You can find yourself single after separation, divorce or death of a partner. After a relationship ends, for whatever reason, one of the most difficult things to cope with is loneliness and sexual fulfillment. Different people have different ways of coping with their new status, but it requires wisdom and good judgment to avoid a situation that may hurt more than where you have come from.

When forced into singlehood by circumstances, so me people rush into a new relationship or have a series of brief sexual affairs with the hope that this will help them ease the pain they may be going through. Others go through a period of emotional detachment, maintaining distance even after they begin seeing someone else. Whether seeking emotional intimacy or avoiding it, newly single men and women – including those who embrace their new freedom as well as those who have been forced into it – may suffer sexual difficulties with a new partner.

When one is used to one sexual partner, it is not easy starting all over again with a new one. There may be awkward moments when you don’t know what to do or how to behave, just like it is in every new relationship, but in this case more so because you are already set in your ways. There may also be performance problems arising from anxiety and fear, or the fact that you have not fully healed from your other relationship.

For men, those problems may include premature ejaculation or difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection. Women may suffer from insufficient lubrication or inability to reach orgasm. Both men and women may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about aspects of the lovemaking they once regarded as natural, like undressing in front of a partner, initiating sex, performing or receiving oral sex, suggesting what they want done to them, or assuming certain intercourse positions. This state of reserve may arise if couples rush into sex before fully knowing, understanding and getting used to each other.  However, this status is typically short-lived if the couple genuinely cultivates the relationship.

Sometimes fear is the main cause of sexual problems in a new relationship. A man or woman may be afraid of another involvement particularly if the situation that made them single was a nasty divorce or separation. In the case of the death of a partner, some people find it almost impossible to take on another partner, seeing it as a betrayal of their departed beloved.

Fears of whatever nature in a new relationship are reasonable in some cases, particularly if the partner has been hastily or unwisely chosen. Top on your mind may be fear of sexual rejection or performance, sexual failure, or another failed relationship, and fear of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, such as HIV. Most of these fears subside as you get to know your new partner better; and the sexual difficulties work themselves out, too, in time.

Occasionally a sexual problem such as premature ejaculation may take on a life of its own and become self-perpetuating. If the sufferer worries so much about the problem he may cause it to happen each time he attempts to have sex, for fear of failure. And the more it happens, the more likely it will continue happening. There could also be a deeper problem relating to the timing of the new relationship or the choice of partner.

If, for example, you were happily married for a number of years, then something happened and broke the relationship the healing process may take a long time, especially if you loved your spouse dearly. It is the same case when the love of your life dies and leaves you behind. You may be so bitter about the divorce or the death that all you want is to get on with life and you figure out a new partner may be the best way forward.  You may be in a great hurry to move on that in your quest to get a replacement, you forget the one you left or who died is irreplaceable. You may go ahead to look for a partner with similar looks or attributes but the problem comes when your sexual expectations are not met. If you are expecting sex to be the same way it was in your previous relationship, then you may be in for great disappointment.

A man may have trouble keeping an erection, sometimes even losing interest in the middle of sex, something that perhaps had never happened with their wife. When these performance problems increase, the man may start romanticizing his marriage and wishing he could have it back. The woman may also face similar problems, such as lack of desire and failure to achieve orgasm, and start wishing they could have their old partner back.  

It is not unusual for a divorced or separated couple to have a brief sexual reunion, when they fail to get fulfillment with new partners. Relationships, especially where there was once great shared love, do not abruptly collapse. The feelings for each other continue beyond the grave or the divorce. Sometimes divorced partners do turn to each other for solace, sexual and otherwise, after they have been disappointed, scared, or hurt by experiences with new people. The first year – and sometimes longer- after divorce or death is a period of adjustment that may include sexual difficulties. Reminding yourself that this is generally true for most people should help you cope and adjust to your new life.

