“How Do I Start Having Sex Again?”

Q: My husband and I stopped having sex when I was going through a rough time (yeast infection + depression + recovering from trauma). I needed the break because it got to the point that I was feeling physically ill at just the thought of sex.

But… now it’s two years later. We have not had sex. In two years.

I’m still afraid of the pain, which makes me hesitant to try again, but I also know we need to try.

So my question: how do you start having sex again after a very long time without? How do you bring it up? How do you deal with the possibility of pain making it traumatic again?

A: This might be a good time to remind everybody that neither of us (paperispatient or future Mr.) are doctors or any kind of certified experts – we’re just nerds who have been told we give good advice and who love to read, write, and talk about sex (well, and have sex).

Do you feel like you have addressed the factors that were part of the rough patch you were going through? Many of the issues you brought up are likely not the sort of things that can be resolved and forgotten completely, but if you feel like they are more under control than they were, that’s a good place to start. If you feel like you’re still grappling in a profound way with the trauma you underwent, if you haven’t already, it might be good to consider therapy as a way of helping you work through what happened and your feelings, and we discussed therapy and some options and resources in this post, in response to a question that sounds related in some ways to what you are dealing with.

Do you masturbate (or, did you before you began going through a difficult time)? Neither of us have any experience with trauma or serious depression, but on a personal note, paperispatient has been dealing with chronic yeast infections for a while now, and it can be very discouraging when such an intimate part of your body, and one that is likely central to your sex life, is having problems. Paperispatient has had stretches of time when she felt very alienated from her body and her sexuality because of these problems, and if you feel or felt that way too, masturbation might be a good way of getting back in touch with your sexuality. You don’t need to think about anything besides your own pleasure, and it may seem like a good way of easing back into having a regular (as in, on a regular basis) sex life.

It can be hard to be really direct about sex sometimes, but when you feel ready, it might be best to just be very straightforward with your husband, something like, “I’ve been thinking – I still feel a little nervous and hesitant, but I’m interested in us starting to have sex again.” We would definitely suggest being completely honest with him about being afraid of possible pain; he’ll be better able to offer you comfort and support if he knows what is making you fearful, plus it’s important for him to know that he may need to take things slowly and gently for a while or to be aware if there is any kind of touch or movement that he should avoid.

Remember that you don’t have to go from 0 to PIV sex in every position. It may be easier physically and emotionally if you ease your way back into being sexual together. If you like the idea of masturbating, maybe start doing it together, or have him focus on you and hold you while you touch yourself. When you feel ready, you can move on to touching each other. You may feel ready in one day, or you may need some time to work up to it, and there’s nothing wrong with either of those things.

And don’t feel like you must “progress” from one act to another. It’s easy to think of sex in a series of steps: kissing, touching, oral sex, PIV, the end. But sex can be whatever you want it to be and whatever feels good for you. If you want to have lots of oral sex and hold off on penetrative forms of sex for a while, have at it. Or if you hate the idea of masturbating but think you’d like your husband touching you, begin that way. Don’t feel like you must do things in a certain order or like you must move onto activities you’re not interested in.

If/when you do want to have PIV sex, we’d recommend getting some lube if you don’t already have some. Even if you provide plenty of lubrication on your own, this can help reduce friction and irritation, which are two things that can sometimes contribute to a yeast infection. Since you know you might be somewhat prone to getting yeast infections, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you use is glycerin-free. Some women prefer water-based lube, others prefer silicone (there are also lubes that combine the two). Paperispatient personally prefers silicone, as water-based lube tends to sting her upon reapplication, but other people find silicone irritating and water-based lube more comfortable. Wait to try penetration until you’re as turned on as can be and as relaxed as possible; we know it’s easy for us to say “try to relax,” and it’s hard to relax if you’re anticipating that something will be painful. But your husband ought to be willing to go as slowly as you need (or you may even want to climb on top so that you’re completely in control of the speed and depth), and if it doesn’t feel good, you can always stop immediately. If painful penetration was a recurring issue for you and if you experience pain beyond some “it’s been a while” stretching of muscles, you may want to take a look at this post, in which we explain some of the reasons that penetration might hurt, like vaginismus, and offer some resources.

It sounds like there was a lot going on at once that contributed to you needing to take a break from sex, so it’s a little tricky for us to try to figure out what will help, since we don’t know what led to what and what might have caused what. But we think that being patient with yourself (and not blaming yourself, because none of this is your fault) and having an unwaveringly supportive partner with whom you can be completely open about your fears and concerns is crucial. And we really hope we’ve been able to offer you something helpful.

Got a ques­tion you’d like us to dis­cuss, myth you’d like us to bust, or general topic you’d like us to talk about? You can email us at FriskyFeminist@persephonemagazine.com, and we’ve also set up a Tum­blr for the sole pur­pose of receiv­ing com­pletely anony­mous ques­tions at paperispatientsexqanda.tumblr.com.

