CW: death & loss
I’ve found myself here twice now, situated in a place of grief;
Idly wading in my sorrows and changed reality… looking, or rather more accurately, googling for help on “how to fix them”. In both instances, I’ve come up short, disappointed, and honestly dumbfounded that sex and grief isn’t a topic more thoroughly explored and that I ultimately can’t just google “what do I do when I want to have sex but am so, so depressed?” and the internet won’t answer that for me.
What makes sex and grief so challenging to talk about? Why is it a topic so few writers, sexperts, sociologists, or even therapists have strayed from investigating? I’ve hunted and scoured the internet for published articles, essays, or professional discourse tackling the matter in any real way. Real being anything that isn’t as superficial and frustrating as, “grief will decrease your sex drive”, “give yourself/partner some space if you/they are experiencing a significant loss”, or “you may find yourself emotional during sex while grieving.”
Although I don’t have an all-encompassing or definitive answer to this question either, I do have a personal experience to share that has informed the rest of my life thereafter, or so far at least. An experience of loss and sex and arduous self-healing, and all the nuance loss and sex and arduous self-healing entail. An experience that is ongoing and teaches me something new all of the time.
I am not a sociologist or a therapist, but I am a survivor of my circumstances, who’s been able to heal through and at times, because of sex.
In the past two and a half years, I’ve faced two traumatic losses (a partner and a sibling) and have had to confront my sexuality in the aftermath of those losses time and time again. I am not a sociologist or a therapist, but I am a survivor of my circumstances, who’s been able to heal through and at times, because of sex.
In December of 2018, I lost my partner. It was the morning of my twenty-third birthday when I received the news. I was in college and approaching my final semester to graduate. I had never experienced a loss before, cognitively at least. But at twenty-three I thought I had found my forever, and I had no idea what to do or how to do now that he was gone.
The first few months of my loss, I was wholly surrendered to my grief and just going through the motions of everyday life. I had returned to school and work but at my own altered abilities. I had a job at school, which I quit, but continued to work at the sex shop I was part-time at and was completing the few courses left I needed to graduate.
Within the context of sex, there is a popular belief that we may become one of two things when faced with tragedy; we either become totally sexless or recklessly sex-crazed, attempting to fuck anything on sight to avert from the pain we’re in. A belief that erases the spectrum of what grief and sex look like together.
So what does sex look like coming out of that darkness?
When you’re grieving, motivation is typically the first thing to go. Any energy remaining is allotted to basic survival; get up, eat something, shit, move around, lay down, repeat (in no particular order). The cost of having sex is too high when your lows are low and you can barely afford to finish a text. So to bring sex, fucking, or however you call it into the picture again… let’s just say it will not be the same approach it once was, pre-tragedy.
So what does sex look like coming out of that darkness? What does it look like when we find ourselves willing and able to want it again? Is it more careful and tender? Is it more often and free? What about masturbating and self-sex during grief? What about other forms of intimacy and yearning? These were all questions I found myself looking for the answers to.
In my experience of sex in the awakening of loss, there was an absolute void of sex; sexual desire, sexual connections, sexiness in any capacity. I, myself was suddenly the absence of sex.
I was vulnerable like never before and had no concept of what I deserved anymore.
I didn’t want to form connections with anyone emotionally, but eventually, I did want to be released cathartically through sex, while also struggling with the idea of letting just anyone touch me. I was vulnerable like never before and had no concept of what I deserved anymore. My body became a sacred channel, one through which I was deciphering my grief; letting it tell me my next steps. I listened to my body and learned from it. When we experience such psychological shock, our brains and bodies will shield and protect us. I, too, wanted to protect myself, which became radically isolating.
I returned to work and was surrounded by flesh-like dildos, vibrators with 18+ settings that sync up to your lover’s phone, lubes made from hemp, and boxed lingerie of every kind. I assisted people in overcoming their embarrassment of finally getting their first vibrator, explained how penis pumps work, and often lent an ear to a newly single person reinventing their sex life. Working in the sex shop I was surrounded by the emotional weight these objects of intimacy carried, which I previously had never viewed as such, and was reminded every day to some capacity that I was taking on the world alone again. In sex and otherwise.
As the months went on, seasons changed, and my grief evolved, I found myself wanting to not just get fucked but to feel pleasure again. Like, an honest sense of pleasure. I was surrounded by such sexually empowered folks who took into consideration the real nuances of sex. I had conversations with real people each day and was re-engaging with the scope of sex as means of connecting to oneself outside of a partnered experience.
Many of the people I worked with were former or current sex workers and at that point, I had considered myself a “former” sex worker. I listened to their stories, engaged with relatable bits, but was mostly inspired by how informative their sex lives were to some of their radical self actualizing. I didn’t consider going back to sex work at the time and the mere notion of working again was so deeply buried in my mind. Until one day, it just surfaced again.
I can’t recall what had compelled me to go home on this particular day and act on the impulse, but one evening, after work, sobered with desire, I typed into the search bar omegle.com and clicked enter with the full intention to cum; to heal. I was too intimidated to log back into MyFreeCams or any of the other cam sites I had worked on before, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to cum and see if someone (a voyeur) on the other end of it would make me feel anything. I am an exhibitionist through and through and so I knew there was the possibility of excitement at the very least.
My null sense of sex was awoken.
Although the person who witnessed my orgasm and I barely exchanged any dialogue and I quickly exited the chat once finished (and did cry a good cry after too) I also felt a consuming self of relief. My null sense of sex was awoken. Mostly, I think I was reminded that I could be in my body again and welcome that sensation in earnest.
Soon after this event, I started camming, not full time, but frequently enough, and when I cammed, I would also document myself and the ritual of sex work. Doing my drag; putting on my makeup, curling my hair, selecting an outfit. I found a way to declare autonomy over my pleasure; I was mediating sex after loss through my sex work. I performed it until I eventually had the courage to become what I enacted; to be in my body again and believe it.
Grief is now topical in a post-pandemic world. More grieving people are looking for a guidebook or how-to as ‘we’ collectively navigate this aftershock; how do we stay connected to our bodies when they need us most? How do we look after our bodies, realizing them as homes or shelters for our grief? Surviving a year like 2020, so many of us have lost loved ones, so many of us ourselves, almost lost.
So many of us are grieving a world past and the people we once were IN that world. Our relationship to our sexuality, etc… We have survived tragedy and consulted with ourselves how to best move forward, if at all. I think of the idea that the “body keeps the score”.
I couldn’t have foreseen how I would arrive at the place I did, and I’m endlessly grateful for sex work playing a mobilizing role in my healing but ultimately, my healing came from within.
Sex and desire don’t disappear in totality when we are faced with loss. Rather, healing is non-linear, and re-gaining those parts to our identity come in waves and varying bouts of strength. I’ve learned that tenderness is a virtue and tenderness and compassion are earned amidst grief, although it can often feel like quite the opposite. There is no identical path to healing or the resurrection of your sex drive, there is only listening to your body, allowing your pain to run its course, and honor what feels right and good when it feels right and good. The rest will simply reveal itself.