Grief is a natural and complex emotion that can be caused by a variety of losses, including the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or a major life change. While grief is often thought of as an emotional experience, it can also have a physical impact on the body, including changes in sexuality.

A couple of years ago, I was struggling with the unexpected death of a long-time friend. In my grief, I hadn’t noticed a change in my sexuality until my partner started a discussion about my lack of desire. I know now that this was a completely normal response to my grief. When a person is grieving, it is normal for them to feel disconnected from their body and their sexuality. They may not feel like having sex, or they may find that their sexual desires have changed. Some people may experience a decrease in sexual desire or activity, while others may notice an increase. Some people experience significant changes in or questioning of sexuality. It is important to note that changes are not always the case, and some people may find that their sexuality is completely unaffected by grief. Every griever will process loss differently and there is no wrong or right way to experience grief.

Changes in Sexuality- What’s Normal?

After the death of my friend, I still desired my partner and wanted to have sex, although I felt a sense of guilt because of perceived societal expectations that dictate how people should behave when grieving. Because of this, it took me several weeks to initiate intimacy in my relationship. Each time I felt the desire to initiate intimacy with my partner, I was stopped by a wave of guilt-driven thoughts telling me I didn’t deserve this pleasure when people who loved my friend are still suffering with grief.

The above was my experience and this can look different for everyone. Grievers often describe feeling low energy for months after a loss, leaving them too tired for sex. There may also be feelings of anger and rage, leaving little emotional bandwidth for intimacy. Others may experience an increase in their sexual desire during the grief process. Loss can make people question and appreciate life and the people in it that much more. It can drive some people to seek more connection and intimacy with their partner to celebrate this new appreciation. Others may find sexual activity to be comforting or soothing as painful emotions are being processed. Others may use sexual activity and new sexual behaviors as a way to distract themselves from the difficult grieving process. Even if only a short-term reprieve, sex can help a griever disconnect from or avoid facing uncomfortable or painful emotions.

There is no standard to expect during your grief. It is normal to experience any range of these changes, and normal to experience no changes in your sexuality at all. It is also normal to notice a shift, perhaps starting with decreased desire then finding yourself seeking more pleasurable experiences as you move through the grieving process. Be patient with yourself as you navigate these emotions and changes.

How to Support and Communicate with Your Partner During Grief

For couples, grief can make it difficult to communicate about sex, even when they have a strong sexual relationship prior to the loss. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Many couples experience changes in their sexual relationship during grief. With time, support, and communication, you can rebuild your sexual relationship and find ways to connect with your partner that are both meaningful and enjoyable.

Here are some tips for couples to communicate about sex during grief:

Be patient and understanding. It’s important to remember that everyone grieves differently. Your partner may not be ready to talk about sex right away, or they may have different needs and desires than you do. Even if each of you is grieving the same loss, you may find yourselves on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to desire.

Communicate openly and honestly. Once you’re both ready to talk, it’s important to be candid about your feelings and needs. This can be difficult, but it’s important to be able to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner. When I was grieving the friend I mentioned earlier, I opened up to my partner about my guilty feelings. He appreciated hearing that my desire had not waned, and was open to my suggestions for intimacy without sex until I was able to let go of my guilt. We used extra one-on-one time together and affectionate acts like hugging and hand holding while I navigated my grief and conflicting feelings about sex.

More Tips for Communicating about Sex During Grief

Be respectful of each other’s boundaries. It’s important to respect each other’s boundaries and not push your partner into anything they’re not comfortable with. If your partner isn’t ready for sex, don’t pressure them. Instead, focus on other ways to connect with them, such as cuddling, holding hands, or talking.

Seek professional help. If you’re struggling to communicate about sex during grief, it may be helpful to seek professional help. One of the skilled therapists at Emma Schmidt & Associates can help you and your partner work through your grief and communicate more effectively.

There’s no right or wrong way to experience grief

Grief and sexuality are two complex experiences that can often intersect in difficult ways. When we experience a loss, our sexuality can be affected in a number of ways. We may feel less interested in sex, or we may find that our desire for sex is heightened. We may also find that our sexual experiences are different than they were before the loss. There is no right or wrong way to experience grief and sexuality after a loss. It is important to allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling, and to be patient with yourself as you heal.