Nearly one in four women have an abortion at some point in their lives, but there’s still such a huge taboo around the topic. On the most fundamental level, women’s rights are being challenged in states like Alabama and so many different pockets of the country — in a terrifying way. And on a social level, we still treat the subject with awkwardness, tentativeness, and even outright hostility. Women are too often made to feel guilty or uncomfortable for talking about their experience and the different ways it may have affected them.
This is especially true when it comes to sex. Something about talking about your sex life — something that is often frivolous, fun, caramel, and maybe even hedonistic — can feel jarring in the same sentence as talking about abortion — something often treated with solemnity, hushed tones, and even grief. But it’s important to understand that, because of the healing process, both physical and mental, abortions can affect your sex life — and to know that you’re not alone in that.
Many women find returning to sex awkward, emotional, or both. So if you’re struggling, that’s completely normal. Here are real women on what sex was like after an abortion, because it’s totally normal to feel a little overwhelmed.
“I didn’t have sex right after my abortion. It takes a while to heal, so they told me not to have sex for a few weeks, which was fine because I would not have wanted to anyway. The weirdest part, at least going into it, was that the I didn’t know the person I had sex with particularly well, so they don’t know that I had recently had an abortion. It was probably about six weeks after and I felt really emotional and also a little nervous. Once sex actually got going, it was totally fine and I didn’t notice anything. But having those emotions and not really being able to let them out or communicate to them what I was going through was hard and also kind of surreal in a way.” — Zoe, 31
A lot of time we imagine abortions happening in a relationship, but that’s not always the case — and it may not be that this person you end up having sex with after an abortion is the same person you were having sex with before. It’s totally in your control how much you disclose — or how much you don’t. But if you feel like having to hold your emotions inside and not being able to contextualize what’s happening, or talk it through is something you’re struggling with, then feel free to slow things down.
A fear of pregnancy
“The first time I had sex again I was incredibly anxious. I’m super anxious anyway, but I had gotten the abortion because of an autoimmune disorder which means we weren’t sure how my body would respond to pregnancy. I wouldn’t have wanted to have a child at that point anyway, but keeping it wasn’t even an option. The idea of getting pregnant again totally freaked me out. My partner was cool about it and let me take the lead but I couldn’t get out of my own head. It was honestly like six or seven months before I really felt like our sex life was back to normal.” — Ali, 33
“I had an ectopic pregnancy and if you don’t catch them in time then they can be fatal — you have to have an abortion. Right after that and, even still now, I’m totally obsessed about birth control and really scared of getting pregnant and having to go through it all again.” — Alex, 28
This is so, so normal. I spoke to a lot of friends and acquaintances who have had abortions and this was probably the most common feeling. Going through an abortion is a huge toll, both mentally and physically, and it’s completely natural that you would feel hesitant — or even jumpy — at having sex and potentially having to go through that again. Talk to your partner, take it slow, and remember that there are a lot of effective birth control options out there. If you want to be extra sure, you can always talk to your doctor.
A twinge of guilt
“I felt guilty, which sort of makes me feel like a bad feminist. I didn’t regret my abortion and I would never judge someone else for doing it, but having sex again did make me feel a little guilty even though I can’t explain it. I was really emotional about the whole process, but I didn’t expect the guilt.” — Sarah, 31
Feeling guilty does not, not make you a bad feminist. You can think every woman has a right to an abortion — you can be sure that abortion was the right choice for you — and you can still feel ambivalent and conflicted and just kind of overwhelmed by the whole process. Society sends us so many messages to try to force us to feel guilty for being sexual beings, so it makes total sense that you may have internalized some of that and feel it, especially when you’re already feeling vulnerable. Don’t feel guilty for feeling guilty — don’t layer up bad feelings that you don’t deserve. Just let yourself process the feelings coming your way, whatever those may be.
Back to normal
“It wasn’t as bad or as weird as I thought it would be. There was quite a long break between the abortion itself and having sex again and I had been a wreck around the time of the abortion itself. I didn’t have sex for a few months and while I was definitely nervous, I didn’t actually find it any different. About a year after the abortion I ended up feeling really unsteady and went to therapy, so I think that was more when the processing and the impact really hit.” — Jane, 34
Even if having an abortion is a huge decision, it’s not always an earth-shattering one that affects every corner of your life. Some people will feel more affected by it than others — some people will find that affects certain areas of their lives more than others. That’s OK. Everyone’s response is different. It may be that it takes you a little while to process things — or it may be that you find that you’re able to process it very quickly. There is no right or wrong way.
The effects of having an abortion can manifest in so many different ways — and it will look and feel different for every person. But if you feel jumpy, guilty, or just overwhelmed about returning to sex, that’s OK — know that you’re not alone. Just take your time, talk to your partner, and don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it.
Originally posted on Bellesa Collective