When Can I Have Sex After Surgery?

Couple embracing in bed, looking at each other
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The question of when you can have sex after surgery is a common one, yet it's one many people are embarrassed to ask their surgeon. Unfortunately, the answer is not straightforward, as it depends on your overall health, your post-surgical healing progress, and the type of surgery you are having. 

General Guidelines for Sex After Surgery

When you are scheduling your surgery, your doctor will inform you whether your surgery can be done as an outpatient, like at a surgical center, or as an inpatient, in the operating room of a hospital.

Typically speaking, outpatient surgery tends to require less healing time, so it may be safe to have sex within a couple of days or a week. On the other hand, inpatient surgery tends to be more extensive than outpatient surgery, so resuming sexual activities may mean you need to wait for a few or multiple weeks.

In addition to the location of the surgery, the type of surgery will affect the timing of when you can engage in sexual activities again. For instance, a woman who undergoes a dilation and curettage for a miscarriage may need to wait a couple of weeks before having sex whereas a small excision of skin cancer may allow you to engage in intimate relations within a day or two. 

On that note, surgeries that affect the reproductive organs, such as inguinal hernia repairs, hysterectomies, prostate surgeries, or any surgery directly involving the penis or vagina may require additional healing time prior to engaging in sex.

Childbirth can also delay the return to sexual intercourse, with or without a cesarean section. In these cases, it is best to consult your surgeon and specifically ask about when it's safe to have sexual intercourse. Don't be embarrassed either, as it's better to ask than not know and be understandably anxious about it.

Finally, after some surgeries, such as open-heart surgery, you may feel fully recovered but are at risk when you exert yourself too much. If your doctor cautions you against strenuous activity such as running, brisk aerobic activity or shoveling snow, you should consider that a caution regarding having sex.

Pain as Your Guide for Sex After Surgery

Even if you are approved for sex, be sure to use pain as your guide. In other words, you may feel like you have recovered from surgery, but find that pain is present when you attempt to have intercourse. This is your body’s way of saying you are not ready and that you need to heal more before having sex.

However, in some cases, pain can be avoided with some minor changes. For example, a patient who has had breast surgery may be particularly sensitive to bouncing type movements. For her, being in a position on top may cause too much movement and pain, but alternative positions may be pain-free.

Type of Sex Matters

Of course, the type of sex comes into play when your doctor gives you the green light to have sexual intercourse, so try and be sensible here. With that, vigorous, athletic sex is not the ideal way to ease back into your sex life after surgery.

Here are some other options:

  • If you are a man who had an abdominal surgery, you may want to try a position that keeps pressure off of your abdomen.
  •  If you had colorectal surgery, you will want to wait before resuming anal sex until your surgeon says it is safe.
  •  If you are a woman who just had a hip replacement, the pressure of being on the bottom in missionary position could be painful. 

Generally speaking, start slowly, think ahead to attempt to minimize any pain or discomfort, and enjoy yourself. If you experience pain, stop and change positions or try something different.

Pain means you are doing too much too soon and should be considered a warning sign.

Questions Regarding Sex for Your Partner and Doctor

In addition to resuming sex, you may have other questions regarding intimacy with your partner. For example, do you even feel like having sex? Do you have enough energy? It's good to have an open, honest conversation with your partner about the importance of healing. This is best done before the surgery, so he or she is prepared.

Besides specific questions about having sex, you may have more specific questions for your doctor, so be candid and ask them. Example questions may include:

  • Do I need to avoid putting pressure on a certain area, such as an incision line?
  • Will we need to take any special measures? Some surgeries, such as vaginal surgeries, may cause dryness and make a lubricant necessary. Other surgeries, such as prostate surgery, may make an erection difficult to obtain and/or maintain and may require medication or an additional procedure
  • Is there any reason to avoid pregnancy? Does my surgery, medications I am currently taking, or my condition make contraception important?
  • Are there other sexual activities we should try such as kissing, petting, or oral sex before progressing to intercourse?

A Word From Verywell

In general, it will take longer to return to an active sex life if your surgery was a major one. If the surgery was a significant one, such as open heart surgery or a joint replacement, the longer it will be before sex is advisable. Minor procedures typically allow the patient to return to their normal activities much faster, sometimes within days or weeks. There are exceptions, so it is important to talk openly with your surgeon about returning to an active sex life.

Remain patient and allow yourself to heal, and when you are truly healthy and ready you can enjoy yourself completely.

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