Why We Need To Talk More About The Link Between Pleasure & Fertility
If you're struggling with fertility right now, you're certainly not alone. After all, about one in eight couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining pregnancy, and male fertility, in particular, has declined by more than 50% in the past four decades. As for why we're seeing such increased numbers? "We can only speculate at this point; we don't entirely know," says fertility and pregnancy specialist Cleopatra Kamperveen, Ph.D., on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.
While the specific causes remain unclear, she does mention a host of action items to optimize your fertility (no matter any past diagnoses). One of which, she explains, is focusing on pleasure: "The reality is, we need to treat pleasure as if our fertility depends on it because it does," Kamperveen says.
Below, why pleasure and fertility oftentimes go hand in hand (perhaps in more ways than one).
How to optimize fertility by focusing on pleasure.
First things first: We tend to put our bodies under mountains of stress. All day, every day, your body may be facing chronic stressors you don't even think about; according to Kamperveen, this includes everything from the foods you're eating to the way you're sleeping (or not sleeping) to the way you're exercising (that includes both under- and overtraining) and how you manage your anxiety.
"It's these chronic stressors that activate our stress response and don't go away," she says. "And the brain and body will not allow us to get or stay pregnant when they perceive there is stress or danger." When you're constantly in that fight-or-flight mode, she continues, reproduction is put on the back-burner—your body is prioritizing your own survival, even though the threat isn't exactly acute. That said, in order to send the message to your brain and body that you are, in fact, safe enough to have a baby, it's important to focus on how you can manage those stressors.
"For as many moments of the day as you can, try to step out of stress and trauma and into peace and pleasure," says Kamperveen. Which can look different for everybody: Perhaps you feel at peace with a breathwork or meditation practice, or maybe you get pleasure from a journaling session or 10-minute self-massage. The bottom line is, try to counteract those daily stressors (some of which you may be unaware of) with inner work that promotes tranquillity. That's not to say you can't utilize medical advances to help foster fertility (you can, says Kamperveen, and they can be extremely helpful); but at the end of the day, that inner work is yours and yours alone to achieve. "Nobody else can address [those issues] for you," Kamperveen notes.
Does physical pleasure play a role?
In addition to finding pleasure on a mental health level, Kamperveen notes, it may be important to focus on physical pleasure. Yes, we're talking sexual health here: "We know male orgasm is necessary for getting pregnant, but we think of female orgasm as being optional for pregnancy," says Kamperveen.
Technically, well, the female orgasm isn't required for pregnancy (it is possible for women to get pregnant without one), but Kamperveen explains there is some scientific data showing women who have orgasms can get pregnant more quickly: "What we think happens is the organs create uterine contractions that facilitate the long and hard journey the sperm have to make to reach the egg," she notes. The scientific evidence, we admit, is extremely dated—it was coined the "upsuck" theory in the 1970s, and there have since been other papers that say the female orgasm has little role in transporting the sperm1. Regardless, more research is ultimately necessary before we make (or negate) a connection between the two.
What seems a touch more plausible is that orgasm can reduce stress hormones and release oxytocin (aka, the feel-good hormone)—and as mentioned above, lowering stress is an important factor for fertility. It's certainly not the be-all and end-all (and for what it's worth, an orgasm isn't necessary for a pleasurable sexual experience), but the research is intriguing.
The jury's still out whether physical pleasure plays a role (much more scientific data is necessary, although we mustn't rule it out entirely), but according to Kamperveen, limiting your exposure to stressors is key. That's not to say you should "just relax" if you're having trouble getting pregnant; no, reducing stress (all forms of physical and emotional stress) is a proactive process, one that requires effort and inner work. As Kamperveen notes, "The work is still yours to do to ensure you'll succeed."
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Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.