Let's Talk About Sex And IVF

04/09/2017 12:18 BST | Updated 04/09/2017 12:18 BST

It's a big taboo still remaining in the IVF debate. So let's talk about sex.

Many internet forums are devoted to the debate surrounding whether you should continue having intercourse during fertility treatment.

Some doctors issue a blanket ban against it. I think this is crazy.

In some cases refraining from having sex may be sensible, but abstaining because of a widely-held myth that being intimate during IVF may in some way harm an embryo is absurd.

In my opinion, couples should be encouraged to continue having sex as normal as they go through what can often be a stressful experience.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to sex and IVF - and advice issued by fertility clinics and doctors is contradictory at best.

Many clinics recommend couples have no sex immediately after a fertilised egg is transferred to the womb during IVF because of fears sexual activity and orgasms may affect implantation.

In some cases, a two to three week abstinence is recommended to 'avoid damage to the pre-embryo'.

Others suggest no vaginal sex after egg retrieval due to a fears of soreness and a risk of infection.

The important thing to remember is that sexual activity cannot harm an embryo - there is simply no scientific evidence to back this up.

What should be the main consideration is the feelings of the patient. If they feel well, they can have sex. If they feel uncomfortable at all after treatment, they might wish to avoid it.

Either option is fine, based entirely on the choice of the patient.

But often patients simply feel too embarrassed to talk to their doctors or fertility specialists about their sex life, leading to many turning to the internet for help instead.

Last year we conducted a survey at IVF Cube about sex and IVF, which laid bare not just the inherent fear of sex, but also how IVF could have negative impact on a couple's love life.

The majority of women - 69 per cent - said they would not have sex after embryo transfer, with two thirds - 66 per cent - worried it could negatively affect the outcome of treatment.

On top of this, around half of the couples asked reported having less sex after fertility treatment compared with before, and one fifth saying they had a lower sex drive.

For women who are visiting a fertility clinic to become pregnant, these are particularly concerning figures.

The stress of trying to get pregnant can often make sex become more about planning than it is about intimacy.

But a lack of sexual activity can lead to emotional instability, relationship problems, and sexual alienation.

We even found how these issues can cause a significant increase of depressive symptoms in 20% of women.

It's for this reason I think opening up a dialogue about sex is an essential part of any fertility treatment.

Many doctors and patients simply don't feel comfortable openly discussing sex and sexual limitations during therapy, but I firmly believe many patients could see a marked improvement if they were to initiate dialogue.

At IVF Cube we provide information about any sexual problems in the daily routine of therapy discussions for our patients.

Undergoing IVF can be tough enough without patients having to sacrifice their intimate relationships. This is why we really need to talk more about sex.