Warning: This is a blog post about sex. And not just that – it’s a blog post about widows wanting to have sex again!
Imagine that. A widow who actually wants to have sex. I mean, it was once one of the most taboo things ever. But we’ve moved past that point as a society, haven’t we?
I’d say, “of course” except that my most-read and most-commented-on blog post of all time is “Ask a Widow: Yes, It’s Okay to Want to Have Sex Again.” Want to know how many people read that post in just the last year? Over 20,000 – a number that far dwarfs any other posts I’ve written. I’m pretty sure this isn’t because this post shows off a better writing style of mine. No, it’s because I’m talking about something that’s still so taboo that it’s hard to find a lot of honest writing about this topic online.
Because – shockingly – widows still want to have sex.
I know! It’s crazy that a widow would still feel normal human emotions like being attracted to another person, and maybe even acting on that attraction. But, yes, it’s real. Widows still want to have sex.
I know this because I am a widow and I certainly wanted to have sex far before it may have been seen as socially acceptable. What is that anyway? A year after your partner’s death? More? Well, almost all the widows I know wanted to have sex before that date.
And I also know this because I have dozens and dozens of public comments on that original post. (I get many more privately, and I do keep those private.) I hear from widows of all ages and backgrounds. I try and respond to public comments, and I’ve noticed that over the holidays, I saw many more comments about sex. So I thought, now’s the time to revisit this original post.
Sometimes, people ask questions. “How do I even begin the process of dating?” or “What do I tell my kids/neighbors/sister?”
Every time someone asks something like this, I do my best to give the most thoughtful reply I can. “I can’t tell you how your community will react or what your church could say,” I wrote to one post about feeling judged, “BUT, if you need someone to give you permission, I’ll do that!”
Sometimes, people use the comments as a confessional. “It’s only been a few months since my husband died, and I am desiring sex and feel so guilty.” or “I’ve finally met someone new, and I am sleeping with him in secret. I need to figure out how to tell my friends and family!”
For these types of comments, I try and be reassuring. No one is doing anything illegal or (in my opinion) immoral, so I just want those who are writing and reading these comments to know that feeling sexually drawn towards someone is totally normal, and not something to be ashamed of. Sometimes, I have some thoughts about how to approach specific situations (no, you don’t have to tell your coworkers about your new boyfriend; yes, it’s okay to keep your sex life totally private; no, you do not need to feel guilty!) and other times I just offer some basic encouragement. Because it is so hard to feel sexually alive again after loss…and it’s also so great.
Here’s the thing I’m not going to hide behind: sex after widowhood can be complicated and confusing and even grief-inducing. But it can also be great. And really fun. And sometimes it’s just useful because it fills an emotional or physical void. Sometimes sex is the thing that helps you feel sane or just – God forbid – somewhat normal.
There are no rules around when you might desire sex again, or when you might actually have sex again after losing a partner. I mean, don’t pick up someone at your partner’s funeral, but otherwise…I am not going to judge. I once met a widow who told me about sleeping with his wife’s friend mere weeks after she died. Is that what I would have done? No. But here’s the thing – it’s not my life. If both of them were single and wanted to do it and found some sort of healing from it, that’s their business.
And for the widows who just desire sex – the ones who are reading this blog post because they just want to know it’s okay to have that feeling, but haven’t even acted on it – well, let me be very clear: that is completely and totally normal! There is no reason to feel guilt about simply wanting something that’s human.
But I know why they feel guilt. I know because I have heard people whisper about other widows, I have seen the commentary online about famous widows, and I know because I have this blog and people like to comment on it. People especially love to write me about things they don’t like that I write.
Usually, I just delete those comments. But I’m pulling one now, from a public comment, just to show the level of shame that other people (usually people who are not widows) will put on widows who want to have sex again. This is from a couple of months ago:
My wife is the love of my life; she is my best friend. And while sex can be just sex, if she leaves this world before me, she was faithful and my everything. My grandfather and grandmother never dated again- I most certainly won’t- there is really nothing special in this world and 99.99 percent of us will eventually be forgotten completely.
But the true love of my life was the greatest gift I could have ever received. And I will leave this world as hers- because I am and always will be 🙂
And I would never tarnish that.
I mean, I don’t even really know where to start with this post. It’s one that I’ve seen before, and they all have the same theme. It’s along the lines of “I’m not a widow” (red flag #1) but “if my partner died I would never have sex again” (red flag #2) and “I would never tarnish the memory of my partner” (red flag #3).
Ah, the trifecta! Listen, I get that it’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you’re happily married, it’s hard to imagine feeling anything but total loss and grief forever if your partner died. I get that. I do.
The thing is, you don’t know how you’re going to feel. Maybe, like you thought, you’d be without any sort of sex drive (or at least one you wanted to act on) for the rest of your life. Or maybe you just absolutely wouldn’t want to date because the grief never left you or for another reason. That happens! It’s not common, but there are certainly people who never date again. My dad has his own reasons, but he is one of those people who didn’t date after my mom died over 20 years ago. I’m happy that he’s so content in the life that he’s chosen.
But do you know what my dad never did? Judge me for my choices. And I know this because I was dating (and writing blog posts about dating and sex) while he was living with me! Because he knew one thing, too: you just don’t know how you’re going to feel when you lose your partner.
You just don’t know.
I think, more than anything, it’s important to be gentle with those who have experiences that we don’t share. But in this instance, I also think it’s important to be gentle with our future selves. Because we all might be widowed at some point – even those of us who’ve been married for decades or who have found our second loves. And what happens after such a terrible life experience is unknown.
And personally, I don’t want to tell 95-year-old Marjorie what she “should” do. Much more important, I don’t want to tell current widows how they should feel. Not everyone feels that they would be tarnishing the memory of their late spouse by having sex with someone new. In fact, most people don’t.
But a comment like the one above says what too many people think in the back of their minds. Widows shouldn’t want sex, ever again. To want it is to tarnish what laid in the past. And to actually go through with it is dirty, somehow.
I reject that.
So here, let me say it again.
Yes, it’s okay to want to have sex again.
And to that, I’ll also add that it’s not just “okay” to want to have sex again. It’s not just “normal” to want to have sex again. It’s fucking great if you want to have sex again!
A while back, I had an older widow post publicly on my blog. She’d lost her husband of almost four decades and was interested in a new man who she described as “very sexy.” She realized she wanted to have sex with him, but she was worried about a lot of things. Was he going to want more than sex? What would the neighbors think?
I wrote her back, advising her to have open communication with her new potential partner and imploring her to worry less about the neighbors. Hey, if she needed to, she could always get a hotel room! I went on and on, but at the end, I wrote one line.
Everyone deserves happiness. Full stop.
That is true for her and it is true for you. And if that means you want to have sex again, I’m your biggest cheerleader. Yes, I promise, it’s okay to want to have sex again.
**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.