8 Women Share What It’s Like to Have Sex Again After an Abortion”I just wasn’t sure what it was…
Of the 39 abortion stories I’ve written during my time as an editor at SELF, 22 focused on anti-abortion advocates or abortion restrictions; four were about efforts that expanded abortion access; three addressed the 2016 election; five were explainers that contextualized the importance of reproductive health care; and five more were centered on women sharing their personal abortion experiences—why they underwent the procedure, what it was like, and why they feel the need or desire to share their story now. But I hadn’t yet talked to women about what happens next—what comes after the abortion.
The cultural conversation surrounding abortion is, of course, a complex one, and the focus on the necessity of reproductive rights as health car is paramount, but it does leave empty spaces in the narrative.
People Google the term “sex after abortion” roughly 2,000 times a month. Though some doctors make suggestions to their patients based on individual medical history (the protocol varies from state to state and clinic to clinic), many women are left with more questions than answers—at least, many of the women I’ve spoken to are. Is sex going to hurt? Feel different? Be different?
This piece is an effort to answer some of those questions, as well as to highlight the fact that there is no singular, right way to have an abortion, or to move on from one.
*Some names have been changed, and quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.
I had an abortion when I was 26, because I wanted one. I’d been casually seeing someone, and when I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wasn’t prepared to have a kid. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what you might feel after you have an abortion; I thought I might regret it, and I never did. It was an easy decision to make—and one I’m extremely proud of.
Three or four months passed between my abortion and when I had sex again. I thought the first time post-abortion would need to be special—not dissimilar from when I thought I needed to lose my virginity in a special way. Now that I knew more about the “consequences” of sex, I felt this moral imperative to make the sex more important, more correct, more right. And then it wasn’t special or important or particularly good, and that was perfectly OK. I realized I didn’t need to somehow right any wrongs of being a sexual person; I could just continue doing what I’d been doing.
It wasn’t clear to me until I experienced it—what kind of prejudices I was holding onto unknowingly. Despite all my progressive thinking, I had this lens that sex was bad and that I probably did something wrong and that I had to live with the consequences, as opposed to just treating it as part of my life, my sexuality, and my future. I realized my abortion belongs to me, and I get to create the narrative around it.
I’ve actually had three abortions. I had my first abortion when I was 17 years old. I was in high school at the time, and I felt an immense amount of pressure to have sex with my then-boyfriend even though I knew I shouldn’t. I forgot birth control one week, got pregnant, and decided to have an abortion. Afterward, I started having sex as soon as I could, because I felt like I had to if I wanted my partner to stay with me. I didn’t really think about it. I was just like, “This is what I need to do.”
The second time I got pregnant was when I was 19. I was engaged at the time (to a different partner), though looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been. After the procedure, I got on a new form of birth control that made penetration painful, but I felt a lot like I did the first time around—that it was my duty to continue having regular sex with my partner. So I think I’d just bite the bullet and do it anyway, despite my discomfort. Still, I felt a lot more nervous about getting pregnant again. I don’t know if it was because of my new birth control or because I just wasn’t as sexually interested, but my libido was really low for a long time afterward.
Then, I had my third abortion when I was 23. I was in a pretty good, healthy relationship, and my partner was really loving and supportive and attentive. I waited longer to have that abortion than I had with my first two, so it took a much greater physical toll on me. I bled for a lot longer, and I hurt for a lot longer. But I was also older and self-assured enough to set boundaries with my partner. We waited a couple months before having sex again, and I think he was more nervous than I was.
The first time I had an abortion, I was 19 and in college and nowhere near prepared to become a mother. I was kind of ashamed to have one, so I didn’t share it with anyone; I just kind of went through it by myself. The guy I was seeing at the time—he was in a relationship with his high school sweetheart, and he’d neglected to tell me that. I was devastated.
The follow-up care instructions said to wait at least four weeks before having sex again after the abortion, but I didn’t even want to have sex. I just remember being so paranoid about getting pregnant and having to go through all of that again. So I waited a while before even attempting sex again, and I focused on my education, instead.
When I was 23, I was dating a guy who was terrible, and I became pregnant through a birth control mishap. It sucked, but I always knew that I planned on having an abortion if that happened. I’m just not a person who’s ever going to have children. The guy I was seeing wasn’t supportive; he made it really awful, actually. But he’s out of the picture now, which is awesome—and that might not have been the case if I’d had the kid.
