How Does Grief Affect Libido?

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A person’s libido will be affected by a wide array of different factors—diet, age, current emotions, and sleepiness, just to name a few.  It comes as no surprise, then, to hear that grief can have a serious impact on one’s libido.

How does grief affect libido? A person’s sex drive is affected by their overall health, and that includes their emotional health. Grief is a powerful emotion that negatively affects a person’s overall mood, which is why it often suppresses a person’s ability to get in the mood.

It’s commonly known that grief can cause a wide range of different issues in the bedroom. If you or your partner have been struggling with reigniting “the spark” after a serious loss, this guide can help give you the answers that you need.

How Does Grief Affect Libido?

The general consensus is that grief usually has a negative effect on a person’s libido, in both the short-term and the long-term. Grief can cause anhedonia, also known as an “emotional shutdown” that can cause the sufferer to lose interest in everything they once enjoyed. (Source: AnhedoniaSupport)

Though rare, there are also cases, where grieving can cause people to try to “bury” their pain through an increased need for sex. There are many cases in which a grieving partner may suddenly demand more intimacy as a coping mechanism. (Source: Bustle).

How Badly Can Grief Harm Your Sex Drive?

Like many negative emotions, grief has a remarkably powerful grip on a person’s sex drive. It’s common knowledge that grief has the power to completely stop a person’s ability to have sex or be interested in sex.

Moreover, most people who are grieving are too focused on their loss and sadness to be able to perform in the bedroom. In some cases, it can even cause a person to be unwilling to remove their clothing in front of their partner. (Source: Psychology Today)

Many people who experience extreme grief also become at risk of major depression, which can further harm their ability to perform.

How Long Can Grief Harm A Libido?

In most cases, a person’s libido will continue to be affected by grief as long as it still strongly impacts them. It can take weeks or even months for some people to gain interest in sex once more. In some cases, it could take some professional intervention to get interest in intimacy started once more.

What Happens If People Use Sex as A Coping Mechanism For Grief?

Grief sometimes causes people to experience a spike in sexual libido. This is often caused as  a way to cope with pain, or suppress it. (Source: Mic) What happens next all depends on what the reason for sex is.

If a person is using sex as a way to feel better or lift their spirits, it could potentially be a healthy coping mechanism. In these cases, their sex drive will wane as they sort through the emotions they feel.

However, most people who start having more sex during a grieving period tend to use sex as a way to suppress or escape from the loss they recently experienced. This can become an unhealthy dependency, not unlike an addiction.

Why Do People Resort to Sex As A Way To Cope With Grief?

At its very basic definition, grief is the sadness that one feels from experiencing a loss that causes a void in one’s life. In many situations, particularly those that involve grieving a lost relationship, people turn to sex to try to refill the void—either temporarily or permanently. (Source: Mic).

Much like having one too many glasses of wine as a way to heal, trying to fill a missing void through sex just doesn’t work. It’s often a superficial fix that doesn’t actually help you address the emotions you need to confront.

Is Getting Aroused During Grief Normal?

While it’s not common, it isn’t uncommon, either. Everyone processes grief differently. As long as it eventually goes back to your normal rate, there should be no cause for alarm.

How to Handle Grief’s Impact on You (Or Your Partner’s) Libido

The impact that grief can have on a person’s sex drive can be devastating to one’s relationship, especially if your partner has a high sex drive. Depending on how long the grief lasts and how long it impacts your sex drive, it can lead to the breakup of an otherwise-healthy couple.

Being able to understand how to prevent grief from causing an intimacy rift is crucial to your relationship’s ability to recover. Here’s how to handle it as you move through your grief:

  1. Establish your expectations.
  2. Talk to your partner about what can and cannot help.
  3. Determine if you need professional assistance.
  4. Work through your grief and slowly introduce more intimacy into your life.

Let’s get into these steps in greater detail, shall we?

Establishing Expectations

There are different levels of grief that one can experience. Grieving a job, for example, might last a couple of weeks. Grieving the loss of a spouse or a parent, on the other hand, is a process that takes years.

