I think most people would agree that sex appears to be everywhere these days. It’s on book shelves in newsagents, on television, in popular books (think 50 Shades of Grey), at the movies, in magazines and all over the internet at the touch of a button. On the other hand, grief, death and dying remain taboo subjects for the vast majority of people, though I think the tide is turning slowly.
So why don’t more people talk about sex and grief? Lucie Brownlee braved the subject in her book Me After You
with honesty, humour and insight and Amy Malloy wrote about her experiences as a very young widow in
but in general, there seems to be a wall of silence around it.
If a couple have had a close, loving and happy sexual relationship, they will inevitably miss sex (not that many, if any, friends will ask them about that, which makes that admission that it is on their mind rather tricky). This poses lots of problems because their body may tell them one thing, but their head another. They might start having lots of sexual fantasies and longings but what are they to do? They may feel very married still and not see themselves as free to date, or engage in sexual activity with another person. On the other hand they can consciously try to repress those feelings or engage in masturbation if they want to but for some, that misses the very thing they are yearning for, the intimacy and the closeness that they had before.
This brings to mind a moving scene in the movie The Things We Lost In The Fire
, with Halle Berry where after her husband’s death, she asks her husband’s friend to get into bed with her, to hold her a certain way, to put his arm around her just as her husband did and then to rub her ear, just as he used to. It is excruciating to watch her longing and her need for that kind of comfort.
Sex can mean many things to different people, to name a few: a wonderful distraction from grief and misery, a comfort, a relief, a way to feel alive again, a way to feel attractive and wanted again, a way to fill the void and sometimes an outlet for grief (maybe letting go). It probably depends on one’s attitude to and experiences of sex before the death. When people have been in a loving relationship, they are ‘programmed’ for relationships and they can long for that warm connection to fill that space and sex would naturally be a part of that.
There seems to be a conflict between the ‘unwanted’ freedom to have sex again and being bound to the one they already love. We might say it is a conflict between spirit and flesh. Then throw into the mix, the difficulty in later life to find opportunities for developing sexual relationships. If someone finds a relationship with leads to sex, they may find themselves feeling very vulnerable because it is a very intimate act and it requires trust to let another see their true sexual self. Understandably too, the bereaved person embarking on a new sexual experience carries with them their history, their partner, their family, their emotions and their loss and it complicates things. It really isn’t as easy as it sounds.
As if that isn’t hard enough, the bereaved person’s family and friend circle will often all have views on what is appropriate and most certainly what isn’t (according to their own ‘Book Of Rules for Widows, Widowers and Partners’
). This sort of judgement can impact the surviving partner badly, adding to their grief, distress and their own feelings about their predicament.
Having said all this, there are of course, people who move from grief to new relationships and a renewed sex life successfully, so those of you who are bereaved, please don’t despair when you read this, there is so much hope, and in time a new and different life will emerge around you, in spite of your grief, and you don’t know as yet, what that will look like.
I spoke earlier about the repression sexual longings after a death; I believe this leads to difficulties later on. We should have nothing but empathy for those who struggle with sexual issues after the loss of someone they have loved. Bereavement is a very hard and rocky road, and we should not judge anyone who struggles with it, until we have walked in their shoes. We human beings are sociable animals, we are drawn to companionship and love, it is what makes our lives meaningful and leads to contentment, and disruption of that is a big struggle oftentimes.
If you have a good friend or counsellor
to talk this through with, it can be good to air it and talk it through.
Photo Credit: Sarabiljana(accountclosed)/Foter/CCBY