I got pregnant this past summer after my birth control failed — I got to be part of that lucky 0.04 percent of IUD users who this happens to. I got the pregnancy terminated and all is well. Or, I guess mostly well. The issue is my partner and I have both been having some anxiety about having sex after what happened. Having an abortion was 10,000-percent the right decision, but, of course, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy was a super intense, stressful, hard situation that we don’t want to repeat any time soon.
I went right back on birth control after the procedure and we’ve both mostly accepted that what happened was just an unfortunate, rare fluke, but we still can’t shake the nervousness about it happening again.
We’ve been having sex much less often than we did before because of this, and we both agree that we want to get back to our original frequency. Any advice on working through our feelings/fears so we can get there?
— Getting Back to Business
Even when an abortion is the right decision for you, it can be a harrowing experience physically, emotionally, and of course, sexually. First, know that having anxiety about after-abortion sex is entirely normal as sex is precisely what led to this stressful situation to begin with (well, the highly statistically improbable birth control failure certainly didn’t help things, did it?).
Rather than punching the gas pedal, trying to zoom forward into “normal” again, try to explore gradually letting up the brakes (see Emily Nagoski’s wonderful book Come As You Are for more on her sexual accelerator/brakes analogy). If a major brake on your sex drives is the fear of your IUD failing you again, beef up the backups by using condoms for a while, take an extra precaution with the pull-out method and/or track your ovulation cycle.
Rather than rushing ahead, remind yourselves of all the pleasure that can be found outside of penis-in-vagina penetrative sex like using mouths, hands, toys, or masturbation to enjoy mutual orgasms without the procreative chances.
I spoke about your predicament to an acquaintance of mine who had an abortion. She reports taking a few months to reclaim her sex life and says you can expect a stop-and-start sex life for a while and advises to always speak up about how your body is feeling. “I’d think I was okay to be physically intimate because I was in the mood,” she said, “but sometimes my body would just kind of shut down and that’s okay. Let your partner know what you’re feeling in the moment because it can sneak up on you. But you don’t have to feel like there needs to be a logical answer to it.”
The non-pregnant partner can also feel a confusing mix of guilt, relief, and grief about an abortion, too, of course. However, as the person who had this event take place in your body, take some time to check in with your own sexual self. Masturbation, fantasy, erotica, and (select) porn can all be great avenues to explore on your own where you can feel that confusing mess of emotions that may come up, but without the pressure of tracking your partner’s reactions.
Finally, don’t rush back to “normal.” As we move away from experiences of stress and anxiety, we want to make sure we are moving forward, not backward. For you, this means forwarding onto your new post-abortion sex life, informed by what you now know can happen and not backwards into the “sex life we once had” — which, is impossible without time-travel.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a pleasure-positive sex writer and educator living in the Pioneer Valley. She has a website bursting with sex resources, advice, and workshops at yanatallonhicks.com.