Many years ago I had a convergence of experiences and losses that left me in a state of grief. I cried, I felt sadness, and I rationally accepted life as it was, but over the months, I felt like I was in a low-grade depression. I was living my life spending time with friends, enjoying day to day pleasures, but something inside was not fully moving on with the rest of living.
After a few months I went to see a bodyworker who did massage among other modalities to help heal a body. I didn’t share much more with her than my name.
She placed her hands on my chest and my lower abdomen and with very little movement started to slowly draw her hand up from my pelvis to my heart. She kept repeating the same slow movement with her hand.
After 20 minutes or so, I could feel something growing in my belly. As this ball of energy was growing I could sense it traveling up through my chest. When it reached my throat, I let out a loud, deep, guttural sound that surprised me. Those sounds kept coming until the feeling of the ball of energy inside of me was gone.
After a few minutes of feeling calm and relaxed, she continued to draw her hand up to my heart and throat. I could feel the ball of energy again, growing in my belly and moving slowly up and out of my throat in loud guttural cries. My cries had surprisingly little emotional content, and my breathing was deep and effortless. My body knew what it was doing.
Cycles like this continued a few more times until, after an hour and a half, there was nothing more, and I felt a deep sense of peace and blissful emptiness.
My body had released my unprocessed grief. No one had to tell me that. I could feel it. That grief lived in my lower body and moved up and out through my throat and voice.
Before I left I shared my experience with the Bodyworker. I told her that it was a similar experience to the feeling of an orgasm slowly building in my pelvis region, but rather than it moving down and out through the genitals, that energy moved up and out of my throat.
My body knew what to do. All I had to do was give my body my full attention, keep breathing deeply, and marvel at its inherent wisdom and healing power.
Loving in the Face of Reality
Years later I was giving a talk to a group of cancer survivors in a local hospital.
We were talking about how to use sex to help heal from the grief that comes with illness. Each woman shared her journey with cancer, each expressing how welcoming touch and pleasure again was an important part of their healing.
I came away from that talk feeling even more deeply, that sex is a healer, and when the time is right, orgasmic energy can play an important part in connecting us to our bodies and experiencing feelings of all kinds, not just the sexy ones!
Grief Is An Unavoidable Part of Life
There is much to feel these days. If we slow down enough to feel it, grief surrounds us. COVID deaths, climate change, breakups, unwanted change, aging. We are all grieving, both personally and globally. Grief has taken a seat at all of our tables.
Where does sex fit into grief? The myth we tell ourselves is that these two very basic human experiences are mutually exclusive. We believe that we shouldn’t want sex until we’re feeling sexy and receptive, and we can’t be grieving if our bodies are turned-on and orgasmic.
Everyone needs to honor their own journey through grief. Grief is not something to be measured by time. It presents itself differently for every person, but is it possible to allow grief to be part of our sexual experience?
Let’s consider how to make enough room for grief and sex to be together at the same time, and why it can be a healing agent during times of loss.
Grief is an isolating experience.
We become lost in our own subjective pain, and even find refuge in our retreat from society, but after some time, the need for isolation is replaced with the need for connection.
When the time comes to reach out and take the hand of a caring lover, a next phase of healing begins. We can open the door and let them into our private pain.
Intimacy takes on an even deeper meaning.
When we let ourselves be seen in our most vulnerable and raw states, we can allow ourselves to be held and touched, and receive all the hormonal and mental benefits that touch brings.
By seeing ourselves through the loving eyes of another, our pain is shared and our burden is eased.
Pleasure never leaves us, we leave pleasure.
Even when we move through difficult emotions pleasure is always there, like a ‘bridge over troubled water’, pleasure can reconnect us to our bodies. By focusing on arousal, physical pleasure drags us out of our subjective thoughts, and into the present moment.
The present moment is free of the past and the future, both of which weigh heavy on us during times of grief. Letting go into pleasure, feeling the building of orgasmic energy, trusting that it’s ok to let pleasure move in us, can help shift us out of the deep freeze of loss.
With the use of deep breath and arousal, energy gets unstuck and our emotional armor relaxes. If you’ve ever cried during sex, you know that tears and orgasm are strangely similar in their release. They both move energy through our bodies in a way that is physically healthy and emotionally healing.
Loving in ‘dangerous times’
It’s wonderful to feel the love of others in trying times, but the real power of love during grief, is the giving of love, as much as the getting of love.
