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.