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In IVF, mature eggs are retrieved from a woman's ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab in order to create embryos, which are then implanted in the woman's uterus. IVF is used after couples have tried several other less invasive procedures. By the time they begin IVF, couples may have been trying to conceive for many years.
Indiana University researchers looked at the responses of 270 women who completed an online questionnaire. They also conducted interviews with 127 men and women using IVF and with 70 health providers, including doctors, nurses and mental health experts.
The study authors found that women undergoing IVF had significantly less sexual desire, interest in sexual activity and satisfaction with their sexual relationship, compared to women who did not require IVF.
The women undergoing IVF also had more difficulty with orgasm and were more likely to report sexual problems such as sexual pain and dryness. The sexual problems worsened as the IVF treatment proceeded, the researchers noted in a university news release.
Women undergoing IVF reported similar problems with sexual function regardless of whether the cause of infertility was in the man, woman, or both, the investigators found. In addition, women who reported being sexually active with a partner in the past month were more likely to masturbate and to report fewer sexual problems, they noted.
Hormonal treatments used in assisted reproductive technologies, such as IVF, may affect women's sexual experiences and pain. However, these effects are not well understood and have not been well studied, the study authors pointed out.
The researchers also added that little attention has been given to the sexual relationships and satisfaction of couples undergoing IVF and other infertility treatments, even though sex plays a role in a couple's efforts to have a child.
"Sex is for pleasure and for reproduction, but attention to pleasure often goes by the wayside for people struggling to conceive," study co-author Nicole Smith, a doctoral student with the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the Indiana University School of Public Health, said in the news release.
"With assisted reproductive technologies, couples often report that they feel like a science experiment, as hormones are administered and sex has to be planned and timed. It can become stressful and is often very unromantic and regimented; relationships are known to suffer during the process," Smith said.
The study was presented Oct. 30 at the American Public Health Association meeting in San Francisco. The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
-- Robert Preidt
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