himself--it's not for others. Even if someone else gets to share the food after he has made it, the point is to make it special for himself, to think about himself, to think about his tastes and his wants.

And that's why we're all so damn bitter--because there are people out there who get to cook at home and we are people who cook as a job. We cook for others, first and foremost, and take care of ourselves at the end of the shift. Whereas others get to make love at home. They're just cooking for themselves, but they get this bonus of getting a child out of it as well. It's the difference between taking care of yourself and taking care of others. And who the hell wants to be a chef when they're so hungry themselves?

Seriously, having sex when you're infertile is the worst salt on the wound--thinking about how you can't use the act to actually create a baby or how stressed you are with everything surrounding sex (especially the timing) or how sex in your mind leads to loss (who the hell wants to have sex when that's your association?)--it would be like starving a chef for several days and once they're ravenously hungry, ask them to prepare a meal for others. How can you possibly stand around smelling that food when you're so hungry yourself?

And how can you possibly have sex when you are so miserable with infertility and sex is part of the definition of the condition?

You do it because you have to. Because it's your job. It may be a job you hate at the moment complete with a bad boss (wait...that sounds like a menage-a-trois), but it's your job and you can't walk away from it in this economy. It pays the bills. And you have to do it if you want to get what you want. BUT, just because your restaurant job (a.k.a. baby-making sex) sucks, doesn't mean that cooking at home needs to suck too. Cooking is the act, but distinguish between the bad restaurant job and the fun of cooking at home. Sex is the act, but distinguish between the suckiness of infertility and the fun of bonking your partner.

What you've stopped doing if you're letting infertility seep into how you view your sex life is that you've stopped cooking in the kitchen. And you need to start doing it again by separating out what is work from what is play. Get back to the basics: why do you have sex...I mean, beyond that whole orgasm thing? Because it's intimate. It's special. Unless we're cheating on our partner, it's one thing that we do with them and no one else. It reconnects the two of you. Some people recommend giving it its importance by penciling it in on the calendar, making sure you make time for it.

But I think that just brings it back to resembling work. To me, that is the equivalent of taking Alton Brown or Grant Achatz out of their work spaces and sticking them at home to prepare a dinner party for 12. It's a little bit better than the stress of restaurant work but not much.

I don't think you can schedule sex as an appointment and bring back what is missing right now. I think what you can do is separate work from play by closing figurative doors around procreation sex just as you separate out work time from home time. This is harder than a job that takes place in a separate space that you can leave (since all sex is taking place inside the home rather than sometimes in a different space and sometimes at home), but with work encroaching on the home in the form of blackberries and emails, you've had some practice carving out time that is strictly non-work time. However you did it in regards to the far-reaching effects of technology, you need to mentally do it with your sex life.

Make sex for love completely different from sex for procreation. Literally. Schedule your baby-making sex as you would an appointment and keep the lovemaking spontaneous. Make baby-making sex all "yes, ma'am" or "yes, sir" and keep lovemaking sensual. For lovemaking, lie on your sides facing each other and whisper a conversation. Transition from a massage into sex. Wear something you would never wear for baby-making sex.

In other words, take your baby-making sex and stop pretending it's intimate and wonderful. Don't stand in your restaurant and pretend you're cooking at home. You are not at home when you're at work so cook accordingly. If it helps, keep your shirts on for the baby-making sex--downplay that act of baby-making sex rather than trying to punch up the normal sex. No one says the lovemaking has to get sexier--you can also take the other approach making the baby-making sex more perfunctory.

And be realistic--if you had the flu, sex would be the last thing on your mind. Understandably. And if you have a lupron headache, you do not need to beat yourself up for feeling like shit and not wanting to have sex. Treat infertility as the medical condition that it is and act accordingly. You may still need to go to work with the headache, but you don't need to cook a full meal at home when you're feeling like shit. That's a night for carry-out, my friend.

Infertility, baby-making sex = job.

Screaming with the orgasm sex = fun.

So stop mixing business with pleasure and see if separating the two jump starts things in the bed again. Sometimes all you need is a different way to view things rather than stretching and trying to change the act altogether. A new way to view the world is a lot cheaper than immediately jumping to purchasing sex toys. know, sex toys never hurt.

No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.

Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice


Tracey said...

Brilliant, I am married to a chef and I am infertile. This has made my day!

sky girl said...

I'm at the other side and my sex life is still in the toilet. It's so hard. :(

gwinne said...

