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  • Writer's pictureSarah Foley

TSS - 020 ~ grief + sex

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

content warning: depression

Hello, what an unplanned break from writing this has been. In the midst of the period I thought I'd be most overwhelmed with creativity (the end of my degree, summer, reunion with my partner after months of long distance, an amazing new job), I instead began a new undesired challenge that leeched the creativity from me: grief. While I shared profusely, compulsively, desperately with my friends, I wasn't able to write here while the processing I required involved the vulnerability of someone I care about deeply. And so, I have decided not to. This piece is written two months after the initial rupture, as I re-navigate what space my body takes up in my world and the greater world.

Grief and sex can as easily be a dichotomous experience as it can be a complimentary one. For some people, there is deep relief in sex, connection to an otherworldly reminder of visceral sensation. A reminder of the life to still be lived, and I imagine for orgasmic people, a dopamine hit that can be momentarily healing in times of distress, a blissful break from deafening sadness. The offering of even a few moments of normalcy, escape, even validation in the midst of darkness is powerful, and reasonable.

I am presently teetering somewhere between anti-sensual and reckless longing. Anti-sex generally, until I am sick of being measured and controlled and mature and need to fuck something up, to feel something new that is not hopelessness. My brain knows sex is a horrendous idea right now, but my body wants movement, away from the stagnation of ever-creeping depression. I am always swirling with panic, longing and pain. There isn't even anywhere to slot sex at the moment, when there is so little joy to begin with and no intimacy worthy of that bond. I want to throw sex into the ocean and let it drift to the silent bottom. Then I have fleeting moments of wanting to have my entire body touched, gazed at, chosen. I feel nauseous at the thought of sex, guilty. I don't want to be touched by anyone unfamiliar. I'm imagining when I eventually probably drunkenly push myself to the other side of this locked gate, I will erupt into terrified tears upon enacting a sexual moment. In my particular grief, the language of my hurt is sex. Sex is tied up in why I am grieving. It has become an enemy, a symbol of my insecurity, the language of an end and a beginning, a place of divine memories that hurt to give attention to.

Typically for me, in moments of intense grief such as now, I spiral between buoyant, life reminiscent, validation seeking sex, and sexlessness. Depending on the grief, sex has played different roles, offered different comforts or tortures. At the end of a previous relationship that had been sometimes characterised by our differences in sexual desire, I sought as much sex as I could manage. I needed the bodily reminder of my connectability; empowerment through pleasure and desire. I dragged my body victoriously through a parade of sex, desperate to prove my sexual worth, to be desired for the sexuality that I could offer. I existed only for the moments of sex, curled into unescapable anxiety the rest of the time.

Another time, I pushed too quickly into sex, hoping for distraction, maybe numbness from the first heartbreak my body would know. Instead, I cried woefully, burying myself under the covers the moment he realised I had left my body, and picked himself up and left. Oddly, this sorrow propelled me forward into ready freedom, cutting the space that had been dedicated to one person with the offering of another (even if not great).

For most of the last two months, my own sex has drifted quietly away from me. Sex is something that the carefree, enigmatic people around me do, not me. I am disconnected entirely from that world again, complimented by moments of feeling overwhelmed with my sensuality, before I harshly shut it away as a deeply sabotaging offering. I had built sexual safety over time, and began to feel the increase in a new, true desire, but it has fled with such haste I am now mourning the years of work to get to that point. I know it is not over, but my tendency away from authentic sexuality is creeping back in. What I feel sporadically now, is the chaotic impulse to be with the person I love, and if that rejection occurs and breaks me in two again, anyone who could possibly move me away from him for a moment. I sent my beautiful sexologist a brash text denouncing my need to push back our sessions because the idea of speaking about sex for an hour is too painful. I know that my fleeing from sex is because it is tied up in my grief and loss, but also in the deep love that I have crafted. I am not ready to connect to anyone else, my body is still engraved with love. Any sex I could have now would be reckless, designed to cause more hurt for a moment of gratification. I know that if I were to rush too quickly into distracting myself with touch and desire, I would shut down even further, silencing the voices that tell me clearly I am not ready. To honour the work I have done, I have to tread so gently into the water of new sex. My body has become my caretaker, and my brain my mother. I use my body as much as I can manage, exercising, begging for serotonin. My brain softly consoles me, reminds me that all the future versions of me have climbed to the other side of this grief and seen joy and love again. My logic consoles me, running from sex makes total sense when I don't have the space to be vulnerable with anybody. My heart consoles me, oh my love we will get through this, we are right where we are meant to be.

Where previous versions of me passed the time of pain with distracting sex followed by excruciating moments of reality, I cannot do that anymore, as much as I want to. I have fought for a truthful relationship to my body and I'm not willing or able to give that up. What does disappoint me is that I cannot connect even to myself safely through sex. Masturbation has gone out the window, not deliberately, I just truly do not think about it. When I spend so much time flooded with grief, I cannot drag myself into even just a relaxed enough state to consider that level of connection to my body. I live in my brain in grief, my body the vessel that carries and hides a black hole of chaos in which there is a constant paradox of fatigue and frantic heart beats. I have returned to something reminiscent of depression. Where my teenage and early twenties life was dominated by mental illness, the last few years had offered some stability I didn't know I was capable of. The grief of the last months has brought back, situational depression, I am going to call it. I don't believe that I would feel like this if not for the circumstances of my current life, and I know I will get through it, but it is impactful enough to deserve the label that symbolises more pain than one person can comfortably carry. I raise the depressive part of this grief because I am concerned that I will stray even further from sex if I am chemically managed. Although, historically I most consistently experienced/expressed sexual pleasure when I was on fluoxetine, so my argument holds little weight. I suppose I am cautious of anything that might make connecting harder, but I suppose depression in itself makes it harder to connect, not to mention the truthful lack of readiness. I am reminded of the film, Melancholia, the weighted body of depression, the exhaustion, the dread, and the constant juxtaposing of the quiet body and the unquiet mind.

Grief and sex is messy, painful, sometimes cathartic, sometimes embodying, sometimes the opposite. I am terrified to venture into unfamiliar territory, so certain of the unleashing of more pain than there is space for in my body. But, there is something so important and restorative about being reminded of the feelings of newness. I know I will know and feel desire again one day. Where I currently oscillate between sexlessness and reckless desire for connection, I will find my equilibrium again as I am unconsciously carried further through this by my self, my hope, my knowledge that love is miraculous, extraordinary, life affirming, victorious.

I am hoping that my next piece is more hopeful, joyful, informative, sexy, but for now, I am hoping to just make it safely to the other side of this astronomical grief. I will see you there.



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