I’m a queer non-binary femme. My partner (also queer and non-binary) and I have been together for just about three years. In the past year, I have been doing a lot of emotional work — processing lots of trauma, shame and doing a lot of digging and learning. It’s also been a year of more depression and anxiety on my part.
The first year and a half of our relationship we were incredibly sexual, we enjoyed sex a lot, loved to explore, and had sex pretty much as often as we could. One of the side-effects of all this trauma-processing is that my sex drive and sexuality has changed a lot. I don’t feel sexy, often feel uncomfortable in my body, and can’t stay present during sex.
My partner is incredibly supportive of me and the work I’ve been doing. We communicate A LOT and they’ve been super patient and kind about the shifts in my sexuality. However, their sex drive has not changed and I know it has been tough for them as I have gone from someone who is super sexual to feeling anxious and uncomfortable in sexual scenarios. I miss the physical connection with my partner.
I guess my question is a multi-part question: 1.) How can my partner and I re-enter sexual spaces with a sort of sexual reset? How do you handle sex with someone you know so well when things have so drastically changed? 2.) What can we do to help me become more comfortable with sex again? 3.) How can we share intimate and intentional physical space in a way that is not stressful?
Changed & Confused
Congrats on doing the hard work of processing old stuff! Opting to move through the mud rather than skirting it indefinitely is a brave choice that’s tough to make so pats on the back to you! Now let’s tackle these question parts.
1.) Knowing our sexual partners well can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we are comfortable. We have history, a repertoire, and trust. A curse because with that can come assumptions, expectations, and overconfidence in our ability to read the other person.
Pushing a sexual reset might not be possible without some memory-erasing spells a la Harry Potter, but embarking on discovering what’s new about your sexuality with fresh eyes, hands, and ears is a great start.
You might do a Yes/No/Maybe list together (find them on yanatallonhicks.com, I prefer the one by Autostraddle.com) to detail the definitelies, unsures, and hell nos of your new sexual frontier or do a worksheet from Emily Nagoski’s book about sexual turn-ons and sexual turn-offs (thedirtynormal.com) to see where the new limits lie. Putting pen to paper before putting hands to skin can be a really impactful way to visualize new sexual territories.
2.) Becoming more comfortable with sex again is much like the process of learning how to trust again, which, unfortunately for the impatient among us, is a process of experience over time. Continuing therapy, moving at a comfortable pace, continuing your communication, and collecting positive, new sexual experiences are all great pieces of the healing puzzle.
3.) Dr. Tammy Nelson wrote a lengthy “6 Week Sex Date Protocol” (mostly geared to hetero, cis readers, FYI) that has a really helpful pacing of six weeks of intentional intimate dates for folks who are looking to create such a space. Each date is set at a pace that is sensitive and created around feedback to your partner and re-learning about your own and each other’s bodies. Not each date includes sex and each nightly exercise focuses on a small step of physical touch. It’s a free resource but I added it to my website for ease-of-finding (yanatallonhicks.com/6weekdates). I recommended starting on page 7 and customizing how you see fit. Bonus if you get a therapist on board to coach y’all through it.
No matter what, don’t rush it. Listen to your body. And resist the urge to push yourself toward a finish line that exists beyond the boundaries of your own health and well-being. Enjoy the journey without sweating the destination and you may find that you arrive sooner than you thought you would.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.