Forget waiting for a certain glint in the eye, or a seductive ‘come hither’ smile, Ross Owen Williams (right) knows precisely when his partner Victoria (left) wants to make love
Forget waiting for a certain glint in the eye, or a seductive ‘come hither’ smile, Ross Owen Williams knows precisely when his partner wants to make love. And friskiness has nothing to do with it. For two years, their sex life has been dictated by Victoria’s fertility gadget of the moment.
From ovulation tests, Stork conception kits (think, if you will, of a syringe-like device) to strict diets and a total ban on alcohol, they have tried it all. And the result? No baby as yet — and a man whose libido is, to say the very least, on the wane.
‘There can be a feeling of dread that can consume you when the line on the fertility monitor appears and you know you have to perform at a specified time,’ Ross confesses. ‘There have been times when I’ve been beyond nervous. The pressure to plough on can be overwhelming. You do it, of course, but sometimes it isn’t easy.’
Ross’s account of making love to Victoria seems a million miles away from what is traditionally seen as the sensual, and crucially, consensual, act of making love.
But in a world where women are more aware of their body clocks than ever before — and are harnessing all medical developments in a bid to take control of their fertility — Ross is far from alone in feeling that he has been reduced to a baby-making machine by his partner’s desperation for a child.
In recent years, as demand for fertility treatments and gadgets has soared — due, in large part to women delaying motherhood to focus on their careers — so, too, has the strain on relationships.
Earlier this month, scientists said that women were causing problems in their marriages by obsessing over conceiving.
Fertility expert Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at Sheffield University, warned that women would do well not to tell their partner when they are at their most fertile because this can cause the man to have ‘performance anxiety’.
Professor Pacey said many women track their fertility across the month on apps and spreadsheets to calculate the ideal 24-hour window to conceive.
And nothing, it would appear, is off-limits in the bid to maximise the ‘fertile window’. Sex bans are imposed to save up the ‘best quality’ sperm. Cocktails of vitamins are taken alongside diets so strict they would shock an Olympic athlete.
But studies show that 46 per cent of such couples had less sex, while sexual desire fell 20 per cent.
Professor Pacey said: ‘I think this fixation on frequency and positions and vitamins and ovulation detection just causes strain and strife.’
Ross’s account of making love to Victoria seems a million miles away from what is traditionally seen as the sensual, and crucially, consensual, act of making love
And that’s something 37-year-old Ross, a recruitment training expert, knows all about.
After three years of ‘trying’, he and his partner Victoria Welton, 45, a social media consultant, are focusing on raising funds for an attempt at donor egg IVF in Alicante, Spain, later this year.
‘I have felt under tremendous pressure,’ admits Ross. ‘I’m not a guy ruled by his lower half. I’m probably slightly less driven by sex than other men.
‘That said, I didn’t imagine I’d ever find myself frequently having sex under duress. And when it had to happen, the sex was very functional.’
The couple met five years ago at an amateur dramatics group. Victoria has a nine-year-old daughter from a previous relationship and for the first year they took things ‘slowly’.
A move to Somerset in 2013 gave them the perfect opportunity to start a new chapter — one that included starting their own family.
The couple met five years ago at an amateur dramatics group. Victoria has a nine-year-old daughter from a previous relationship and for the first year they took things ‘slowly’
Within three months, Victoria was pregnant but, sadly, she miscarried.
By this point Victoria was 41 and her biological clock was ticking loudly. That same year, they went to see their GP.
Victoria explains: ‘We underwent a fertility MoT on the NHS. Ross had no issues at all — his sperm was fine. But one of the blood tests I underwent indicated that the number of eggs I had left were in short supply.’
It left Victoria certain that there was no time to waste. Over the past three years, she estimates they have spent £9,000 on conception aids, fertility monitors, medical advice and, earlier this year, a donor egg IVF attempt in Cyprus.
‘I’m aware the fault lies with me,’ says Victoria. ‘I’m the one with the problem. I know Ross can feel under pressure, but every month counts.’
This goes some way to explaining why they scheduled sex according to Victoria’s fertility monitors, which essentially track hormonal changes that indicate when an egg is about to be released.
Ross admits: ‘‘I can see how it rips couples apart. We stopped having a good time because we’ve been so focused on creating a baby. It’s as though the Sword of Damocles is hanging over my head.’
Even outside the bedroom, Victoria wasn’t leaving anything to chance. She overhauled their diet, banned alcohol and added supplements — all geared towards producing the best quality sperm possible.
Ross says: ‘I stopped drinking, I started eating lots of avocados, I took supplements, I changed my exercise routine.
‘But every month when Victoria’s period arrived, there was that crushing feeling of having let each other down again.’
In Ross’s mind, the fact they have yet to succeed under such circumstances is no coincidence.
‘Ironically, Victoria has become pregnant twice,’ he says. ‘She miscarried the first time, and the second time she suffered an ectopic pregnancy. On both of those instances [when conception did occur], they were during months in Victoria’s cycle when we’d given ourselves time out from trying.’
Today, having learned from their experiences of the past three years, they have sex only when they feel in the mood — and hope that this will lead to a longed-for baby.
