Having grown up Christian, I saw sex as a forbidden fruit. So when I found out I was pregnant years ago, it set off a shockwave of shame through my body. While abortion was the only option for me, when I got up from the procedure table, I felt marked with a scarlet letter. Ruined. And definitely not deserving of any of life’s pleasures—least of all, sex.
There is a lot to be said about the myriad emotions that can follow the choice to terminate a pregnancy. Feelings ranging from relief to anger can become a home for people able to conceive but not ready to change their lives. In fact, studies have explored the variety of emotional responses that can be present in the wake of an abortion. However, little time is spent discussing the impacts on sexual pleasure, which can become an unexpected casualty to the procedure.
At least it was for me.
Sex became a gateway to feeling even worse than I already did. My libido was nonexistent. My partner’s touch felt like little reminders of my shame, and when we tried to be intimate, my mind would race with constant attacks on my body, my heart, and my soul. With the newfound mental barrier piled on top of the literal reminders of my decision—the bleeding, the pain, the weight gain, the emotional imbalance—the damage, at the time, felt irreparable. I thought I was broken.
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Worse, I wasn’t able to explain what was happening to my otherwise supportive partner. No one seemed to be comfortable enough to talk about how, even if you are pro-choice, your healing journey can include moments that feel less than empowering.
I sought out help in the form of a holistic health practitioner who not only listened to me but assured me that what I was experiencing was absolutely normal. Psychological distress after an abortion can take on many forms and can be similar to any other grief reactions.
For some of us, loss strengthens our desire to connect with others in any and all ways. However, loss also provokes many of us to close off. And, no matter, where you stand on abortion rights, there will still be a mental and physical reaction. With my mind in overdrive and my body in shutdown, I needed a solid plan to undo the combination of my religious conditioning and the effect of my natural grief responses.
Though I had help, the journey to rediscovering sex as shameless, pleasurable, and my God-given right was solely my own. The first step was to reframe sex as something I deserved to enjoy. Because of my conflicting feelings about sex before I became pregnant, I was unable to hold healthy views about it—both before and after my abortion. I needed to finally define and own my sexual experiences for myself. This required detailed conversations with my partner and a change to not only how we engaged in sexual intimacy but also when.
Then came the hardest part: having to admit that I was self-shaming. At the time, no one other than my partner knew about my abortion, so I was the only one judging myself for my decision. Even though I knew I’d made the right choice, I still felt a nagging guilt for putting myself in the position to begin with.
Isn’t that the anti-abortion rhetoric we always hear? That abortions are the easy way out for irresponsible women?
I thought I’d completely ignored all of that messaging until I was in bed repeating it to myself in my head: that I knew better; that if one day I wanted to be a mother, I’d be reminded that I’d once had a chance and forfeited it. These negative thoughts were amplified during sex.
And so my holistic practitioner and I enlisted the power of positive affirmations to get rid of my mental blocks. These little truths were things I could repeat throughout the day to remind myself of what was real—that I was good, and worthy, and deserved to feel good. That I deserved to experience sexual pleasure. That I was so incredibly lucky to have had the right to choose what I wanted to do with my body. The affirmations felt small and silly at first, but with time they evolved into the foundation allowing me to reestablish a regular sex life.
Once having sex became easier, I focused on staying present and giving myself permission to fully surrender. I’d gone over six months without an orgasm from sex or masturbation, and it was beyond time to change that. (There is a term for this, anorgasmia, but abortion isn’t listed among the causes.) Accessing my climax meant assessing what felt right in my body now and being brave enough to make my desires known. It also required a new type of tenderness and patience from both me and my partner. To be transparent, there were frustrations, insecurities, and several tear-filled outbursts before a breakthrough happened.
The entire process was a sort of meditation. Learning that I didn’t have to hold on to any of the conflicting noise that arose during sex, and that I could simply let the thoughts come and go without internalizing them, is what brought me back to life. My mind was no longer blocked with guilt, and my body was free to reap all of the benefits.
Today, the only thing I regret is that I spent so much time suffering in silence before reaching out to someone.