I’m definitely a very sexual person. My sexuality is a huge part of who I am, but having the abortion f*cked with that a little bit. I wasn’t feeling 100 percent like myself, and I didn’t know where exactly my sexuality fit in, because sex is ultimately what got me into that situation.
I ended up having sex about two weeks later, which was probably sooner than I should’ve. I was at a party with this friend I’ve known forever, and I was like, You know what? F*ck it. Let’s just get this out of the way. Funnily enough, we ended up breaking my bed. I was definitely a little more nervous than I would’ve been otherwise—I kept checking to make sure the condom was still there. And even though we used protection, I got the morning after pill because I was so worried. So I was hesitant, but it was really good, because it helped me reclaim part of myself and remember that being a sexual person is OK.
I’ve had two abortions, both with the same partner I’m with today. The first was when I was 25. We were long-distance at the time, and the abortion zapped most of our finances, so it was a while before we even saw each other in-person again—let alone had sex. I remember being terrified to wade back into that area; I didn’t even masturbate again until a month after the procedure. When we finally saw each again, I remember feeling scared. I told him to go slow and asked him to check in with me constantly throughout to make sure I was still doing OK. Once we started, I realized that it was fine—not that scary at all.
My second abortion happened more recently, right after my partner and I got engaged. Like the first abortion, it was a pretty easy decision. Even if we were in a position to want children, we literally just decided to get married, so it just really wasn’t the right time. The first time I got pregnant, I wasn’t on birth control. But this time around, I was, which was really surprising—and nerve-wracking and scary. We didn’t have sex again for three months following the second abortion. I think my partner had many of the same fears I did, and he felt really bad that I’d gotten pregnant again and had another abortion. It took us a while to get comfortable again, but we eventually got back to our regular routine.
I had my first abortion when I was 25. The pregnancy was unexpected, but my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I decided to keep the baby. At our 8-week ultrasound, though, something seemed to be wrong. We soon learned that our baby had a rare genetic condition that would lead to a painfully poor quality of life. We were heartbroken. Faced with a difficult choice, we decided not to go through with the pregnancy. We waited at least three or four weeks for the bleeding to slow and me to start feeling more normal physically before having sex again, and when we did, it was full of tenderness, gentleness, crying, and care.
My second abortion happened much more recently—a little more than a month ago. My husband and I have two children, we’re paying off some debt, and we feel on the “up-and-up” for the first time in a long time. Throwing a baby into the mix simply wasn’t in the cards for us. This abortion was less of an emotional journey, and more of a practical one; I feel morally, emotionally, mentally, and physically supported in my decision.
Still, I surprised myself by how quickly I wanted to have sex again. I was back in the saddle with my husband a few days after my procedure. I think most of it was wanting to be close to him and be comforted, but part of it was because my abortion procedure got me unexpectedly aroused. Shouldn’t I feel awful? How could I feel aroused after such a terrible experience? Well, I wasn’t planning on it—just like I wasn’t planning on needing an abortion. But, at this point in my life, I was comfortable enough just accepting the gift of arousal at that moment and not feeling ashamed of it.
I had an abortion when I was 19, and then another when I was 21—both with the same partner I’m with today. The first time, I remember being really nervous to have sex again. The professionals at the clinic I went to told me to wait several weeks before being intimate, and I know we didn’t wait long enough. I was scared, and I just wasn’t sure what it was going to be like. Was I gonna bleed? Was something going to go wrong? Was everything going to feel normal, or not normal? All these questions were running through my head. But everything ended up being totally fine.
I had my second abortion a couple years later. I’d just had my first child—he was four months old at the time. And my partner and I agreed that having another kid so soon wasn’t right for us. Since we’d been through it before, we didn’t get too hung up on having sex again afterward; we knew things could and would go back to normal.
I was 33 when I had an abortion. I was living in Chicago, under-employed, and doing everything I could to make ends meet. I was also in a long-distance relationship. After a week-long visit that May, I got pregnant. We spoke about getting the morning after pill, but I figured that I’d never gotten pregnant before, I was 33 and made it this far. Wouldn’t happen to me—boy, was I wrong. Because we were in two totally different places, the next time we were together was during my visit to see him—which happened to be the week right after the procedure.
We were supposed to wait at least two weeks to have sex again. But I just remember knowing that I would want to have sex when I saw him, because we hadn’t seen each other in a couple months and sex with your partner is normal. But there was also this thought in the back of my mind: Aziza, ensure that you are taking the proper precautions. We used protection, but the thought that “I don’t want to have to do this again” did go through my head.