Welcome to Bustle's Abortion AMA column, where reproductive rights advocate and Romper editor Danielle Campoamor will speak to experts and medical professionals to answer people's questions about abortion in a way that is educational, unvarnished, and judgement free. Ask us anything.
To be perfectly honest, sex was the absolute last thing on my mind after I had my abortion. There's of course no right or wrong way to feel on this front, but in my case, I was wonderfully content to focus on the complimentary juice box and Saltines I was handed in the recovery room at my local Planned Parenthood. The question, "Can I have sex after I've had an abortion?" was way the hell behind, "Can I thank my doctor just one more time?" and, "What can I binge-watch while I recover?" Still, I paid attention when my physician carefully went over the post-op instructions, which included information on when it would be physically safe for me to resume sexual activity.
Dr. Colleen Denny, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health, tells Bustle that patients should wait about two weeks before inserting anything into the vagina post-abortion. "That means not having vaginal sex but also not using tampons or douching or cleaning inside the vagina," she says. "That doesn’t rule out things like oral sex or other forms of non-vaginal sex in any way."
After any procedure that opens your cervix, including giving birth, a patient is more vulnerable to infection, and the two-week waiting period helps minimize the chances of a foreign body causing a post-abortion complication. "When we do a surgical abortion, we use instruments that are small and sort of thin to empty out the uterus and empty out the pregnancy, and we can only put those instruments in if we do a little bit of dilation of the cervix, to open it up just a little bit," Denny explains. Normally, the cervix is closed, which keeps anything in the vagina from making its way to the uterus, fallopian tubes, or higher into the body. "The cervix naturally closes by itself in the week or two after the abortion is done, so there’s nothing the patients have to do, except wait."
After waiting two weeks, you should be totally medically fine to go back to your everyday life, including your sex life, assuming you don't have any complications. A 2014 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that only two percent of abortions resulted in major complications six weeks after the procedure. But any woman is advised to hold off on intercourse when a pregnancy ends, whether it ends with birth or an abortion. "We tell people who’ve had a full-term delivery do the same thing," Denny says. (Interesting fact: According to Denny, abortion involves many fewer risks than giving birth. "An abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures you can possibly undergo, and it’s certainly safer than having a full-term pregnancy by orders of magnitude," she says.) Denny notes that postpartum women are encouraged to wait six weeks before putting something into their vagina, since the cervix opens a full 10 centimeters (far more than in a surgical abortion) during childbirth. Whether you have an abortion or give birth, you should give your body time to recuperate. "That is not different, no matter how the pregnancy ends," Denny says.
For women who are receiving a medical abortion, you may not have to wait as long before resuming intercourse — your doctor will be able to advise you on the exact amount of time.
However, even if you are physically ready to have sex, your emotions might not be there quite yet. While I was waiting for my abortion procedure, I told myself I might never have sex again. I was convinced my birth control would fail, a condom would break, or some other situation would occur the next time I had sex and I would be right back in my bathroom, holding an unwanted positive pregnancy test in my hand. Sex? In that moment, I was perfectly fine going the rest of my life without it. Thankfully, Denny has some advice for that, too.
READ MORE: How Do I Tell My Partner I Want An Abortion?
"We try to counsel all of our patients who've had an unwanted pregnancy about how they can prevent this going forward," she says. "There are a lot of good studies out there that show — whether or not you just had an abortion, or whether or not you’re just trying to avoid pregnancy — having a good form of birth control decreases your anxiety about sex, because you realize you’re not as worried about getting pregnant unintentionally." That's why Denny counsels her patients — ideally directly after their abortion procedures but if not, soon after — on how to choose the right birth control for them.
Dr. Wing Kay Fok, an OB-GYN at Sanford University and a fellow with Physicians of Reproductive Health, a group of doctors who advocate for reproductive rights, says that it can be reassuring for many women to know that their long-term fertility isn't impacted as a result of having an abortion. "Women start ovulating as early as 10 days after having an abortion, so if you don't want to be pregnant, it's very important to plan on using reliable contraception soon after," she says.
When and/or if you do have sex post-abortion, Denny says you shouldn't notice or feel a change. "We don’t expect any sort of complication or difference in the sensation or enjoyment of sex after those two weeks," she tells Bustle. "People should not have pain and should not have really any experiences that are very different. If they do have pain, they should see a doctor to make sure they’re OK."
I can't recall how much time passed between my abortion and the next time I had sex, but I can tell you this: I had an IUD in place, inserted right after I had my abortion, and I was no longer afraid of experiencing another unplanned pregnancy. And to be perfectly honest (again), that carefree sex was mind-blowing.
Have questions about abortion? You can email them safely and anonymously to Abortion AMA at email@example.com, and we'll answer them. Together.