I have been asked a many times, "What is sexual bereavement?"
In order, to fully answer that question, I must first define and discuss some key components. Once we are on the same page as far as terminology, then I will get into what sexual bereavement actually is and how it can manifest in your life.
To start, what is bereavement? Isn't that just another word for grief or mourning? While these terms are often used interchangeably, they do have different meanings. Grief is the normal process of reacting to a loss. It can be the loss of a loved one, a pet, a job, or even the loss of a relationship.
Furthermore, grief is a very personal and unique emotional experience. As such, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There are some healthy and unhealthy ways of coping with grief.
Mourning, on the other hand is how we publicly display our grief. Many cultures have traditions for acceptable mourning.
Bereavement, however is a period of time during which a person experiences grief and mourning.
Well, what about the sexual part of "sexual bereavement?" This in the most basic sense simply refers to the intimacy between partners.
So am I saying that sexual bereavement is just the period of grieving sex after a love one dies? In some part, yes. However, it does not have to be after a partner has died. For many people, they find that sexual intimacy with their partner has unfortunately declined as health concerns become more routine. Diabetes, Chronic Cardiovascular Disease, COPD, and many forms of cancer all can impact a person's sex drive or even the ability to sexually perform. It is natural and common for people to experience some form of grief when they can no longer enjoy sexual relations with their life partner.
So how does sexual bereavement actually manifest itself? How do you know if you are sexual bereaved? Those are easier questions to ask than they are to answer. Like other forms of grief, sexual bereavement can have physical, emotional, mental, or behavioral impacts. Some people, have expressed that they feel a longing in their body to be with their partner. Some have told me that they cannot concentrate or have trouble remembering tasks. Some people have even told me that they are having difficulty controlling lustful thoughts or desires around those they find attractive, but they never would cheat on their partner. I have also been told by some that they are having mood swings and cannot reason why.
Most people have expressed a measure of guilt over not being able have sex with their partner again. Furthermore, almost everyone I have talked to told me that if they could have one more romantic and intimate sexual episode with their partner, they would. However, many people expressed concern of not wanting to hurt or kill their partner during sex. This is a very valid and reasonable fear. How many ads do you remember saying 'Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex?'
Numerous studies have shown that being able to talk about grief may decrease the period of bereavement. The same is true for sexual bereavement. Even after the death of the partner, it is not to late to talk about this issue. One study of widows who identified as sexually bereaved found that most of them felt some level of shame in admitting that they missed having sex with their partner. However, that study also found that the women would gladly open up and talk about the subject, as long as someone else brought it up first.
If you or your partner are feeling sexually bereaved, please talk to your doctor or therapist about it. If they are not comfortable talking about sex, then please find a professional who is. A true professional won't shame, embarrass, or dismiss your concerns. A true professional will listen without judgement. Also, if you are going to find a therapist to talk to, don't be afraid to ask their qualifications and what training they have with either sex therapy or bereavement counseling. To my knowledge, Florida is the only state that requires training and education in human sexuality for all mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. On top of that, Florida is the only state that requires someone be certified to practice sex therapy.