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Healing after an abortion

This article was first published on tressugar.com.

“Last year, I accidentally got pregnant and had an abortion. I broke up with that boyfriend a few months later and now I’m dating someone new. When we first started having sex, everything was fine, but I keep having fears that I’m going to get pregnant again. I don’t regret the abortion- it was definitely the right choice for me at the time. But what can I do to put it behind me?”

Many (but not all) women who have had abortions find that they have concerns, worries or fear afterwards. For that matter, some women experience relief, grief, sorrow, shame, or anger. Many significant others (boyfriends, husbands, family members, friends) have their own emotional responses, too.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the groups that offer “support for women who are considering or have had abortions use guilt, shame, and fear to convince women to not have one. Many of them also use lies to make women think that abortions are much riskier or dangerous than they actually are. On the other hand, the pro-choice movement has mostly (but not totally) been rather silent when it comes to talking about the fact that many different, and often challenging, emotions sometimes arise. My impression is that this happens out of a fear that acknowledging these experiences would give the anti-choice folks ammunition in the political struggles around abortion. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of women and their partners without genuine support.

Even though you firmly believe that your decision was the right one for you at the time, you can still have difficult emotions come up. That’s hardly restricted to the experience of abortion- it can happen around any difficult choice we might make in any part of our lives. But it’s not hard to understand how it could affect your sex life.

In my experience, the only effective way to deal with these feelings is to move through them. Shoving them aside and ignoring them can work for a while, but they almost always come back out later. Working through how you feel can be hard, but it’s a much more useful strategy. Rather than “putting it behind you, you might find it more useful to think of it as “working through your feelings.

There’s an amazing organization called Exhale that I highly recommend. Exhale offers free, anonymous phone counseling around abortion. Their services are available to women who have had abortions or are thinking about it, as well as significant others of any gender (about 6% of their callers are men). Their goal is to give people a “pro-voice space, without judging them for their feelings or decisions, and their services are available in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Tagalog upon request. Plus, their web zine, Our Truths, is full of amazing stories and they have plenty of resources to offer, including websites and suggestions for helpful books. I can’t say enough good things about these folks. [Full disclosure- I offer the training for the hotline counselors on working with male callers.]

You might also consider working with a therapist. I consider therapy to be one of the more useful tools we have for emotional growth, as long as you feel safe and the therapist is genuinely focused on your needs, rather than their own beliefs or ideas. You can call Exhale for a recommendation, if you would find that helpful.

It’s also probably a good idea to talk about it with your current boyfriend, if you haven’t yet. Not only would that give him the opportunity to support you, but the two of you could also come up with ways to feel intimate or have sex that feel safe to you. For example, the two of you could decide to have sex in ways that can’t result in pregnancy, like sexual massage or oral sex. Plus, if he’s worrying that he’s doing something wrong or that you’re not attracted to him, telling him about your concerns could reassure him and help the two of you stay connected.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you find the support you seek and I wish you all the best.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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