Warning: some adult language.
It’s five weeks after my hip replacement surgery and I’m terrified to start having sex again.
This is my second hip replacement and we went into this surgery with the intention to keep the sexual energy going between us more than we did the first time. And, to some extent, we have.
But intercourse looms like a hurdle that holds everything holy, healthy, and whole, and I’m running the other way. I’m scared to go there and scared of what we’ll find when we do. Pre-surgery, when I was in agonizing pain, we had sex a lot. We found ways around my limitations. So why is it so hard now?
During surgical recuperation, we shift into roles of patient and caregiver, a specific and beautiful flavor of partnership. When I’m popping pain pills, wearing the same clothes day after day because I can’t be bothered to change, he’s helping me get my feet into my pant legs because I can barely lift my foot off the floor, and my sleep is interrupted 2,863 times a night due to pain, the sexier flavors of partnership take a back seat.
When a sailboat heads into the wind, it tacks from side to side in order to make forward progress. When I think about having sex again, I think about sailboats and remember there are small things we could do to tack in the direction of intercourse until we land at that distant shore. Opening up our sex again requires tacking from patient and caregiver toward lovers again.
What are my fears?
That I won’t be able to open my hips. That we’ll be relegated to the same three positions that I could handle before surgery. That my pussy won’t remember how to want, how to welcome, how to yield. That my pussy won’t get wet enough. That the numb and achy areas near my new incision will be a distraction and a mood-killer. That I will set back my recovery by moving in a way that my body isn’t ready for yet.
It feels easier to wait, not confront my fears, and keep resting and doing mobility exercises. But, as a woman who lives for being awake and on the edge of my growth—and facilitating that raw, exhilarating space of freedom for others—that’s not how I roll.
So I decided to sit with my body, feeling for the emotions lodged in it. I became aware of grief sitting close to fear, like siblings sitting on a stoop, crying and whacked out on sugar, waiting for mom to pick them up.
I realized I hadn’t fully grieved the changes my body has gone through. As I held my awareness there like a mother’s embrace, grief and fear softened and shifted. A door opened, my body felt less frozen, and I started to open up to my partner about what’s going on.
This led to practicing these five steps any couple can use to reopen the door to sex.
1. Start small.
We hold each other while feeling the sensation in our own bodies. Instead of trying to make something happen, we feel what’s here in the moment. Sometimes our genitals light up as we hug and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we feel moved to kiss as we hold each other, sometimes we don’t. There’s no pressure either way. Instead, we respond as the sensation moves us.
2. Ask for small things that feel resonant.
Yesterday, I wanted a foot massage. Today, I want him to lightly stroke my back. I’m practicing feeling into and asking for what feels good without putting pressure on myself to want more than that.
3. Notice places where we pressure ourselves to want more than we do.
I was pressuring myself to want intercourse because of residue from my previous marriage in which my husband would complain if we went too long without sex. I didn’t trust my current partner to be truthful about his needs and assumed he’s hiding them because he isn’t complaining. When I asked him, it turned out that he’s happy to move at a pace that feels good to me.
4. Set a timer.
Setting a timer also relieves pressure. If we know that we’re going to kiss, make out, or lie in each other’s arms for 10, 20, 30, 60 minutes, it takes the pressure off getting to the goal of intercourse and puts our attention back on what feels right in the moment. Maybe we get naked and have intercourse and maybe we don’t, but the vigilant part of our brains that’s watchful and worried takes a backseat because we’ve only committed to exploring for a set amount of time.
5. Open the lines of honest communication.
Until I let my partner feel my fear and grief, I felt frozen and stiff and we skated on the surface of our connection. Once I let him feel what I had bottled up inside, our connection thawed and felt juicy again. Instead of feeling like I had to manage this huge transition back to sensuality on my own on top of my recovery, we once again felt like a team.
These five steps allow us to be explorers in this new land of sensual reopening. Instead of trying to recreate the sex we had before the disruption, we get to discover what’s true now and what new ways of connecting are available here. There is great potential for discovery and deeper opening if we let ourselves explore without pressure, together, this new terrain.