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Fear of Pregnancy Dampening Sexual Desire

QUESTION: My wife and I have been married for 11 years and have two children aged seven and five. There has been no sexual activity between my wife and myself for some time. My wife says that she is afraid to get pregnant again. Will we ever have a normal sex life again?

ANSWER: It is common for fear of pregnancy to dampen sexual desire. Your wife may have good reason to avoid sex if your children were not planned. And certainly abstinence is good birth control, but definitely hard on a marriage!

Do you or your wife want to have more children? If not, consider the option of a vasectomy for yourself, or a tubal ligation for her. This would free you both of the fear of pregnancy and open the possibility of reviving your sexual relationship. If you did choose a course of this nature, realize that the two of you would have to get reacquainted sexually and in a manner of speaking, separate sex from the fear of fertility. There would need to be a courtship, perhaps, to reignite the sexual flame. It would also seem wise to fully explore other areas of the relationship to determine whether there are other breakdowns in intimacy which could also be contributing to decreased sexual desire for your wife.

If other areas of your relationship are satisfying and sex is mostly a result of pregnancy fear and not lack of communication or closeness in other ways, then consider what a vasectomy would mean for you. Talk with your doctor and to other men who have had this operation to hear their stories. Ask about their reasons for having a vasectomy, the feelings they may have experienced relating to their sense of manhood and the after effects on their sexual relationship with their wives. Be aware that in most couples' relationships in this country, men are the ones who step forward for sterilization for two reasons. The first reason given is that it is a simpler and less painful operation for men than for women. The second reason expressed is that couples feel that since the woman is the one who has bore the pregnancies and childbirths for the family that it is the man's turn to take responsibility for this aspect of the sexuality in the relationship because he can and it is easier for him to do so physically than his wife.

Although these reasons are commonly expressed does not mean they are right for you. Clearly psychological and even spiritual or religious issues may come into play and must be considered and discussed between partners.

But sometimes, the experience of taking your wife seriously and being willing to discuss possibilities can lead to other unexpected outcomes and closeness. This was the case with my husband, who after much discussion agreed to have a vasectomy and was going to give it to me as a present! But because I knew how much he really did not want to have it, I found myself so touched by his offer that I told him I did not need him to have it done. Since then, we have enjoyed 6 years of sexual closeness without becoming pregnant. Some couples find that relating sexually in other ways than intercourse during the woman's fertile period can also reduce the possibility of unwanted conception.

Talk with your wife. Open up a discussion to explore your options and the consequences of various possibilities. She may be expressing the "no" in the relationship because she is majorly responsible for the children. If so, she may need your sensitivity and understanding of her position in the family and the consequences that pregnancy entails for her. However, if she feels this way, then she is probably also protecting the couples' relationship by not having more children.

Your appreciation of her experience as a mother and a woman will most likely go a long way towards making her feel closer to you. If your wife feels you are seeking to understand her instead of just trying to get closer sexually, she may appreciate you more. Sometimes men experience their desire for closeness through sexual contact and women feel the need to be emotionally close to become sexual. Perhaps your willingness to try to understand her needs and feelings will bring the two of you together on either having sexual contact that does not have the possibility of becoming pregnant, or utilizing the medical profession for help in making it impossible to conceive. Your willingness to entertain different alternatives to accommodate her could give birth to a solution that will be more satisfying for both of you.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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