Whether you’re single and dating or in a long-term committed relationship, there can be perceived expectations about how much sex you’re “supposed” to be having. After all, if you’re single, you should be hooking up with whoever you want, whenever you feel like it, right? And if you’re in a couple, you have a partner right by your side to have sex with, day and night.
Why Sex “Slumps” Are Perfectly Normal
Of course, that’s not how things work for most individuals or most couples, because what floats your boat, and when, can always be shifting. “What your roommate or best friend or sister might consider to be a ‘normal’ sex life is not gonna be what your sex life looks like,” explains sex therapist Dr. Rose Hartzell of San Diego.
Honolulu-based sex therapist Dr. Janet Brito agrees with this sentiment, noting, “The biggest mistake is believing that you should be having [sex] frequently.”
In fact, you and your partner(s) may go weeks, months, or even years without engaging in intercourse, which the experts agree, is completely common and totally normal. “The ‘normal’ amount of sex a person should be having or whether this is a sign of concern depends entirely on the person and the individuals in the partnership,” Brito assures.
There may be a variety of reasons a person may withdraw from having sex, whether it’s personal/emotional (trauma, relationship problems, religious beliefs) or physical/health-related (pregnancy, menopause, pelvic pain, cancer, medications, etc.).
The “Pressures” of Not Having Sex
Whatever your reason(s) for taking an intercourse intermission, it can seem a little nerve-wracking to get back into the swing of things. You may wonder if you’re “rusty,” that your partner will be judging you, or that you won’t be able to enjoy it.
First things first, take a deep breath and remember why you want to have sex again, including the physical and emotional factors, but don’t bombard yourself with thoughts and worries about it either.
“As we avoid sex, the pressure around it builds,” explains Seattle sex therapist Jessa Zimmerman. “You feel pressure from not having sex, but you also feel pressure in the sexual encounters you do have, making it more difficult to have good experiences. Often, sex doesn’t seem to go well under all that pressure, and that then leads to more avoidance.”
When You’re Ready to Have Sex Again
In order to take the pressure off, Zimmerman says to “let go of any expectations or goals, and just start being physically intimate again.” Hartzell says you can do this in “smaller” ways such as cuddling together, lying naked together, or making out.
Of course, this requires having an open dialogue with your partner about managing expectations, as well as how quickly or slowly you want to take things. (Whether you are single or in a relationship, a sex therapist may be able to help you navigate these oft-murky waters a little bit more clearly.)
“Getting past sexual avoidance starts with talking about it,” says Zimmerman. “Both people are aware of the problem, but neither of them has really addressed it. By talking about your fears and concerns, they lose their power. You can start to work together in changing the dynamics and reinvigorating your sex life.”
Communicate Your Desires and Concerns
Communication is also key for couples as Brito adds, it is possible that since the last time they had sex, they now have different interests, and it is best to let each other know. It is also important to communicate expectations instead of assuming things will go back to how they used to be.”
If you’re single and you’re ready to hook up with a new partner after a long hiatus, it’s up to you whether you want to disclose how long it’s been since your last time. However, the openness and honesty could lead to better intimacy, and possibly better sex, too.
“I always think it’s best to be upfront about your sexual desires and concerns,” says Zimmerman. “Letting them know about your fears means you can let them go. If you don’t, you’re more likely to worry during sex, making it much more difficult to relax and have a good time.”
Brito suggests that singletons and couples alike “engage in self-pleasure in order to familiarize themselves with their bodies and genitals. By exploring alone, and on their time, they are less likely to feel pressured to have an orgasm.”
Masturbation can also allow you to gain personal knowledge of what feels good to you, Brito says, “And then when they are ready to engage in partnered sexual activity, then you will be more confident to teach your partner on how you like to be touched.”
What Will Sex Be Like After Your Dry Spell?
Let’s be honest, it might be a little awkward, and you know what, that’s totally fine. What matters is that you’re in the moment and enjoying yourself and your partner.
One of the ways you can get out of your head in order to really experience the sex you’re having is to practice mindfulness during the act. This can be helpful, Brito explains, as it “adopts the following principles: stay curious; be open; take a non-judgmental stance; and focus on body awareness.”
You can start practicing the art of mindfulness (being aware of sounds, smells, textures, etc.) in your daily life before having sex again. You can do this when you’re taking a shower, putting on your favorite lotion before bed, making breakfast. “By doing so,” Brito says, “When you are ready to engage in sexual activity, you will be more cognizant of your sexual arousal.”
In addition to mindful sex, you can also simply keep in mind that you are there for connection with another person, not necessarily the need to reach orgasm or have it all look and feel a certain way, Zimmerman says. “As you relax and enjoy each other, it will be easier to start having sex again.”
Of course, your first time back at it could be totally mind-blowing, too. All that matters, however, is that you be in the moment and remain true to the needs and wants of you and your partner.
“The experience of having sex again could be compared to riding a bike,” Brito says, and that it can all come back to you pretty naturally, “especially if you give yourself permission to be in your body, and less in your mind, ruminating about whether you are doing it right or wrong.”