When you’re first hit with the loss, it can be hard to know what to expect. This is a good time to let yourself figure out what you need in order to help cope with the stress. It may be a good idea to write down the following:

  • What you expect of your partner. Do you expect them to make love to you on the regular during this time? Do you expect them to give you space? These are things you need to jot down.
  • What you feel is an adequate amount of time for you to take a break from sex. There’s something to be said about the importance of having a couple of weeks’ break from sex as a way to give you time to grieve. Even if you are the type to get aroused while grieving, it’s generally better to give yourself space to process things. (Source: RedNose)
  • What you want. You might want sex, but is it for the physical feeling or the closeness? If you know it’s for the closeness, then it’s important to note that.

It’s important to expect your partner to be understanding during this tough time, especially when it comes to matters of consent and readiness. Many people won’t be ready to have sex during the initial stages of grief. In a healthy relationship, your partner should be ready for that.

Talking to Your Partner

Communication is going to be a lifesaver for any relationship, especially those that have been hit by serious loss. That’s why it’s time to talk to your partner about what can be done in order to alleviate the impact of grief on the bedroom.

During your conversation, talk to them about the following:

  • Sexual and intimacy needs. A lot of couples who grieve together tend to have miscommunications about what they need during this time. Men, for example, might crave sex for closeness. Women who are approached for sex, however, might read this as a sign that they don’t care—even though it’s actually a sign that they’re hurting. It’s important to talk about the feelings you have in regards to your sex lives and be introspective about why you might be reacting the way you are. The more open your communication is, the more likely it is that you will be able to get the reassurance you need from one another.
  • Are you worried that your grieving partner might go seek comfort elsewhere? Have you noticed your partner hitting up old flames, or acting out in emotionally unhealthy ways? It’s not uncommon for people to go outside of their relationship for attention while grieving. (Source: RedNose) Talking about these concerns and how you both can lessen the chances of them occurring is a smart move.
  • Deal breakers. If your partner’s grief has caused them to act out in ways that are not safe to be around, or if your partner’s behavior has become obsessive regarding intimacy, you have a right to discuss this with them and establish it as a deal-breaker in your relationship.

Do You Need Help?

Grief is an exceptionally powerful emotion, and people can’t always handle their grief alone. At times, professional therapy may be needed in order to ensure that one can be healthy enough to engage in intimacy. If any of these signs ring true, you and/or your partner may need a therapist:

  • The grief involved has not gotten better in months or years. Even with large, life-altering losses, there’s a certain point where a person should be in an emotionally better place. If things haven’t gotten better since a grief counselor is in order.
  • You or your partner started to cloister yourself. When a person is very deeply affected by grief, they may begin to withdraw from friends and family as a way to cope. This isn’t healthy and is usually a warning sign that their mental health will take a turn for the worse.
  • The two of you haven’t had sex in over six weeks. It can take a while for grief to subside enough to have sex again, but if you don’t see some subsiding in a matter of weeks, there could be something wrong. (Source: Macabido) It’s not about getting “over it” fast, but it is about seeing an improvement to the point where sex doesn’t involve sadness.
  • It’s causing significant distress in your relationship. Should grief become a serious problem in your relationship, calling a marriage counselor or a grief counselor could be the best way to save your relationship.
  • Drugs or alcohol have become a coping mechanism. Did your partner start drinking heavily to cope with loss? Or worse, did they turn to illicit drugs to try to make things better? This is a slippery slope that often suggests a need to see a professional.
  • Your partner is acting out in uncharacteristic ways. This should always be a cause for concern, especially if you’re currently dealing with a traumatic loss. Violent outbursts, screaming in rage, or losing a grip on reality can be a sign of serious trauma that requires treatment. (Source: Phaneuf)
  • You or your partner decided to bury themselves in busy work. Ignoring the pain isn’t going to make it go away. It’ll just delay it.

Seeing A Grief Counselor vs. Seeing A Relationship Therapist

It’s important to realize that professional help is not something that should be taken lightly. Choosing the right type of therapist is often just as important as choosing to seek outside help. It can be hard to tell whether or not you should see a grief counselor or a relationship therapist.