Well, I'm an SMC (and haven't had sex in so many years I'd rather not think about it)! For me, this post made a ton of sense: procreation in my case has *absolutely nothing* to do with sex. Making a baby is what happens in the doctor's office. Having sex is purely for fun/romance.

areyoukiddingme said...

Stuck at the do you make vegetarian bacon and eggs?

I think the advice is great and the analogy is apt.

Chickenpig said...

It was different for us because we suffered from male factor infertility. Except for the 2 years trying on our own before we got tested, we never actually thought that sex would give us a baby. It freed us. Sex has since always been about us, not about baby making. Baby making is done in a lab, with me on a table and my husband in a little room with a magazine. As for the Lupron headaches....orgasms help.

Tash said...

Just chiming in to say this is seriously brilliant.

I've been meaning to write something profound on sex after babyloss, and you may have just inspired me. Look out. Muahahahahaha.

awakeintheworld said...

This advice is really great. I've never thought about it this way before. We're on a break, but I think we still have residual effects from the earlier days. Thanks.

Guera! said...

This was so funny. It also made me remember how great the sex was when we started trying to make a baby believing it could happen on the first try. First time without birth control! First time with no worries about an unwanted pregnancy! Wow! It was thrilling and exciting.
1,005,678th time without it....not so much.

Courtney said...

One thing that might help is to focus on sex during the time of the month when you know you can't get pregnant. For us, it was a window of a few days after af stopped (cd 6-10ish). We were on progesterone supps for the 2ww so that kinda put a damper on things too. Of course the last thing the two of you need is more pressure to perform so I wouldn't put it on the calendar, but I would make an effor to create the mood. Go out on a date, or light a candle, give your hubby a massage. I was surprised by how a little effort paid off in the end ;). Your husband will especially appreciate it because he will know that you are wanting to connect with him and that the act has nothing to do with trying to make a baby.

annacyclopedia said...

Absolutely brilliant, Lolly.

I'm with Chickenpig for the most part - actually, I always knew that our having sex would not make a baby, except in the year between Manny's vasectomy reversal and the final news that it was unsuccessful, but even that was studded with increasingly bad news on the sperm front every few months. But as much as I know that sex is separate from baby-making for us, it has been hard to accept that. I am still grieving that loss, and often that makes it hard for me to want to have sex, because it seems so hollow sometimes. I'm working on it, and trying to just connect with my desire, but it is definitely tough.

Ellen K. said...

We have combined IF (female + male factors) and so after the first 18 months of TTC or so, we never really thought that sex would result in a baby. Like Chickenpig, our diagnosis was freeing in a sense. But those first 18 months -- or rather, months 3-18 -- were tough.

sassy said...

Very good response !

After 5 years of lovemaking AND pointless procreative sex, we've pretty much accepted the fact that the baby isn't coing from OUR sex, but rather our, er,, the husband, and our RE.

It's rather freeing, so I can jump his bones when I ant, but the legs in the air and the pillow? Nah.

FattyPants said...

Mmmm what she said is good. Lolly gives great advice. The only thing I can add is a piece of advice from my husband. He once told me that erections on demand aren't that easy if I'm pacing around staring at an opk screaming we've only got 12 hours. Never underestimate the unsexiness of a frantic ovulator. I learned that lingerie and alcohol help. A lot.

Heather said...

Excellent post. After having 10 years of infertility issues (We have an 8 year old an are now expecting twins), one thing I mentioned to DH is that I'm excited that the sex for the rest of our lives will be for fun. We're definitely not planning to have any more children after these two. That said. It's going to take a lot of "fun sex" before things get back to the fun they used to be. It's definitely not as fun as it was.

Beverly said...

Thank you for this. It's explains exactly how I've been feeling the last 6 months of unsuccessful trying. I'm going to have my husband read it too.

Jen J said...


I always love your writing, but this is one of the most brilliant posts you've ever written! SERIOUSLY!!! I hope that something similar to this is either in the book or will be in your sequel!

All I can say is "AMEN!"

Michelle said...

This is a FANTASTIC post! I agree completely! I have never thought about it this way but I am definitely going to try it. I have had such a hard time since doing this for 8 yrs. Sex has been so much of a job I often forget that it can be fun too! Thank you!

Cassandra said...

Outstanding post and advice, even moreso than usual. And so bawdy!

The professional chef in our family does not touch the kitchen at home, ever. As in, he won't even make a peanut butter sandwich for himself. I actually find it pretty egregious that his girlfriend has to wait on him hand and foot, esp. since he is no longer working as a chef and has moved onto another career. But, I will say that with the babymaking sex there were plenty of times I wished we could delegate it out to someone else.

