Sex After a Serious Illness: What You Need to Know

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As the final waves of orgasmic bliss faded from my body, the grief kicked in.

Tears started streaming down my face, and suddenly I was bawling my eyes out.

My whole body shook with each new sob. I was full ugly crying, and decided to just let myself go there. Safe in the knowledge that Reece could hold me, and somehow aware that I needed to let this emotion out.

woman on phone at night
But let’s back up a little. Why was I so upset in the first place?

Less than 2 weeks earlier I’d had an epileptic seizure.

Reece heard a loud crash from the room next door and ran in to find me unconscious on the floor having a fit.

Many days, many tests, and many doctors later, we discovered I had a parasite in my brain. It had created a lesion on my temporal cortex and triggered a seizure.

Thankfully we caught it early. The treatment is pretty straight-forward as my case was without complications.

So I’m now in the process of working out my ‘new normal’. (Yes, all while in the larger context of the Covid-19 ‘new normal’. Crazy times.)

And here was one of the new normals that hit me right in the feels:

Sex suddenly felt unsafe.

couple laying on ground smooching

Returning to Sex After a Serious Illness

Opening to sex after a serious illness, traumatic incident, or while adjusting to a chronic illness is scary.

Because good sex requires you to open vulnerably:

To share yourself deeply. To trust your body and let go. To relinquish control. To trust.

And when you feel like your body has betrayed you – or that you could have another medical emergency at any moment – that can all feel a bit much.

As an intimacy and relationship coach, I already knew this intellectually. But here I was, experiencing it up close and personal.

I wanted to have sex. I wanted to feel close and intimate and connected.

But I was also scared to let go:

That if I gave in to the pleasure, relinquished control, or worked myself up into an orgasmic state, I might have another seizure. That I’d end up in hospital again.

How likely was that scenario?

According to most medical advice*, not very.

But that’s not the point.

The fear was there. And when it comes to having sex after a serious illness, that fear needs to be dealt with.

As I leaned into that fear, I discovered some steps that helped me ease back into sex.

Not all of the following 7 steps will apply to your situation. Take what fits, but most of all listen to what you need and trust your own timing.

Sex After a Serious Illness #1

Speak With Your Doctor

The most obvious step, and the most important.

In order to protect your health and safety, you need to know if sex is risky. And/or how your medical condition and medications might affect your experience.

Ask every question you have, no matter how silly or ‘oversharing’ it might seem.

And if your doctor can’t answer your questions, or you’re not satisfied with their response, don’t be afraid of getting a second (or third) opinion. And then there’s always Dr. Google too.

Sex After a Serious Illness #2

Talk With Your Partner

If your partner understands how you’re feeling, they’re better equipped to support you.

They can be sensitive to your needs, and more compassionate with your struggles. It also makes it easier to ask for what you need in the moment, because you know your partner gets it.

Talk about how you’re feeling, what you’re scared of, and what you want. It can also be helpful to create safe words or shared protocols to follow.

The more confident you feel in your communication, the more confident you’ll feel to let go into the experience.

Sex After a Serious Illness #3

Prioritise Feeling Safe

The hardest part about having sex again was how unsafe I felt in my body. And feeling safe is ESSENTIAL if you’re going to be able to let go and enjoy yourself.

For me, that started with talking to Reece about how I was feeling. But there were other things that helped me to feel safe:

Having a soft blanket around my legs and my favourite pillow under my head.

Closing the door and windows so that I felt cocooned and protected from the outside world.

Asking Reece to hold my hand and tell me that I was safe.

Music, soft lighting, scented candles – prioritise whatever gives you a feeling of safety and reassurance.

Sex After a Serious Illness #4

Go Solo

Sometimes getting sexual with your partner feels like too much of a leap. If that’s the case, start exploring and reconnecting with yourself alone.

Whether it’s touching your body in the shower, dancing for yourself, or a full self-pleasure session, going solo allows you to fully control the experience and go at your own pace.

Sex After a Serious Illness #5

Go Only as Fast as the Slowest Part

Having sex after a serious illness is not a process to rush. Pushing yourself before you’re ready will only traumatise you further, and increase the fear and anxiety you’re feeling.

Going solo can be a great place to start, as can identifying the activities that feel easy, and those that feel a bit scarier.

Maybe kissing and finger play are a great starting point for you. While full penetration or oral sex need to be worked up to.

Communicate your limits and take it slow.

Sex After a Serious Illness #6

Be Prepared for Tears

We live in a culture that sees crying as a bad thing.

One of the first things we say when someone bursts into tears is, “Don’t Cry.”

But crying is a healthy way to move and express emotion.

For me, laying on the bed post-orgasm, shaking with tears, was the best way to clear out all the emotion I felt.

I wasn’t necessarily sad. I was just feeling a lot of feels, and letting them out with tears.

Don’t be afraid to cry. Let yourself have your process. Trust that it’s an important part of the healing and recovery process.

Sex After a Serious Illness #7

Talk it Out Afterwards

If you’re with a partner, talk with them about your experience.

If you’re going solo, find someone who you trust that you can talk with: A friend. A therapist. A coach. A family member.

Journalling can also be extremely helpful – just make sure you’re not isolating yourself if you know you really need support.

Sex after a serious illness is likely to be an ongoing process, with many facets and intricate layers. It’s important that you have someone who can hold space and support you through that.

Hi, I’m Jodie - a life, love, and sexual empowerment coach. I work with women and couples to help them create the lives, love, and sex they’ve always wanted. More love, more passion, more pleasure, and more fulfilment.
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