A grief counselor is an individual who specializes in helping people cope with grief. They often will lightly touch on intimacy’s impact during the stages of grief, but they won’t be focused on it. Relationship counselors will be more likely to focus on your relationship and sexuality as it’s being impacted by grief.

Signs You Need A Relationship Therapist Rather Than A Grief Counselor

A loss can be a serious negative influence on any relationship, but in many situations, it just exacerbates the problems that are already there. At times, hiring a relationship counselor is more appropriate than hiring a grief counselor. This is especially true if any of the following ring true:

  • You were already having intimacy problems prior to the tragedy. If intimacy problems were already there, it’s likely that you and your partner could benefit from relationship counseling alongside grief counseling.
  • Since the loss occurred, arguments have become more frequent. Some losses can cause serious resentment between partners—or even become a source of trauma. Professional marriage counseling can help get rid of the hurt and give you both a new lease on love.
  • There is reason to believe an affair happened during the time you and your partner were grieving. Some people tend to go into methods of escapism when they grieve, and this includes escaping into another relationship. If you have reason to believe your partner may be doing this, counseling is in order—at the bare minimum.
  • You’re beginning to believe that your partner is using grief as an excuse to keep away from you or act out. At times, people can gain a tendency to act badly and use loss as an excuse. No matter what you just lost, your grief is never an excuse to behave poorly to others. This suggests that there are deeper issues in your relationship than immediately visible—and that counseling is a must. (Source: BeyondYourGrief)
  • The sexual component of your relationship has vanished, even after grief disappeared. This is often a sign of a dead bedroom issue and suggests that there may be issues that need to be addressed professionally.

Managing Grief And Getting Back To Intimacy Again

Grief has a weird way of impacting one’s sex life, even in the most subtle of ways. The process of getting back on track with your love life is going to be a difficult one, especially if the loss you suffered was a hard one.

With grief, the effects you’ll notice on your sex drive will start to subside gradually. No one said it’s going to be an overnight process—and realistically, you shouldn’t expect it to be.  These tips below can help you re-engage with your partner on a healthier level:

  • Keep up intimate gestures, even if they aren’t sexual. Intimacy doesn’t have to mean sex. You can still get the closeness of sex with gentle kisses, hugging sessions, as well as massages. This can help a grieving partner feel less vulnerable and make it easier to resume sex when both parties are ready.
  • Be honest with your partner about your needs and feelings. If you need sex, be honest with them about it. Talk to them about it. Understanding how they can help you makes it easier to support you.
  • Give it time. It’s totally normal to be averse to sex for weeks after a loss happens, if not months. You will need to be patient as you recover emotionally, and that’s a day by day process. Some days will be easy, others won’t be.
  • Remember that it requires a commitment from both of you to work. As much as it hurts to admit, there are moments where grief can make it nearly impossible for a relationship to fully recover. If only one of you is committed to making it work, it won’t work. It’s important to know when to cut your losses.
  • Practice self-care, even if you don’t feel like it. Self-care is one of the best tools you have against having grief take over your life. Even if you don’t feel like it, make a point of getting up every day, hitting the gym, eating well, and practicing hygiene. Getting that normalcy back into your world will alleviate the hurt and help ground you.
  • Be open about your feelings. The easiest way to process your grief is to confront it. Trying to suppress your grief or ignore it will only make it come out in another way. Being aware that you’re grieving and just letting it happen when it comes is healthier.
  • You are the one to determine when you’re ready to have sex. There’s no timeframe when it comes to having sex after grief. Everyone grieves differently. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide when it’s appropriate to have sexual contact.

You Don’t Have to Wait Until You’re Over Grieving

Grief is not a linear thing. There will be some days that are far worse than others, and there will be days that will make you feel like you’re over it. Trying to wait until you’re completely over grieving is not going to be feasible (nor healthy) in many situations.