Ross admits: ‘Until we have a child together, I don’t think our sex life will go back to being recreational.
‘I can see how it rips couples apart. We stopped having a good time because we’ve been so focused on creating a baby. It’s as though the Sword of Damocles is hanging over my head.’
John Meredith may already be a father-of-two, but he well recognises the agony of a marriage over-shadowed by the need for a baby.
To the outside world, the Meredith family from Bradfield, Essex, are already living their ‘happily ever after’.
Kirsty, 41, is a stay-at-home mum who cares for their children, aged 12 and nine. John, 44 works as a railway engineering supervisor.
Ever since their second child was born, though, they have been focused on trying for a third.
The impact of almost a decade of rigidly monitored sex? Their once spontaneous sex life is now totally dictated by Kirsty’s monthly cycle.
‘I do get down about it,’ says John. ‘It’s knocked my confidence and I feel as though I’m being used at times. It sounds silly, but it can upset me.
‘We used to make love three or four times a week. Now it’s three or four times a month, and only in Kirsty’s fertile window. It’s very mechanical.
‘Kirsty tells me when the week or day is. No questions asked, that’s when we have sex.
‘We’re very close but living like this is hard, and we do disagree about it. I try to fit in with her fertile times, but my body clock is messed up because I work shifts.
‘I would love a third child, of course I would, but her longing for one is really tough.’
The couple, who married in 2003, were blessed by two straightforward pregnancies. A daughter was born in 2003 and a son in 2006. While many women would be content with two children, Kirsty, then 31, was determined to try for a third — using ovulation tests and fertility charts when their second child was still a baby.
‘While I was familiar with a woman’s cycle, I knew that Kirsty was taking things to another level,’ says John. ‘I have to work shifts, often through the night. This can put pressure on me when I have to perform when I get home, because I’m shattered.’
After a few years of trying, Kirsty was given fertility drugs to boost ovulation — but still nothing.
‘Foreplay became a distant memory,’ says Kirsty.
‘I feel guilty, but I was focused on when I was ovulating and the fact we would need to have sex a couple of days before, ideally on the day itself and then just afterwards.
‘Anything remotely seductive got forgotten. I know I’m being selfish, but it’s very much been about doing the deed.’ There was limited professional help for Kirsty. The mantra from the medical profession was always the same: ‘You have two children — you have your family.’
But still Kirsty won’t give up.
John says: ‘We’ve been on diets, we’ve taken supplements, some of which have made me feel nauseous. Now, we’re trying to lose weight to see if that makes a difference. I’m also swimming to get fitter. We’re doing everything we can.’
When John turned 40 in 2012, he tried to call time on his wife’s unrelenting desire, but to no avail.
‘We have far less energy than when we were younger,’ says John. ‘I don’t think Kirsty can bear to call time on her dream, but when do you stop? We did have a great sex life once. I’d like to think we’ll recapture it again.’
But such is the modern woman’s need to take complete control of her fertility that even young marriages are being subjected to enormous pressure to conceive. Patrick Bailey, 27, married Charlotte, 25, last summer, but already they are feeling the strain.
The couple, whose parents are childhood friends, say they knew on their first date in 2013 that they had found The One.
Charlotte, who works as an administrative assistant in a zoo, recalls telling Patrick, a mechanical engineer, on their first date that she wanted children.
‘I want four children and so does Patrick. We started trying in the summer of 2014. Nothing happened the first year. After we got married we sought medical help.’
The couple, who live in Eastbourne, East Sussex, discovered Patrick’s sperm count was normal, but there is a possibility Charlotte, who only has one ovary, ovulates only every other month.
Her response was to educate herself about ovulation kits and prenatal vitamins for both of them — which has piled even more pressure on Patrick.
‘I make a note of when we need to have sex — and record it afterwards,’ says Charlotte. ‘It’s three days before and two days after I ovulate. Our entire lives revolve around those days.
‘Even if Patrick is tired and it makes the process unromantic and difficult, he knows he has to do this for us. I get very down about it. Patrick does try to convince me it will happen. He’s very good at calming me down.’
Trying to conceive during Charlotte’s fertile window has been something of an eye-opener for Patrick. Sex has gone from four times a week to only when Charlotte deems the moment is right.
‘It does take the fun and spontaneity out of it,’ says Patrick.
‘I do my best to be willing, but some nights I find it difficult to be motivated.’
Charlotte admits: ‘If he is tired, I do get stressed because the right moment comes and goes in the blink of an eye. It can hurt my feelings.’
But who can blame a man who drives over 800 miles a week for being shattered sometimes?
Patrick says: ‘I typically work a minimum of 60 hours a week. Sometimes I’m so exhausted I’ll fall asleep on the sofa, but Charlotte will wake me up so I can perform. It does take the joy out of it.’
If Charlotte is not pregnant within a year, the couple have already broached the possibility of their families helping to pay for IVF.
In the meantime, Patrick must continue to perform as and when the various bleeping gadgets in their bedroom dictate.
‘I’d prefer to let things happen naturally, for love-making to be romantic again,’ he says, wistfully.
But what place romance in the bedroom battlegrounds today?