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A reader writes:
My wife went through menopause 16 years ago and our sex life basically died. Two years after that was the beginning of her battle with cancer, which took her a month ago. Because I always loved her, and because she was dealing with cancer for most of this time, and because we were always very affectionate, I tolerated being in a sexless marriage. We dealt with no sex by remaining close and loving.
Now that she’s gone, I’m already thinking about sex. My own need for orgasms has been high recently, maybe due to the stress of her final days and my need for release. I signed up for two dating sites and quit them the day after signing up. One scammer and too many eager women contacted me. I bought an expensive sex doll and put it out with the trash the next day.
“Is it possible to be happy with another person?”
I now think that I need to take it slowly and allow things to happen in a more natural manner. I have always needed to make an emotional connection to have a sexual relationship. I read your book, Sex After Grief, and my main question is this. Does it appear that I’m simply trying to recreate my deceased wife, since I just recently lost her? Or is this a sign that I’m ready to consider moving on to a new person? Or is it just my need for orgasm as stress relief?
I know that I won’t take any action on moving on at least until after the pandemic. But mentally and emotionally, I worry: am I trying essentially to bring her back? I know that’s a fool’s errand. We had such a compatible relationship. Is it possible to be happy with another person? I’m scared of what I might be expecting unconsciously.
– Conflicted Widower
Grief is so complicated. First, your heart is ripped raw because you’ve lost your beloved. Yet these feelings surge in you—because you’re human!—and you yearn to live fully again, including sexually. But how can you when you’ve lost your beloved? What’s possible? What’s normal?
Let me first assure you that all these feelings that you express are normal. Your sexual urges are normal. Your need for emotional and sexual release—all normal. It’s also normal that you’re conflicted and reluctant.
Would you be trying to “replace” your wife if you started a sexual relationship with someone new? No. Every relationship is different, and if you connect with someone new, what happens between you reflects the two of you, your individual personalities, tempered by your histories, including your past experiences of love. A new relationship will be different. And as long as you’re honest and communicative, it can be special.
A Male Perspective
Your story was so similar to that of Shamus MacDuff, who writes on my blog from the male point of view, that I asked Shamus to share his perspective. He lost his wife after a long illness 3 1/2 years ago. He made these suggestions:
Masturbate and use penis toys to get release, especially during the pandemic when it’s not safe to be with new partners.
Rejoin online dating sites, but don’t just stick to “senior” sites. Popular sites like OKCupid and Match have huge numbers of seniors, and you can sort by age preference. Give lots of attention to writing a profile that explicitly states what you are looking for, and what you don’t want. (See Joan’s “How the Heck Do We Date at This Age?” webinar for guidance.)
Go slow. Only engage with people on the dating sites that intrigue you enough to have an online or phone conversation. Meeting people online now via dating sites will give you time to develop the emotional connections you crave ahead of any possible sexual encounters, once it is again safe to engage that way with new people. The pandemic allows you plenty of time to get to know each other without rushing into a live meeting.
Recognize that your feelings of grief and loss are raw and real. It’s okay to feel sad and lonely. It’s also okay to reach out virtually to potential new dating partners. Once it becomes safe, you can arrange to meet face-to-face.
Cherish your memories, but also cherish your possibilities for newfound happiness. No, you’ll never bring your wife back, but you may find a meaningful emotional and sexual connection in the future.
As you read in my book, Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality After Losing Your Beloved, people grieve differently and recapture their sexuality in many different ways and timelines. There’s no one right or wrong way to “do” grief. Be true to yourself, and be honest and forthcoming with people you may date in the future. Meanwhile, give yourself sexual pleasure and release without guilt. I know it’s hard to believe this now, but the darkness of grief will lift, and it will get easier. I know. I’ve been there.
Send Joan your questions by emailing [email protected]. All information is confidential. Joan can only answer questions that are chosen for publication from readers age 60+
Joan Price is the author of several self-help books about senior sex including her newest, “Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved,” and the award-winning “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex.” Visit Joan’s website and blog and her Facebook page. For senior sex news and tips, subscribe to Joan’s free newsletter.