WARNING: If you are squeamish about sex OR if you are my father, you may want to stop reading right now.
Because I’m going to talk to you about sex. Not just about desire or dating, but actually about sex. And I’m not going to discuss the sex that you once had. I’m going to talk to you, my widowed friend, about wanting to have sex again. Even when you are grieving.
Last week, I asked my readers to let me know the questions they had about widowhood and grieving. Many people wrote me, and the overwhelming topic was sex. A composite of the most common note went something like this:
My husband died a few months (or years) ago. I cry most days when I think of him, and sometimes I feel like I’m barely holding it together. But….I have started to notice other men. Not just a little bit, either. It’s like my entire body is on fire when I get the smallest glimpse of a decent-looking man. I would really like to have sex again, but I have so many conflicting emotions and I don’t know how to tell anyone I feel this way. Is this normal?
Okay, I’d like to reiterate here that I am not a therapist. But I am going to say this anyway: DESIRING SEX IS COMPLETELY NORMAL. Even if you are a widow.
Maybe your husband died suddenly, and you spent the first few months after his death reeling from the shock, unable to imagine wanting sex again. Or maybe your husband died slowly, and the caregiving and daily stressors for months or years meant that your desire for sex was so low that it took a long time to return. Maybe you’re still in the place where you think you’ll never want to have sex again. That may be where you will stay. And that’s okay.
But for many of us, the desire to have sex again returns. The day I woke up and realized I physically desired another man, I cried a lot. The day I acted on that desire, I cried a lot more.
But do you know what I also felt? Relief.
It’s really surprising – shocking even – to want to have sex with someone who isn’t your husband. And yet, the desire for sex is a normal human emotion. After Shawn died, I felt numb. I had this vivid moment about four months after Shawn died when all of my girlfriends were talking about an attractive man in our midst and I couldn’t appreciate him like they could. It was like looking at a painting. But then, one random day on vacation a little over six month after Shawn died, I started talking to an attractive man at the pool. Like a light switch, I felt desire sweep over my body.
I didn’t have sex with that man. What I felt in that moment was terrifying to me, and I kept it a secret for many weeks. When I told my sister, she reassured me that it was completely normal for me to feel this way (she had some choice words for anyone who would shame me for feeling this way, because she’s awesome.) When I finally told my friends, they did the same and tried to encourage me to start dating. But I couldn’t say it on this blog and I couldn’t tell anyone outside my inner circle. 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.
So of course you want to have sex! That’s what good sex is all about – desire, connection, and appreciation for another human being. Yes, it can also be about love, but it doesn’t have to be.
There are a lot of other things I should probably discuss, such as the emotions that surround a first post-widowed sexual experience and the way that society views widows who want to have sex again. But that will have to wait for another time, because this post is about one thing. It’s about me telling you this:
It is normal to want to have sex again.
It is normal to want to have sex again even if your husband just died a month ago. It is normal to want to have sex again even if you haven’t felt that desire for years. It is normal to want to have sex again even if you still wear your wedding ring. It is normal to want to have sex again even if you only once believed in sex within marriage. It is normal to want to have sex again even if you dream of your late husband every single night.
YES, IT’S OKAY TO WANT TO HAVE SEX AGAIN.
And for those of you who need to hear it, it’s also okay to act on that desire. Yes, you are a widow. But you are also someone who deserves to fully live in this world.
**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.