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What to Expect from Sex After Divorce

Sirens Magazine Quotes Israel and Cathie Helfand

By Julie Bogart

As hard to believe as it may seem amid splitting up CD collections and hiring lawyers, there is (sex) life after divorce. And when you're ready to take your friend's, your mother's, or your therapist's advice and "get back out there," there is much to discover-about yourself, your body, and, well, the act itself.

"While it may be a sad time in a woman's life, the post-divorce period can also be a time of new sexual discoveries," says sex psychologist Dennis Lin. And these sexual experiences "can be absolutely fabulous-and very different from what you were used to, especially as your marriage deteriorated," according to Dale Koppel, author of "The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Online Dating."

Sex as you know it could be forever altered-and for the better. Like with any uncharted territory, there will, of course, be a few surprises along the way. And though these surprises are part of the fun, it can't hurt to have some idea of what you're getting yourself into once you put yourself back on the market:

You Might Feel Like a Teenager-Again

Dating again-and having sex with someone new-can be "scary and exciting all together," says Cathie Helfand, a psychotherapist and family life educator.

"Emotionally, I tell everyone to expect to feel about 15 years old," says Susan Pease Gadoua, therapist and author of "Contemplating Divorce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go." "Having sex with someone new after being married for a long time will likely feel strange and awkward and can be much more emotional than one might think."

Women shouldn't push themselves into anything they don't feel comfortable doing, she says. Even though you may feel like one, you're not a teenager, and "you need to take charge of how quickly the sex part of a relationship goes."

First-Time Jitters Come Standard

Unfortunately, those pesky "first-time" nerves are part of the return-to-adolescence package. However, as an adult, you can find more effective ways to overcome them than you did when you were a kid. "It's virtually impossible to get over that 'first-time' nervousness, so don't even try," says Koppel. "Instead, tell the man how nervous you are. He'll most likely admit to being nervous, too."

Whatever you do, don't feel guilty about having sex with a new partner, says Lin. "You're divorced; it's not cheating." Also, "remember that different people have sex differently. Be observant of your new partner's likes and dislikes, and communicate your likes and dislikes to him. Enjoy the new experience and have fun."

It Pays to Be Prepared

Yet another way to get over the proverbial first-time hump is to simply be prepared. "Start buying sexy lingerie-and condoms," advises Koppel. Gadoua recommends visiting a local sex/lingerie shop or checking out Good Vibrations to learn more about the hows and whys of safe sex.

"Women who married their high school honey or college lover are used to a safer, more protected, environment. This is not Kansas anymore," says Helfand. "There are real dangers out there. So safety is important."

"There's nothing wrong with reading up on the subject or talking to others to get tips on what to do," Gadoua adds.

Your Body Might Surprise You

Sure, your body may not be what it once was when you last dated. But insecurities shouldn't limit your experiences as a newly single woman. "One of the benefits of getting older is caring less about what others think," says Gadoua. "But dating can kick you back into some old insecurities and can highlight where you still have some inner work to do. Pace yourself, love yourself, and get some good support."

Says Helfand, "You may actually feel more confident, assertive, and sexually aware than you did before getting married. Hopefully you were able to experiment in your marriage and learn more about yourself, your body reactions, your fantasies, etc." But if not, now's your chance to explore. "Begin to understand what sensations are exciting, what images or thoughts are stimulating, or what words are a turn-on," says Helfand.

While you may not look as "young and tight as you did 10 years ago," says marriage, family, and sex therapist Israel Helfand, you can "make up for it in confidence, wisdom and technique." And this confidence, as well as a new partner, could make your sexual experiences more enjoyable than you ever thought possible.

What to Expect from Him

If you're dating a divorced man, keep in mind that he's most likely going through a similar, ahem, re-entry process. "Women need to realize that a divorced man may be shy to initiate sex," Cathie Helfand says. "He may have some performance anxiety after years of little to no physical and sexual intimacy."

Additionally, if a man has only slept with one woman for a number of years, he's probably not used to condoms, which could cause a few, er, technical difficulties. Patience and understanding is key.

Stay Positive

Whether you're looking for a new relationship or are simply looking to get laid, the best thing you can do for yourself post-divorce is to move at your own pace. Don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself or your partner. "Go slowly," says Gadoua, "and honor yourself. This means stopping if you start to feel uncomfortable."

Lin stresses that it's also important "not to isolate yourself from new sexual opportunities. Go out, socialize and meet new partners," he says. "View the post-divorce period as a time of liberation and opportunities. An optimistic and open attitude will get you far." Especially, of course, in the bedroom.

Have you had experiences withpost-divorce sex, or dated someone fresh out of a marriage? Share your experiences with us at mail@sirensmag.com or below on our message boards.

Julie Bogart is a freelance writer living in Brighton, Mass

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