Good Sex With Emily Jamea: Sex After Celibacy

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Emily Jamea, Ph.D., is a sex therapist, author and podcast host. You can find her here each month to share her latest thoughts about sex.

Are you considering getting back in the saddle — or the bed, rather — after it’s been while? Like, a long while? Has it been so long in fact, that you feel like it’s the first time again? Are you worried about what to do, what to say, and how to feel? Your resident sex therapist is here to help.

People have periods of abstinence for many reasons. Sometimes it’s the result of a conscious act of celibacy. Perhaps you swore off sex and love following a bad divorce. Other people experience a sexual hiatus because of life circumstances. A sexless marriage, the passing of a partner, bad luck dating … all of these can create long dry spells, and when that happens, it can feel daunting to start having sex again.

It’s normal to experience anxiety, and some people feel downright terrified. These feelings are completely understandable. You might feel like a different person today compared to the last time you had sex. Perhaps you feel ill-equipped to express yourself sexually. Maybe you feel like your body has changed and you don’t know how to navigate it anymore. Whatever you fear, it
is possible to reclaim your sexuality after a dry spell. Here’s how.

Reassess who you are. Spend some time reflecting on your past relationships and sexual experiences. What worked? What didn’t? What do you hope to experience in this new chapter, and what do you need to do to make that happen? Maybe you used to be shy or sexually insecure. Spend some time educating yourself about sexual empowerment. Find a friend whom you know is sexually confident and talk to them about what that’s like. Perhaps you’ve only ever had sex within marriage and now you’re dating again. You’re not opposed to having sex outside of marriage, but there is a part of you that worries it might feel different. Sometimes simply journaling about your thoughts, hopes and worries can help bring clarity. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers yet, but see if a period of reflection helps ease your anxiety.
Start with solo play. This is one of the most important steps to take before hopping back in bed with a partner. You can’t expect to feel comfortable with a new partner exploring your body if you don’t know it yourself. Look at yourself naked (that includes using a handheld mirror to familiarize yourself with your genitals). This is a great way of challenging body image concerns that may be there. Use positive affirmations and gratitude to overcome insecurities. Masturbate to rediscover what feels good. Being clear on what kind of touch you like will make it easier to communicate your preferences to your partner.

If you’re postmenopausal and it’s been a long time since you’ve had sex, invest in a set of
vaginal dilators. Unfortunately, there’s a “use it or lose it” phenomenon when it comes to postmenopausal vaginas, meaning the vagina can shorten and even atrophy if nothing goes inside of it. Along with dryness from low estrogen, this can make sex painful. Talk to your gynecologist about estrogen replacement options and make sure you have a good quality lube on hand. This will help prepare you for intercourse.
Consider your sexual health. If you’re of childbearing age, spend some time thinking about what method of contraception you feel most comfortable with. If you’re not using hormonal contraception or an IUD, make sure you keep condoms on hand. Be clear on your options in the case of an unintended pregnancy. Prepare yourself to talk to your future partners about their STD status and when their last test was. You also need to be prepared to discuss sexual monogamy. If it’s been years since you were last sexual, it’s important to know that monogamy is no longer the default. It can feel anxiety-provoking to have these conversations, but consider them an opportunity to build intimacy in your relationship. Plus, when you gain clarity on each of these things, it’s easier to relax and enjoy the sex you’re finally having. Practice having these conversations with a trusted friend or in the mirror.

Pick a good partner. If you’re back out in the dating world and you sense any impatience or rudeness in a partner, they’re probably not a good fit for your sexual reawakening. It’s important to find a partner who is kind, patient and understanding. They need to be someone who puts you at ease. You should feel like you can be honest with them about where you are in your sexual journey. One of the best ways to overcome fears or insecurities is to express them. Vulnerability can be tough, but it’s one of the elements that makes sex so wonderful. Sex is just as emotional as it is physical. Keeping your feelings inside impedes sexual pleasure.
Adjust your expectations. It’s rare that people’s first-ever sexual experiences or first-after-a-long-time sexual experiences are mind-blowing. A lot of people ask me how to have sex again without it feeling awkward. My answer? You don’t. Anything you haven’t done in a long time is going to feel awkward at first. The more quickly you accept that, the better off you’ll be. The only way to get past the awkwardness is to push through it. Don’t expect feelings of effortlessness or transcendence right away. Take pressure off yourself to have an orgasm and just focus on more general pleasure. Make sure you’re breathing. Make sure you’re communicating with your partner on what feels good. You might even need to be willing to laugh at yourself until you get the hang of it again!

Good sex after a dry spell is possible. With the right mindset, a little preparation and a good partner, you just might find that it ends up being the best sex of your life.