Like with many things in life, having sex after a serious loss is going to be a learning curve. You might have to relearn and rethink what sex means to you. Talking about it with your partner, and figuring out how you process intimacy after this loss can make a huge difference in how your intimate life goes on.

Feeling Guilt Over Libido

Depending on what your loss deals with, it’s possible to feel guilty for having a sex drive while you grieve. If you’re feeling guilty over desire, take a deep breath and relax. It’s a normal aspect of grieving and doesn’t mean that you’re betraying someone for feeling that way.

If you are partnered up, or if you suspect that your partner feels guilt over having sex during a grieving period, it’s a good idea to talk things out. Being able to reassure one another can help alleviate these feelings and help the grieving party realize that it’s not wrong to feel desire.

Be Succinct When People Offer You Advice

After a serious loss, people tend to offer advice that may be well-meaning (or not!) that doesn’t really work with your needs. When this happens, it’s common to feel like you need to be polite about it. However, some psychiatrists don’t necessarily see it that way.

Psychologists actually suggest using snappy comebacks when people tell you things that don’t necessarily work with your grieving period. This is especially true if you are dealing with someone who is very pushy about trying to “help” you. (Source: Psychology Today)

How To Comfort A Grieving Lover

One of the hardest things that a couple can go through is dealing with a loss that affects a partner deeply. Comforting your partner during this difficult time can be tricky, especially when you’re not a natural at it. These tips below can help:

  • Go at their pace and tell them you’ll be ready when they are. It can take a while to grieve and get to the point where they’re down to have sex again. Being respectful of the space they need to grieve is vital to your partner’s wellbeing at this time.
  • Be the ear they need. When you’re grieving, it’s good to have an absorbent shoulder. By being there and listening to them, you help them overcome their grief. They might get repetitive but listening to them helps them more than you’d believe.
  • Be honest if you think they need help. Not all grieving individuals are going to be able to cope on their own. If you feel your partner needs the help of a qualified therapist or professional, be honest with them. It may not be what they want to hear but it’s what they need to hear.
  • Ask them what they need. Every person will grieve differently so it’s a good idea to listen to what your partner says they need. If you don’t know how to be there for them, ask. (Source: Bustle)
  • Avoid the common cliches that people offer. While you may have the best intentions behind saying them, many platitudes end up being more of an insult than a soothing reminder. If you don’t know what to say, saying that you’re there for them but don’t know what to say can be a good start. It might not sound great, but it’s genuine.
  • Encourage them to practice self-care with you. It’s easy to fall into a state of disrepair when you’re upset about a serious loss. As a partner, you should make an effort to encourage your partner to do small acts of self-care as a way to help keep them grounded.
  • Stay intimate, even if it’s not sexual. Most people who are grieving will still want some form of intimacy. Whether it’s a long hug, a kiss, or just doing some snuggling while watching the TV, having that level of intimacy can help bridge the gap between grief and sexuality when the time is right.
  • Be patient. It will not be an overnight fix. You will have moments where you’re going to wonder how long it’ll be until things are back to normal. Bad as it may be, nothing lasts forever. Give them time to heal at their own pace.

The Final Take

If you thought that grief would have little effect on a person’s libido, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Grief has a shocking impact on a person’s sex drive. Depending on the person and the situation, it could cause an increase or a decrease. Regardless of how the person reacts to grief, the emotional impact it causes will affect sex drive—and that’s a virtual guarantee.

If you or a loved one are dealing with grief, it’s important to tackle it in a healthy way. Acknowledge your grief, let it out, go to a therapist, and slowly introduce intimacy as you recover from your loss. Though it may seem impossible at times, you will eventually recover as long as you address your emotions properly.

If your partner is the only one who’s dealing with grief, being there for them is crucial to both your relationship and your partner’s wellbeing. With lots of self-care, affection, and patience, things will improve over time.

About Kasia Ciszewski 33 Articles
Kasia is a licensed professional counselor servicing the Charleston area. She helps individuals heal, better understand their emotions, energize & become more aware of their inner strength. She specializes in helping teens, adults and seniors and has been able to regularly achieve impressive results for her client's throughout South Carolina.

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