How to have sex after surgery
Recovery from any type of surgery is a personal process, and it takes time to feel like everything's 'back to normal'. Whatever kind of surgery you've had, rest and recuperation are essential to getting yourself back on form. But what about sex? If, when, and how you can start getting physical again after surgery is often a serious concern, but one that you may feel too embarrassed to ask your doctor about. Unfortunately, there's no straightforward answer, but there are a few pointers to guide you.
How long should you wait before having sex after surgery?
As a general rule, simple operations require a week or so to recover, while more major operations can take several months. Your doctor will be able to advise about the usual recovery time for your specific operation, but in most cases you can expect to feel ready for sex again within about 2-4 weeks. Healthcare professionals won't necessarily mention sex when they're advising about your recovery, but the timescale will probably be very similar to when you're able to return to your other normal physical activities.
The key to knowing when the time is right is to listen to your body and wait until you feel comfortable. It's normal to feel tired, tender and weak after an operation, and that will understandably affect both your sex drive and the way your body feels physically. Once you start to heal and feel more energetic again, your sex drive should make a reappearance as well.
Of course, if your operation was on an intimate area then you'll probably want to wait a bit longer. With gynaecological surgery, doctors will usually advise you not to put anything in your vagina – including tampons and other people! – until the area is completely healed. This may take up to six weeks, and giving your body plenty of time to recover will help prevent any nasty bleeding or infections from killing the mood down there. If you still don't feel ready after six weeks, that's fine too – take as long as you need.
It's also worth remembering that recovery from surgery is not always purely physical. Certain operations, like hysterectomies, mastectomies, or stoma surgery, can impact on your self-confidence and body image, as well as causing physical difficulties with sex. If you're feeling uncomfortable or anxious about the changes to your body, it’s important to allow yourself time to work through your emotional response, ideally with a healthcare professional and your partner.
If you do experience pain or discomfort the first time you try to have sex again, don't panic – it's probably just a sign that your body isn't quite as recovered as you thought, so give yourself a bit more time before trying again.
How do you have sex after surgery?
A lot of this depends on the specific type of surgery you've had, and which parts of your body were operated on. The best general advice though is to take it slowly and gently to begin with – don't dive straight back into hard and fast sexual gymnastics – and communicate with your partner about how you're feeling, and about any anxieties they may have too.
Make sure you're as comfortable as possible, using extra pillows for support if necessary. It's a good idea to have your favourite lubricant on hand, to help you get back into the swing of things, and ease everything in as smoothly as possible. Plus, if you're on any post-op medication that may interact with hormonal contraceptives, remember to think about alternative protection before you get going. Once you're prepped, start slowly, and remember to keep talking to your partner throughout so they know if anything's causing you pain or discomfort.
On that note, you'll also want to think about which positions are going to be most and least comfortable for you, avoiding putting pressure on any tender parts. For example, if you've had abdominal surgery, you'll want to find a position where your partner isn't squashing your abdomen, or if your breast area is sensitive from breast surgery then avoid anything too jiggly. Likewise, if you've had leg or hip surgery, think about which positions will put least pressure on your lower body. It's common sense stuff – but easy to forget about in the heat of the moment!
What if post-surgery sex goes wrong?
Again, don't panic. Vaginal dryness can be a side effect of certain types of surgery so, if you didn't use any the first time, try a bit of lubricant and see if that helps. It may also be linked to your psychological reaction to surgery, so do discuss any unresolved sexual anxieties or body image concerns with a counsellor, your partner, or your GP. If you experience bleeding or anything unusual, speak to your doctor so they can check it out as soon as possible.
Author: Sarah Graham