Senior sex and grieving

Recently I came across a book titled Sex After Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality After Losing Your Beloved. The book was written by Joan Price, a 72-year-old widow and author of several books celebrating older age sexuality.

As a sexual medicine physician in the 1980s (long retired!), I saw quite a few older persons presenting sexual difficulties but my focus was on couples. I have not worked with single senior men or women who were in the midst of their sexual reawakening while grieving the loss of their partner. The principal issues in this journey involve feelings of shame or guilt about the body’s or the mind’s desires. Some grievers think that physical intimacy with someone new is disloyal, that you need to wait until you are no longer grieving or to wait at least a year before having sex with a new partner, and then to be sure that the new partner is a potential next mate. The reality is that there is no specific moment when grieving is over; caring for oneself is not disloyal, and the physical acts and responses may well be an outlet for powerful needs.

It is also important that sex not be interpreted solely as the act of coitus. As a griever, one may be ready for arousing touch, giving each other orgasms without penetration. Attempts at intercourse may turn into genital pain, orgasmic difficulties, erection problems, and major disappointments along with feelings of shame.

Finding partners may also be a problem. It may involve getting out socially, and meeting others with common interests. It may take months to get close to others and feel comfortable enough to reveal one’s feelings or sense the feelings of others. “Friends with benefits” may be a preferred sexual connection within a real friendship with no expectations that the relationship would become more than that.

Online dating is also mentioned as an option. Interestingly a recent Medscape article, “Docs and Online Dating: Is ‘MD’ the Ticket to Love?,” focuses on older male and female doctors who are emerging from grief over their partner’s death or who have been through a divorce. Overall, the male and female physicians interviewed in an informal survey gave online dating a thumbs up, but with warnings about pitfalls. Nothing is easy. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler in their book, On Grief and Grieving, suggest that one does not get over the loss of a loved one but will learn to live with it. One will never be the same, “nor would you want to be.”

That is a message I take away as I am grieving over my wife’s irreversible sinking into her deep dementia.
—George Szasz, CM, MD

Suggested reading
Kubler-Ross E, Kessler D. On grief and grieving. New York, NY: Scribner; 2005.

Nelson R. Medscape. Docs and online dating: Is ‘MD’ the ticket to love? Accessed 13 November 2019.

Price J. Sex after grief: Navigating your sexuality after losing your beloved. Coral Gables, FL: Mango Media Inc; 2019.

This blog post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.