How (and when) to resume having sex after an affair

I did a special SexTok podcast recently, focusing on the after effects of cheating and infidelity. You’ll find it here (Ep 24). Not surprisingly, given how common and painful cheating is, it’s proving to be one of our most popular.

This blog talks about one of the issues we address in the podcast: how resuming sex is often the hardest part of recovering from an affair.

Even if the affair wasn’t about sex, it feels like it’s about sex because sex is the thing you only did with each other. Even if it wasn’t particularly hot sex, it was yours and yours only.

Sex can be the Achilles Heel of an otherwise strong relationship. Lots of couples get the friendship bit right but sex loses out: affairs are not all about sex, but sex is often a large part of it all.

A lot of the forgiveness that happens after an affair is done on an intellectual, rational basis. Your brain comes to terms with it before your heart does. And your body follows after that.

Sex is on another level. It’s primitive. It’s up close and personal; face to face intimacy. You can’t hide during it. That’s why resuming sex is often the most difficult part of the healing process.

There are many reasons why this is the case.

How do I stop the video that’s playing in my head of the the two of them together?

I don’t honestly think there is a solution or technique that’s going to stop you thinking about your partner having sex with this person, when you start having sex again. (Whether that’s solo sex or sex together.) It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not. In a sense, you have to lean into it and live through it.  You will think of them both together – and then, over time, you will do it less and less and then it will disappear. I wish I could offer a magic solution but, sadly, acceptance of this is part of the recovery. At some point, sex has to become part of your relationship again or you will forever just be friends.

The opposite has happened to us – we’re having the best sex of our lives! Sometimes, people DO have the best sex they’ve ever had – passionate, lusty, intense sex – after an affair is discovered. One of the reasons why this happens is that you desperately want to connect because you’re terrified you’ll lose each other. Primal ‘mate guarding’ kicks in: you want to lay claim to what’s yours. Another reason is that the affair creates distance between you – and distance fuels desire. Who is this person? You thought you knew your partner, but you don’t. Finally, you see your partner through the other person’s eyes. When someone else wants what we have, things become far more attractive: you appreciate what you didn’t before. Even if you hate yourself for having wild, fantastic sex – you don’t want your partner to think you’ve forgiven them – it happens….Or it doesn’t. Both reactions are normal.

Good things to try when resuming sex after infidelity
  • Do you both need to get checked for STI’s? Yes, it’s soul-destroying to be even considering this. But it might be necessary.
  • Don’t resume sex again until you’ve done some work. Figured out why the affair happened, worked through some of the hurt, tried to understand why. It’s important the person who strayed, lets the other know just how much they regret it. You need all that in place before resuming sex. Having said that, if you’re all talked out, sometimes sex is what helps you move forward. You can show people through touch how much you still love each other, even if the words aren’t getting through.
  • Wait until you’re at the stage when it’s less ‘bad person’ and ‘good person’ and more, ‘You know what we can both learn from this’ When you’ve stopped apportioning blame and thinking as a team: this happened, how do we stop it happening again. You’re ready for sex to resume when you can look each other in the eyes again.
  • Have brutally honest conversations about what you both want sexually and don’t be scared to criticise your old selves. Your old relationship is dead – the only way to move forward is to build a new one. This is a new relationship, make new rules!
  • Take baby steps. You will feel angry when you first become intimate. Even if you went through the shagging like rabbits post-affair stage, there will come a time when sex makes you angry or cry. The ghost of the other person is there for both of you: time and patience is the only thing that works to drive them out of your bed and your head.
  • Start by simply cuddling, progress from there. Don’t give up even if lots of sessions end with you storming off or in tears.
  • Try The Sensate Focus Program – where you simply lie naked together and touch each other with no agenda. (Do a search and you’ll find lots online of how to do this.)
  • Don’t be surprised if your bodies don’t function properly. It’s normal to have difficulties getting an erection or having an orgasm. Resuming sex is stressful. You’ll both be exceedingly anxious. Your bodies will know this and vaginas and penises don’t like stress. So don’t read anything into it if these things happen. Don’t jump to conclusions, ‘See! he doesn’t fancy me anymore!’, ‘See! I don’t turn her on anymore!’.
  • Don’t use toys. Probably one of the few times you’ll hear me say this! Toys can represent a third party in the bed and that’s the last thing you need!
  • See a sex therapist if you feel you aren’t progressing at all. They can work wonders in just a few sessions.
  • Don’t forget after-play. Cuddle, chat, lie there together. It’s always important but never more so than now.