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paperispatient

I recently earned my MA in women’s studies. I enjoy reading, working out, playing Scrabble, watching cheesy movies, and cooking yummy vegetarian meals with my partner and Frisky Feminist co-author, Future Mr. paperispatient.

14 thoughts on ““How Do I Start Having Sex Again?””

  1. Please don’t take this the wrong way, because this is a great post with lots of probably helpful information, but what if the person asking wasn’t female?

    I’m asking right now because I wonder what advice you’d give to a man with a similar question (health+emotional trauma causing decreased libido).

    However, it could apply to this particular question, too, and because the asker doesn’t specify it would have been nice to see just a brief something about why you chose to assume the asker was in a heterosexual relationship, but I’m not really asking as a challenge, just pointing it out.

    1. I’d give the same advice to a man in this situation – getting the support of his husband, figuring out how to get back in touch with his sexuality, and moving slowly. (We did give fairly similar advice in one of the posts we linked to, come to think of it.)

      I think we assumed the question-writer was probably a woman for two reasons: because from what I can tell most people who comment on Persephone are women, and because from my own experience the medical community seems to disagree about whether male-bodied people can get yeast infections, and if so, whether they have any noticeable symptoms like painful sex. Every doctor/gyno I’ve ever asked has said no, but I’ve read a good amount of literature that suggests otherwise. I’m inclined to think that they can but that women get them far, far more frequently.

      Maybe this is something you have an opinion about – in the bit where we put our contact info, I’ve considered requesting that people give a bit of context about themselves and their partner(s) (if there is a partner[s]) for their questions, because suggestions we’d make about cock rings might be a little different if it’s a man asking with his male partner in mind, a woman asking with her male partner in mind, etc. Do you think that would be helpful? I don’t want to make people feel like they need to identify themselves in certain ways, though.

      1. I understand the reasoning. The thought just crossed my mind that maybe it could have gone the other way? Like you said above, the yeast infection thing isn’t 100% conclusive, and while PROBABLY we can assume female, it’s still an assumption on our end. Y’know?

        My personal frame of reference on this is different and is probably the only thing that made me ask the question. I don’t fault anyone who didn’t, I just thought it worthy of bringing up.

        As far as getting clarification, I don’t know if asking for the information would be helpful or not. Maybe just when it’s unclear, be obvious in your answer about why you made the assumption in one direction or other? People will find their own ways to clarify if they feel clarification is needed, especially if they know you’re not going to immediately assume cis- hetero- relationships (which I know you don’t do! But that’s because I sort of internet know you).

        I really don’t want this to feel like an attack or anything, and I don’t mean to derail the post at all. It just came to my mind and I needed to mention it. Feel free to take it off-thread if you think that’s more appropriate.

        1. I don’t think your comments feel like an attack or a derail – I think it’s extremely important to question the base assumptions of any person giving advice, especially relationship and sex advice.

          I also agree that clarification should probably only occur when it’s unclear in the question what gender/sexuality/etc. the asker is, and only if their gender/sexuality/etc. impacts the answer. People may not be willing to answer specific demographic questions, but there’s no harm in shooting someone an e-mail asking them to clarify so that the advice can be more specific/tailored to them.

          1. The only thing is, most of the questions we receive are anonymous submissions through Tumblr, so I have no way of contacting people to ask follow-up questions. And the people who ask questions not-anonymously, I usually know them well enough to know the answers already.

        2. I suppose it may be a little off-topic but I don’t think your comments are attacking or derailing at all! I always welcome constructive criticism, and I think your suggestion to be explicit about how our answers are based on any assumptions about identity is a useful one that I’ll keep in mind for future posts. :)

          (And it’s interesting, people tend to include information about their partners but not themselves, which results in us usually assuming that the question-askers are women.)

    2. Paperispatient actually did respond to a similar question regarding a man with health+emotional trauma causing decreaded libido. The post is here: http://persephonemagazine.com/2011/02/how-can-we-turn-around-our-sex-life-after-trauma/

      Also, even though the original asker didn’t specify that they were female in a het relationship, the first line of the question is “My husband and I stopped having sex when I was going through a rough time (yeast infection + depression + recovering from trauma).” Given that women have more problems with yeast infections than men and that the asker identified hir partner as hir husband, I think it was safe for paperispatient to assume that the asker was female in a het relationship.

  2. I hope my mom isn’t reading this.

    I had a similar problem last year – a terrible yeast infection that I didn’t know I had that made sex really painful, plus depression that made me not interested in sex.

    We didn’t go that long without sex but it definitely took some time to get back into and there were a couple of episodes that sucked and made it worse. But all this advice is really great. We started back with just touching and masturbating. And then when we were ready for PIV we used a ton of lube and he went really slow and I made sure to communicate with him about how I was feeling. It’s tough getting back into it, but a little mutual masturbation and even just some naked cuddling goes a long way. Hugs to whoever wrote in!

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