Sex makes us feel wanted and accepted. So, after the big rejection of divorce, is it any surprise that people go looking for it to feel reassured. Plus, let’s face it: sex is just plain nice.
“I meet a lot of guys who really struggled through their divorce. They’re finally free and it’s almost a return to their college years where there may be over immersion into one night stands, going to bars, and picking up women,” says sex therapist Dr. Ian Kerner, author of She Comes First: the Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman.
Although it may be a rebalancing after a lack of sex, Dr. Kerner has found that casual sex is usually more of a transitional state. “Most people come out of it on the other end and get to a more reasonable, integrated perspective,” he says.
While women may also engage in a post divorce time of free love, their biology makes it harder for them to have “just sex.” That’s because if sex leads to orgasm, the brain gets washed with oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates feelings of attachment, especially for women.
“Friends with benefits is never that clean cut. It’s easy to fall into the trap of intending something to be causal and have it turn out not to be. So, in general, it’s best not have sex with someone you’re not sure you want to be attached to,” says Dr. Laura Berman, the director of the Berman Center, a specialized health care facility in Chicago that's dedicated to helping women repair their sex lives. She’s also the co-author of three New York Times bestsellers, including For Women Only: A Revolutionary Guide to Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction and Reclaiming Your Sex Life.
When you think you’re ready to get back on that proverbial saddle, though, here are nine tips to make sure you do it right:
1. Don’t be in a rush.
While it’s tempting to numb the pain of divorce by jumping back into the dating scene, put yourself on the bench for a while and take the opportunity to lick your wounds and look at what happened in the marriage. Otherwise, says Dr. Berman, “You can get into a situation where you're still sort of an emotional mess and because you’ve had sex with someone, find yourself in a relationship that’s unsafe, unsatisfying, insulting and rubs salt into your wounds.”
2. Be aware that expectations are different.
If you’ve been married a while, you’ll probably find that sexual mores have changed a bit since the last time you were dating. Now, expectations of sex begin as early as the first date, and by the fourth date the pressure may really be mounting. But you get to decide what expectations do and do not work for you.
3. Realize the first post-divorce relationship is transitional.
“When people get back into the game, they need to be prepared that the first relationship is not going to be the keeper but more the healer relationship,” says Dr. Berman. You’ve grown and changed since you were married. Each person you date will teach you more about what you’re now looking for in a relationship and partner. This is a time of change and choices not rules. For some, it makes sense to have sex during this transition. Others may choose not to put themselves through the emotional wringer of sex with someone who’s not a keeper.
“The rule is there is no rule. Now is the time when you do what’s in your own best interest,” says Carolyn Ellis, a divorce coach and author of the bestselling Seven Pitfalls of Single Parenting. “Ask does this support me and empower me or am I going to feel lousy in the morning? It’s a great opportunity to uncover your unconscious programming about sex.”
4. Be safe.
Having sex before you really know someone could break your heart. It could also get you involved with a wack job or worse. Or you may just connect with someone who, unlike you, hasn’t actually left their marriage—no matter what their online dating profile might claim. MSNBC reported that 30 percent of online daters were married.
5. Learn to say “not yet.”
“If you’re looking for a serious relationship, having sex too soon can muddy the waters. People don’t feel special when sex happens too soon. The general rule is not to be sexual with someone until you really know them and are clear you’re not only attracted to them but like them as well,” advises Dr. Berman.
Until you’re sure this is a person and situation you want to commit to it’s okay to say “not yet.” You can do it in a way that keeps their ego intact. For example: ‘While I want to take things to the next step, I need to be honest with you. I don’t feel I’m ready for that.’
“The way they handle this conversation is another good barometer of how they would be as a partner,” says Ellis. “If they respond with something like ‘I really appreciate you telling me the truth, let’s slow things down’ as opposed to ‘hey baby, you were leading me on’ then you know they’re relationship material. We don’t need to settle for relationships with people who take things personally or turn these kinds of decisions into a power struggle.”