When it’s been a while since you last had sex, jumping back into the sack can be downright scary. And that’s a natural reaction: Having sex makes us vulnerable, is intimate, and can send our brains into protection mode, dreaming up every worst-case scenario. I'm a relationship and sex therapist, and I’ve heard the gamut of worries from clients—that a new partner will judge their body or their skills, or that the old “use it or lose it” refrain is true for their sexuality, or that it will simply be awkward.
Reentering the sexual realm, however, doesn’t have to be intimidating. Whether you and your partner have been going through a dry spell or you’re starting fresh with someone new, here are a few ways to prep for the big moment.
1. Explore your body
One of the best ways to remind yourself what it feels like to be sexual is to create opportunities for masturbation. Take some time alone in bed or in the shower or bath to explore your body, let yourself fantasise, and reconnect with your sexual self. If your body has changed since last you were here (maybe you’ve given birth or are going through perimenopause), use this opportunity to be curious about new ways you may experience pleasure. The better a sense you have of what feels best for you, the more you’ll be able to get aroused and help your partner help you.
2. Get out of your own head
Much of the work I do with clients is helping them get out of their heads and into their bodies when it comes to sex. When you’re worrying about what your partner thinks of your thighs or what you’re going to have for dinner later, it can be hard to catch pleasurable feelings when they arise.
Mindfulness meditation may help: Studies show that it can reduce anxiety during sex and increase pleasure. So download an app like Headspace or Calm and dedicate 10 minutes a day to breathing and being in your body. It may just become the most important tool in your sexual toolbox (even better than a vibrator, I swear).
3. Set the scene
Some advance thought can help you feel that much sexier in the moment, so consider what helps set the mood for you. Do you like bright or dim lighting? Background music or silence? Do you feel more confident in lacy lingerie or a T-shirt? Also, gather any props (like your favourite lubricant) so they’ll be on hand and you won’t need to scramble.
4. Focus on exploration vs performance
When you’re feeling anxious about getting the deed done, you may have the urge to rush toward the finish line. But giving yourself permission to take it slowly will help keep the pressure off (and that’s key, because pressure is a huge libido killer!).
My advice is to have a conversation with your partner in advance to set the tone and expectations. Instead of trying to go “all the way” the first time you reintroduce intimacy, start with some foreplay—like a sensual massage or some good old-fashioned making out—then allow things to build, or not. Remember, there are lots of ways to have sex. Focus more on exploration and play than performance and orgasm, and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.