Thank you for requesting this excerpt from my new book, Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved. You can order an autographed copy of this book here. My warmest wishes to you during this devastating time. —Joan Price
Myths about Sex and Grieving
From Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved
by Joan Price
“Day after day, you must endure the misguided comments from well-meaning people who just don’t have a clue…There are those who say just the right thing; others who are well-meaning but stumble because they don’t know better; and others who say or do things that are deeply hurtful.” - Patrick O'Malley, Ph.D., Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in The Sorrow of Loss
You’ll probably have to deal with people who judge or shame or worry about you because of your personal choices. You’ll be judged by people who think you’re dating too quickly or moving into sex with a new person too fast. You’ll be judged for remaining celibate.
Advice from friends and family can be helpful, but not always. Even when well-intentioned, advice that clamps down your sexuality can stall your healing and make you feel ashamed of your feelings and your body’s desires. Likewise, advice that pushes you forward before you’re ready can make you feel like you’re doing grief wrong.
Better to get your advice from a sex-positive therapist, grief counselor, or hospice worker. By “sex-positive,” I mean that they see sex as a normal and healthy part of life. They support you when you’re ready to open up to sex again, acknowledging that there’s no time frame that is right for everyone.
Myths Others Tell Us
Here are examples of myths about sex and grief. Some you may hear from people in your life or read in magazine articles. Others are beliefs you may have internalized about how grief works. Realize, these are myths, not truths.
Myth: It’s not really sex you’re missing: it’s touch. Hug a friend or get a massage.
Truth: Sure, you’re missing touch. But you’re also missing sex: touch + arousal + orgasm.
“These [self-help books for widows] urged me not to confuse missing touch (acceptable) with missing sex (misguided). Missing touch didn’t have anything to do with sex, I was told, and could be replaced with massages, cuddling grandchildren, and even going to hair salons to get shampoos. Clearly, they didn’t know what Bart was like in bed. This loss wasn’t something a hairdresser could handle.” - Alice Radosh, “Taboo Times,” Modern Loss: Candid Conversation about Grief. Beginners Welcome by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner
Myth: Wait at least a year before having sex with a new partner.
Truth: Sex is comforting and an outlet for your powerful emotions and needs. There’s nothing wrong with you if you want to have sex soon after your beloved’s death, or even the day after the funeral. The one-year rule is useful for most decision making—such as marrying again or mixing finances—but when you have first sex with a new person is entirely up to you and your willing sex partner.
Myth: Sex with someone new is disloyal to your deceased loved one.
Truth: Guilt, especially survivor’s guilt, is a powerful force, but letting it rule our actions only harms us. Maybe you took the vow to be faithful “until death do us part.” You didn’t promise “after death for eternity thereafter.” It’s a horrible fact that your mate is gone, and nothing you do to care for yourself is “disloyal.” Wouldn’t your mate want you to care for yourself?
Myth: Wait until you’re sure this new person is a potential next mate before having sex.
Truth: This may be true for you if you have firm religious convictions that only allow sexual expression within marriage. Otherwise, screening possible sex partners as a potential next spouse will only create impossible hurdles and anxiety and send potential dates running.
Myth: You need to get out there and start dating by now.
Truth: When people push you to start dating before you’re ready, it says more about them than about you: your grief is making them uncomfortable, or they don’t understand grief at all. Don’t let yourself be influenced by anyone else’s notion of when you should be ready.
Myth: You should wait until you’re no longer grieving.
Truth: There is no magic moment when grief is over. Grieving is not finite. It does get easier and less painful over time, and it changes into a feeling and deep connection you can live with. But there’s no magical end point. Grief can co-exist with desire—even love—for a new person.
How Do You Respond to People Who Challenge Your Choices?
If they’re close friends, tell them the truth about your reasons—or don’t. If they’re casual friends, feel free not to respond, or, if you prefer, shut them down. If they’re hurtful or toxic, shut them down and/or avoid conversations with them. Some examples of responses you might give:
- I grieved a long time while my partner was ill. It’s time for me to live again.
- I’m not ready to date yet. I’ll know when I am.
- I’m moving forward on my own timetable. This doesn’t need fixing.
- I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions.
- I know you’re concerned about me, but you don’t need to be.
- We have differing opinions about what I should do.
- I know that worked for you, but we’re not the same.
- That’s private, thank you for your concern.
- I’ll let you know if I need your advice, thanks.
- That’s not helpful.
Myths We Tell Ourselves
Sometimes the myths that hold us back are those we’ve internalized. We feel guilty because we’ve bought into beliefs that honestly don’t serve us anymore, if they ever did. For example:
Myth: Casual sex or sex with multiple partners is wrong and shameful.
Truth: You are an adult, fully capable of making your own decisions about what sex means to you, how you want to conduct your sex life, and with whom. There are myriad options for expressing our sexuality, and we can give ourselves permission for choosing the way that works for us now. Nothing you desire is wrong, as long as it is consensual, safe, and honest. Choose your partners wisely and use safer sex protection every time.
Myth: Masturbation is wrong.
Truth: Masturbation is a wise choice for experiencing sexual release and all the good things that come with it—easier sleep, better mood, less likely to jump into the wrong relationship out of sexual frustration. It’s a way to be sexual without involving anyone else.
Myth: If I choose my next partner carefully, I don’t have to worry about sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Truth: Use barrier protection always, with everyone. Please view my free “Safer Sex for Seniors” webinar on YouTube.
Myth: Nobody would want to have sex with me anyway.
Truth: That’s depression talking. You may see yourself as undesirable right now because you’re suffering too much to engage with another person. That’s valid—you’re not ready. But if you think no one would want you because you’re too old or not in shape, please question that age-shaming, body-shaming attitude, which will only hold you back.
Myth: We can only love once. I’m done now.
Truth: It may feel like you can only love once, but many of us have discovered that loving deeply and completely does not prevent us from loving again. It will feel different, but it will be equally real.
Which myths have interfered with you moving forward in your own way? Create your own response to people who try to advise or judge you in an unwelcome way.