Ask a Widow: Why is Sex So Complicated?

DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley looks at partner Chris

Do you want to know what my most popular post of all time is? Take a guess. As you’re thinking, remember that I’ve written over 450 blog posts, many of them about intense grief, therapy, single parenting and finding new love.

So….did you think of one you believe was really popular? Yes? Well….I bet you didn’t think it was one about sex. BUT IT IS!

Yep, my most popular post of all time is “Ask a Widow: Yes, It’s Okay To Want To Have Sex Again,” from November, 2019. If somehow you haven’t read it (like Google Analytics tells me thousands (!) of people have), here’s an excerpt:

 Just the mere statement, “I feel something towards men again” was something I could barely utter out loud for months.

But really, when I look back a year ago, I can’t believe I was so hard on myself. Of course I desired men again. Of course I wanted to have sex again.

I am a widow, not a monk.

Desiring sex is completely normal, even if you are a widow. But you know what? I need to add something to that statement. Desiring sex is completely normal. Especially if you are a widow.

If you’re a widow, it’s likely that you haven’t been sexually touched in months or years. You haven’t put your lips on someone else’s for as long as you can remember. You haven’t felt the pull towards another human being in a long, long, time.

I went on to reiterate that desiring sex was not something that was abnormal, or something that should make you feel like a pariah in the widow world. “It’s normal to want sex again,” I said about a dozen times in that post. I still believe that.

But sex is complicated, isn’t it? Or at least it is if you’ve been brought up in an American culture saturated with media images of sex and that also shuns real talk about normal sexual desires and experiences.

And that’s before we even get to the widow part.

So let’s say you “followed the rules” and married your long-time sweetheart from your youth. You lived for a decade or two or three with that sweetheart, and then you lost him or her. You grieved. You felt hollow. You cried and cursed God and swore you’d never move on.

But then, you saw someone in a coffee shop or at the pool or got a text from an ex. For a brief minute, you thought about someone else. You felt a strange feeling – something that you thought you’d lost.

Desire.

And let’s just say that somehow you managed to act on that desire. You actually had some sort of sexual encounter with someone who was not your late spouse.

There are a few possible outcomes from this experience. I guess there are actually a million possible outcomes, but for the sake of this post, let’s discuss some of the common ones. Let’s imagine these common responses to a first sexual encounter after widowhood, from a totally hypothetical standpoint. (That last part was for my dad, just in case he’s still reading.) What might these responses be?

  1. You feel intense guilt. It feels like cheating and you know that while what you may have done is legal it didn’t feel moral.
  2. You feel worried. What if someone finds out? What will your friends think? What will your community think? What will – GOD FORBID – your parents or your kids think?
  3. You feel disappointed. Was this what you had been waiting for all those months (or years)?
  4. You feel relief. You were wondering if it was still possible for you to have a sexual experience again.
  5. You feel good. You don’t know if you’re supposed to feel this fantastic, but you do. Is that okay?

Even the last one – the one you’re supposed to feel after a good sexual experience – even that one is complicated! So much of widowhood is about feeling bad that when you actually feel good it is really strange.

Let me be clear – I did not feel “good” after my first sexual experience after Shawn’s death. In fact, I felt a combination of numbers 1-4 for a number of those first sexual experiences.

But if you felt good you should embrace that! You should celebrate that!

And if you felt bad, you should know this: that’s really normal. And also, I want to say this: it won’t be your experience forever with sex. I promise.

I know – I probably shouldn’t promise things like this. But dammit, everyone deserves to get to #5. Everyone deserves to say “I feel good” after sex. In fact, everyone deserves to say, “that was fucking great” after sex. Sure, maybe it takes falling in love again with your second soulmate to feel that way for some people.

But it’s also okay if it’s a one-night stand that makes you feel that way, too.

Sex can be complicated. Especially as a widow. But it can also be fun, rewarding, and yes it can be good or even really great! If it’s not good for you yet, that’s okay. Hang in there. It will get better.

I promise.

**This column is merely my point of view and is for informational purposes only. I am not a therapist or medical professional, and thus my thoughts should not be a substitute for advice from these professionals. Please get immediate help if you feel like harming yourself. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.

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