How your relationship can affect fertility

How your relationship can affect fertility

Last week, we talked about how immune regulation may shift with frequency of sexual interactions. This week, we’re going to dive in a bit deeper on the topic of relationship and how it might impact fertility. 

I want to highlight two studies that demonstrate potential impacts of relationship dynamics on fertility. 

First, a study showed that there is increased inflammatory cytokine expression in individuals in hostile or unsatisfying marriages. Essentially, marital discord is a proinflammatory state. This particular study looked at wound healing, showing that wounds heal 40% slower under marital distress situations versus social support situations. However, this data can be extrapolated to other states, since we know that fertility is sensitive to inflammatory levels. Another study explains the possible relationship: “Marital relationships may provide social and emotional support that can buffer the effects of other life stressors, leading to decreased inflammation and better health outcomes…Conversely, marriage may be a source of stress in its own right and the strain associated with marital conflict, increased demands and obligations, or both may lead to increased inflammation and subsequently poorer health outcomes.” 

Other studies suggest the role of oxytocin in increasing resiliency. “High peripheral oxytocin levels have been associated with better relationship quality. Individuals who reported greater perceived social support, spousal support, and a higher frequency of partner hugs and massages had higher oxytocin levels than those who reported less support and physical intimacy.” This study also suggests a role for oxytocin in modulating inflammation. 

Unsurprisingly, studies also show that the longer a couple struggles with infertility, the higher their stress levels and lower their marital functioning / satisfaction. However, some researchers are also suggesting that there is a correlation between sexual dysfunction and infertility - meaning that poor relationship dynamics or sexual satisfaction in a relationship can increase the risk of infertility in the first place.

This is all to say that our social support systems, and in particular our primary relationships, can have an impact not only on our mental health but also on our physical health. Another piece of the puzzle to consider as we think about how to prepare to get pregnant holistically. 

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