We can become absorbed in grief and loss, and that’s part of the grief process as well, but when the time is right, we may try turning our gaze from inward pain, and look outward to our beloved, who are standing by us, ready to help.
Sending loving energy is an action that shifts us out of our left brain where fight, flight and freeze operate, into the part of our right brain which houses things like, gratitude, empathy, compassion. These are two distinct parts of our brain.
The act of giving love is like placing a healing salve on a wounded brain.
It gives our exhausted, high-alert brain a place to rest and be nourished by love.
Anyone who meditates will tell you the clarity and emotional transcendence that comes from focused attention.
Stop reading right now, and place your thumb and finger together. Move them so slowly and with so much attention that you can actually feel the ridges of your finger prints. Do this for a few breaths and see how long you can give your full attention to this experience. You’ve just momentarily cleared your mind of its outward thinking.
Sexual pleasure is one of humans’ favorite highly-focused physical activities. Sex draws us into our bodies, and for a while, the rest of the world is on hold. Sex and orgasm offer an escape from our monkey minds. In letting go and allowing an orgasm to happen, we take a momentary leave from the weightiness of our world.
In addition to clearing our minds, orgasms also move stuck energy in our bodies.
If we’re carrying grief in our body, orgasmic energy can move through us with a healing force.
Loving the One Who’s Grieving
You don’t see grief or sad feelings in porn. You rarely see sex and grief in films or TV. Sex is usually depicted as a one-note emotional experience of passion or romance.
If your partner is experiencing grief, here are some things to remember when it comes to sex and intimacy:
Offer non-sexual touch and affection without expectations for anything more. Allow your partner to find their way back to sex in their own time. If they want to be sexual, keep the ‘sexy’ out of it, and assure them that they don’t have to do, feel or be anything other than who they are right now, which is probably not feeling very ‘sexy’.
Having sex during sadness or grief is a multi-emotional experience. Emotions flow and intermingle. Tears can change into laughter and vice versa. Your partner may feel alive one moment, and numb the next. The grieving partner needs to feel the freedom to flow with whatever arises without judgment. Joining in sex with a grieving partner requires us to stay attuned to whatever feeling is present, and whatever our partner needs in that moment.
Encourage them to breath fully and relax into the pleasure of physical contact, without any pressure to perform or reciprocate.
Create a relaxed, slowed down pace so they have the time to connect to their pleasure and become aroused in their own time. Allow arousal to build slowly and gently.
Be prepared for loss of erections or lack of lubrication. Our bodies know what they want. If intercourse is off the table, turn your attention to whatever feels pleasurable to your partner.
Help them ask for what they want, and follow their lead.
There is no place to get to. This kind of lovemaking can be relaxed and meandering. Orgasms may or may not happen. Leave your agenda at the bedroom door. Incorporate breaks to share, if needed, or silence while holding or cradling.
Tears may flow. It doesn’t mean your partner needs to stop or apologize. Stay in connection and encourage them to feel what they’re feeling. Be a rock when they feel unstable and let them know you’ve got them.
The healing powers of sex are discovered in life’s vulnerable and painful moments.
Partners can turn to each other for empathy, physical contact, pleasurable sensations and orgasmic release.
In sickness and in health, in grief and acceptance, the river of sex and intimacy has many estuaries that lead us back to the open ocean of blissful peace.
Integrating grief and sex can be challenging for any couple. If I can be of service in helping you and your partner to get back to intimacy, I am here to help.
Sexual desire discrepancy in long-term relationships isn’t an anomaly, it’s built-in to the lifestyle of cohabitation, and is pretty much guaranteed to develop at some point within the first 1-3 years of a new relationship. Desire discrepancy is normal, it’s to be expected, yet it remains one of the most painful and destabilizing challenges a couple has to face.
No matter how dry your sex life is right now, there’s a path forward for you as a couple. Just like anything in nature, change is constant. Everything has an ebb and a flow, an expansion and a contraction, a rising and a falling. So it is with intimacy and sexuality in relationships.
You see it everywhere, “How to have hotter sex now.” “Reignite the passion in your relationship.” “Get the magic back in the bedroom.” Online ads, magazine headlines, sex therapy advice, even TV shows all name the same problem. It’s pretty clear that they’re all speaking to an issue that is extremely common in relationships. Sexual dissatisfaction.
I coach people of all ages and cultures who have expressed their reluctance to include sex toys in their intimate time with a partner. They either suspect, or have been told that their partner is worried that a good vibrator will replace them in the bedroom.