Ten steps to becoming sexually active again… 

1.     Avoid emotional intimacy for a time. Avoidance is not necessarily an unhealthy response. For most people, time is an integral part of the healing process. For some, it is essential. It is important to give yourself enough time to get used to, as well as adjust to your new status, find your bearing and be able to stand on your own. You need time alone to deal with your emotions – remember there has to be pain before the healing can start – as only then can you be able to deal with relationship emotions

2.     Seek emotional and sexual intimacy in limited doses. Limiting the amount of time you spend with a new person can help you move the relationship along at a comfortable pace. Do not expect the new person in your life to be the ‘cure for all’ your emotional issues. If you are operating on different wavelengths in terms of expectations, you will be disappointed. Take things slowly, let the new relationship takes its course, and most importantly be the driver not the other person. Also, beware of the motives of the new person in your life – could they be after your money, or just sex?

3.     Make careful partner choices. Some people choose an affair with a married person as a means of limiting involvement, but that complicates the healing process. Others choose someone they have known before, or a close friend of the partner who has left the scene, or a work colleague, arguing its better the devil you know than one you don’t. This can be a dangerous way to go and if things don’t work out, the pain and hurt will be unbearable. It is best that before you plunge into a relationship you think carefully of what you want from it and the kind of person you want. Are you looking for sexual fulfillment, companionship, possible marriage, financial support or what? Unless you know what you want, you could end up making terrible mistakes.

4.     Be honest with a new partner. If what you want is companionship and are not yet ready for commitment or sexual involvement, spell it out clearly to your new partner. If his or her agenda is different, be prepared for them to walk out on you. If you are having problems with intimate disclosures, for example, your inability to sexually perform because your ex partner hasn’t left your heart and soul, acknowledge that and let your new partner know you are dealing with it. And be your authentic self. Don’t try to be anything you are not. Some people wear ‘disguises’ in an effort to protect themselves from intimacy and potential hurt. It doesn’t work and only ends up hurting you more.

5.     Accept some sexual awkwardness or difficulty as inevitable. When you are ready for sex, know that there will be some ‘getting used’ to be done. After you have been with the same person for years, taking your clothes off in front of a stranger can seem daunting. Allowing a ‘stranger’ to touch your body will not come so easy. It will take time. Don’t be hard on yourself if you aren’t the lover you know you can be. It is normal. If you lose your erection, wait for the next time. If you can’t lubricate naturally as you used to with your ex, get some KY jelly. But just remember that in time, things will be just fine.

6.     Pay attention to your new partner’s sexual needs. For example, a woman may hardly notice your erection difficulties if you please her orally or manually through masturbation. If a man can’t keep an erection, continue loving and reassuring them. Work on it together lovingly to help him get back to the normal. Pleasing and helping someone we care for makes us feel good about ourselves.

7.     Don’t have unrealistic expectations of a new partner. It is not your new lover’s responsibility to heal your past wounds, so don’t go expecting him or her to lift your pain. Also, don’t expect him or her to act and behave sexually like your previous partner. It is for both of you to cultivate your new relationship, bring your good experiences to it, find what each likes and start a new relationship while discovering things along the way, not a continuation of the old.

8.     Avoid the tendency to idealize a new partner. Women may be more prone to this myopia than men, but both sexes tend to be vulnerable in the so-called ‘honeymoon phase’ of a relationship. Be realistic about the relationship, first building friendship before the love affair, as when the honeymoon is over, and it will be soon, it is the foundation in the friendship that will keep it alive. Also, don’t build your relationship on sexual emotions alone. When you tire of each other, there will be nothing left to hold on to.

9.     Seek help to deal with sexual difficulties. Most sexual problems can be resolved and if you are open about it, give each other time, and seek help if necessary, you will be okay. The worst is to bottle up your sexual frustrations and move on believing sex is over for you, without giving yourself a chance. We all need sex, at some point.

10.  If sexual difficulties persist after you feel comfortable with the new person, examine the relationship. If you have settled comfortably in the new relationship, you think are in love and yet you are not finding sexual fulfillment, then maybe this isn’t the right person for you or the right time for a serious involvement.

Published in August 2012