Ask a Widow: Yes, It’s Okay to Want to Have Sex Again

DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley walks away from camera in field holding hands with husband Shawn

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.

10 Replies to “Ask a Widow: Yes, It’s Okay to Want to Have Sex Again”

  1. Jennifer Davison-Navarro says: Reply

    I have felt a lot of shame and embarrassment for thinking about having sex again. I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to dating, let alone initiating sex with a man. It seems so complicated; I have three small children as well and the thought of how complicated it can all be is exhausting. How do I keep my Mom Life and dating life separate? I’d have to leave my house to meet someone I would even consider to sleep with. It’s confusing and hard. Have you ever introduced your kids to someone you have dated??

    1. I get that. And no – I haven’t dated anyone seriously enough for that to happen, and it’s hard to imagine that part of dating, honestly. But I hope it will someday. I think the kid issue is a WHOLE other topic (maybe I’ll cover that here someday!) but it’s a really tough one. I hope this post can at least curb a bit of the shame and embarrassment around sex that many widows feel, because it’s not something that I’d wish on anyone!

  2. Thank you for writing about this.

  3. Hi,
    Thank you for another amazing post. I am five months in and although I know that I am nowhere near being able to give another man the time of day, let alone act on it, (solely because of where I am in my own process), I do have desires and am aware of how the world would view me if I was ready to act on it, and it sucks. I so appreciate your writing from this place of understanding and giving a place that we can turn to. As a mother of three who is 37 years old, these are the real topics that often go uncovered. We love, we miss, and we hurt for our husbands, but hey, we are still trying our hardest to live what strange life we are left behind with. I find it funny how people are so quick to tell a widow that we have to still live, and yet, judge us for our attempts to find what still living means.
    The other day a man walked up to me and took his time to finally ask for my number. I wasn’t ready to even open up to a friendship with a man that likes me, and could barely tell whether or not I even found him attractive (strange huh). Regardless, it was nice to 1) see that I made myself approachable enough for him to approach me (I had mastered keeping them away), and 2) learn that other men still desire me. It gave me a sense of hope because I don’t want to be alone forever in pain and at some point, yes, I do want to have sex again (although the thought is terrifying).
    THANK YOU!
    Jenn

    1. Thanks so much for sharing – and I’m so sorry for your loss. I loved what you said here:

      I find it funny how people are so quick to tell a widow that we have to still live, and yet, judge us for our attempts to find what still living means.

      YES! It’s so true.

      Hang in there.

      1. A younger friend of mine who is a widower told me about your blog. His suggestion came at just the right time. I’m 65, I took care of my very sick husband for several years before his death. Now, fourteen months later I find myself interested in dating again, perhaps intimacy with the right man. I mean I’m not dead yet. To that end I placed my profile on an online dating site. Oh, the shaming from friends. My son also disapproves while my daughter is cheering me on. We shall see how this goes, let the adventure begin!

        1. Ugh – this is so tough to do EVEN if everyone is cheering you on! My kids are still to young to really understand dating, though I haven’t become serious enough yet for them to need to meet anyone, which I’m sure would be hard on a lot of levels. But GOOD LUCK to you – what you are doing is truly brave.

  4. I lost my husband of 35 years in July, we were so in love with each other. I miss physical contact so much but I don’t want to meet guys on dating sites, it’s too risky and I don’t want to get a disease. I want to meet my next partner the old fashioned way. I’m 54, but I look 40. Anyone have any advice for me? I’m really seeking a platonic male friend to hang out with who could turn out to be a romantic partner. The idea of having sex with a new person is really scary and kind of disgusting. The world has changed so much since I was 18 and dating my husband.

    1. I think it’s not something that happens quickly, really, and that we have to do things at our own pace. I don’t have much advice, honestly, as I’m still figuring it out. But I’ve learned that there are many ways to meet people (hello, hash run!) if you’re willing to have a few let-downs along the way. That said – go easy on yourself. It’s tough just to THINK about another person in your life, but you’re taking the first baby step by writing this down.

    2. Barb, I m a man in a similar situation, lost the long time love of my life in September. 34 years together. Its not you, its everyone who lost a loving partner. I can only say what I plan to do, and that is to focus on rebuilding my health, self confidence as myself as a newly singled person, focus on building and renewing friendships. I know a few male friend who were Catholic, and did well meeting people on a Catholic dating site. I have also met a few people that have met and married people using Match.com and those types of sites, but I have also heard alot of negative feedback. Its a challenging but interesting situation that we all find ourselves in. I try to remind myself daily that I didn t choose this situation, it chose me, so I try and learn from it and grow thru it. Its not either “Bad” or “Good” but an “Experience”. If we accept that this “Experience” came into our lives for a reason, I feel that it opens this up as an adventure and growth opportunity that perhaps we will be thankful for someday.

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