Long post (1601 words) May be triggering for some people – discussion of sexual bereavement after death.
I never thought about being without a partner at this stage of my life (turning 65 this year). As many of you know from my earlier posts and my About Page, when my last partner Ric and I parted company around four years ago, I almost immediately took on the role of carer for mum. We bought a house together, and set about making it a home. I’d been in and out of sexual relationships since my mid teens so I hadn’t expected a break in that pattern. The trauma of the breakup meant that I was grieving for the relationship, but the sexual side was downplayed; and as mums needs became more complex I didn’t really miss it. With mum for company I was not physically or psychologically alone.
I have previously discussed how I awoke in the middle of an orgasm a short time after mum died – a signal that my libido was stirring again. The re-emergence of my sexual desire was soon taken care of by an intense period of investigation into the big bad world of sex toys, by my birthday sex adventure with Sydney based sex worker and short film maker (!) John Oh, and by my unexpected venture into blogging.
Sex with John was pleasurable and physical. It fulfilled the need to have a clear, definite and happy memory of sex, given that I felt at the time it was likely to be my last sexual encounter. Blogging, surprisingly, reconnected me with lovers in my past, although only in memory and re-imagination. It reminded me that I had at one time been involved in a relationship that took me effortlessly into the shallows of Kink. Although at the time, my young lover Ryan, and I, did not know that what we were exploring might be labelled as such, although we definitely knew it felt kinky.
Ours was a highly charged erotic relationship and when we separated, my tears and agonies were not only about the relational side of things, the loss of the life we had built together; nor about the belief (that I hold to this day) that we were soulmates, but also, vividly, the loss of our rigorous exploratory sex life, and of his “pale sweet flesh”. I remember lying curled on a mattress sobbing and having flashback after flashback of the look and feel of his cock; the sensation of his fingers inside me, the naughty teases and deliberate sex games we played, and the sight of his face inflamed with lust.
Of all the loves and lovers in my life the loss of Ryan stands out as the most difficult and painful, I felt bereft in so many ways. I lost my lover, my social circle, my home and I also lost quite a lot of weight as my appetite often disappears under stress, but I didn’t doubt that I would meet someone else. Time was still on my side, and I was not yet wary enough of relationships. Back then I was also still sufficiently self absorbed that I immersed myself in the emotional and sexual loss of Ryan as if my sensations were unique. Now I wonder, (with some hesitation, as I do not regard myself as memorable or special), if I had also engendered similar sensations in the others, when feckless and driven I danced through the emotional and sexual meadows plucking new flowers to taste. Sometimes I think my present celibacy may well be a form of karma.
I’ve loved and been loved and I’ve also been married (not necessarily all at once). Despite the destructive path of my relationship with Ric, I consider myself fortunate to have experienced, for some time at least, a sense of long-term sexual intimacy, characterised by shared humour, body acceptance, built up knowledge of each others triggers and a liberating lack of self-consciousness. Therefore an article by Dr Alice Radosh on the Modern Loss website resonated with my own experiences. Entitled “What is Sexual Bereavement?” Radosh talks frankly of her own loss: “Gone was the appreciation and understanding of bodies that had aged together, the decades of shared humor and pillow talk that were intertwined with sexual enjoyment”.
While the article is primarily aimed at an audience of older, sexually active, normative people who have been bereaved, the issues it raises are worthwhile. The author begins by discussing the increased awareness and media attention around the sexual lives of older people in partnered relationships, then goes on to consider the extensive silence surrounding the sexual aspects of bereavement. With this in mind Radosh and a fellow researcher Linda Simkin took the opportunity to conduct a research survey aimed at women aged 55 and over who were currently in a relationship. Questions in the survey related to the frequency of sexual activity, whether they felt they would miss this aspect of their relationship if their partner predeceased them, and under what circumstances they would discuss this aspect of loss with another person.
The response to the survey was unusually high, and results indicated that while many of the women believed they would miss the sexual activity, their future willingness to discuss this openly would be limited by issues such as embarrassment, the desire to avoid being the one to raise the topic, and even the lack of awareness that this may be a future issue for them. The research by Radosh and Simkin also found that the older the women were the less likely they were to talk about it.
Some of these findings were borne out tangentially by my own experiences last year. At a group based grief and loss counseling session aimed at assisting me with the loss of mum; I raised, with some trepidation, issues of sexuality after the passing of a loved one, as well as the question of provision for sexuality in nursing homes. My disclosures were met with a mixed and rather awkward response, especially as there was one man in the room of about a dozen women. However, the counselor supported my question and also spoke to me at some length after the session, congratulating me on speaking out and indicating her awareness that this was a huge under-discussed issue.
Therefore I was pleased to take note of the research by Radosh and Simkin. It is important. However, while it resonates with certain aspects of my own sexual bereavement, its focus also neglects those who fall outside the magic CIS gendered, married, normative circle, including LGBTQI people, Poly’s and Kinks. In the article in Modern Loss death is viewed as the primary cause of bereavement, people who are divorced or separated are also not included in this discussion of sexual loss (indeed the comments section includes a scathing remark about bitter divorcees and gold diggers which is left unchallenged).
One of the things I wanted to re-enforce again in this post, as I did in the earlier piece Advanced Care Planning, is the need for all of us to consider how our sexual needs and desires will be met as we age, and to encourage us all to discuss it with our partners and with other in our social circles. I do occasionally see comments and posts on-line about changing physical and psychological abilities, sometimes earlier in life, sometimes later. Then there are mentions of other psychological changes, by no means confined to aging, which if I am understanding it correctly may leave one partner unable to continue effectively in the D/s dynamic which has hitherto been central to the relationship itself. Bereavement comes in many forms.
Regardless of the relationship orientation aging will at some point be associated with physical, psychological and sexual loss. In the press, the medical literature and in our own fearful imaginations it brings waning desire, post-menopausal changes to vaginal tissues and erectile functions often long before we regard ourselves as aging. Changes to our skeletal structures and joints may occur as well. While these changes are not always associated with sexuality in mainstream life, they have the potential to affect some Kink sexual activities, especially rope and impact play. Whether we like it or not, and despite our best efforts at maintaining our fitness and flexibility, change and with it losses of some sort will come to all of us. While nothing takes loss from us, opening discussion around sexual bereavement should be part of a relationship discussion.
Reading the comments on Radosh’s article I can feel the bewilderment and the ache of sexual loss experienced by those left behind after the death of a long lasting and loving partnership. But equally I see by the length and detail of the replies that they are relieved to be discussing it. And while I can’t help but consider how debilitating the loss of a partner who is also part of a trusted D/s, Poly or Kink dynamic would be, I suspect that Kinky people in general, will have more open communication about their sexuality, and therefore hopefully a stronger support network.
To be continued…
Recently a couple of the Sinful Sunday group began to make inquiries about the health of Michael Samadhi. Michael and I often exchanged information and comments across our blogs, and I know that he had been very unwell in November and December with bronchitis, and later the flu. Despite this he and Sinnjarra managed to get their new website JoyofKink live before Christmas. The last time I heard from him was 28th December and there have been no posts on his site since then. If anyone knows what has happened to him I’d like to know too.