Which, in a way, is what we've come to with IVF. One very good thing about IVF is that it's totally removed sex from the equation. After IVF #1, I told my husband jokingly, "Now we'll never need to have sex again!" And he said, "You don't actually mean that, right?" He did have to ask, because for years sex was usually such a chore for us. I often had delayed ovulation, so there were sooo many cycles of prolonged "fertile" windows. The 6th or 7th or 8th bout of mandatory sex in a cycle is genuinely arduous. And so for years we almost never had sex outside of babymaking, because we were both so sick of it.

If I had it to do over again, I think I would have opted for toys to help expedite the babymaking. The earlier-in-the-day advice is also a great way to go.

Brenna said...

Such great advice, and so well written!

Now I'm thinking about all the ways in which cooking and sex are similar for me: I'm not terribly motivated to get started with either one, but once I'm in the midst of things I remember how much I enjoy it.

Alexicographer said...

This is great advice, but let me throw one different thing into the mix -- hypothyroidism is a medical condition that is generally safely, easily, and cheaply treatable, that is grossly underdiagnosed, and that causes, among many other things, infertility and low libido.

Among many other things, most REs (and most labs) are not aware that in 2003 (2003!), the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommended that the reference range for TSH -- the most basic test of thyroid function -- be changed so that its upper limit for "normal" is 3.0.

You can read the AACE press release here -- you can read the press release here:

There is a list of the symptoms of hypothyroidism (which are diverse) here --, and also good information about thyroid disease, ttc, and pregnancy here (however, warning, it includes a belly shot of a pregnant woman) --

If you suspect you may have a thyroid problem, I personally would recommend (based on my own experience) seeing a thyroid specialist. I found mine (whom I love) using this website --, which lists doctors by US states as well as some other nations. Most are overbooked, so if you are hoping to be seen quickly (and so many of us infertiles are pressed for time...), you may want to schedule an appointment and ask the office staff to call you if there is a last-minute cancellation that will let you be seen sooner.

Unlike lots of the other stuff we do for infertility, getting treated for a thyroid problem (if you have one) will probably both make you feel better and improve your overall health -- as well as improving your prospects for achieving and sustaining a healthy pregnancy.

I'm on a soapbox about this, in case it's not obvious. Feel free to email me if you want more information.

luna said...

everyone is right, this is totally brilliant. love the analogy. seriously, this column should be syndicated.

touchy subject for many of us. personally, that damn calendar caused so many problems. now that we've given up on the baby-making sex thing, it is MUCH easier to enjoy each other. but even then, at the beginning, we were WAY too aware of what day it was and secretly hoping that the new-old raunchy sex might have unanticipated results. pipe-dream fantasy though. also, sometimes when I'm tired I'm thinking what the hell's the point?

we might was well get back to enjoying the pleasure part, since no business is involved anymore.

The Steadfast Warrior said...

As always, great post Mel! Coming from a family of chefs, I SO get the analogy.

Sex after a loss is probably the most difficult thing some couples have to go through when trying for a baby. Don't know what would be more difficult for me- that scenario or trying month after month with no succes. I think it sucks all around.

Princess Jo said...

The whole infertility/sex thing has never personally bothered me: well up until the past few months. And then all of a sudden, it did.

It's tough balancing all the emotions that come with far the hardest part of the journey for me.


itsazooaroundhere said...

This is GREAT! All I head is the same old "take time, schedule sex, blah, blah, blah". This makes a ton of sense. I'm going to give it a try!

Wishing 4 One said...

BRILLIANT, I tell you! I am with Luna, syndicate this baby! What a perfect perfect way of putting it. I know many of us have been there and may be there now, if so follow Lolli's advice to the T.

Mommy In Waiting said...


I can't tell you how much this post made me laugh and made me think!!!

You're the best!

Becky D said...

Oh, this couldn't have come at a better time for me. We're clawing through this issue right now and you gave me some great tips, and you are right...Toys=FUN!

DrSpouse said...

This is great advice... if you are motivated to have sex but don't feel like it.

If you are not particularly motivated AND don't feel like it, I think you may need a little more.

And if it's not you, but your partner, who's going to have a lot less success in doing routine, obligation sex, I'm not sure this really works. It's not always their fault but they can be very sensitive to mood and, you know, you kind of need him to be in the mood. Not much use without him in the mood.