Grief vs Sexuality
January 3, 2011 2:40 AM   Subscribe

How do I reconcile my interests and passions with creativity and human sexuality, in the face of death, grief, and tragedy? Are there any thoughtful heartfelt resources from those who have talked about the two?

The past couple of years I've really gone gungho with exploring my sexuality and sexual expression - creatively, personally, any which way. Creative sexuality has become quite the passion. I'm starting up some projects that explore this, been involved in community activities, experienced new lovers...all sorts of boundary exploration.

Over NY weekend I found out that one of my cousins passed away from a freak accident. She was in her late 20s, not that much older than me, and we had pretty much grown up together. It's the most significant family death I've experienced (especially in this age range) and all of us are reeling from the unexpectedness of it.

My biggest issue here is trying to reconcile my grief and the tragedy with my need/desire for further self-expression and exploration. In the light of this death it seems like anything to do with sexuality seems so superficial, so pointless, so hedonistic and useless. Like it's somehow disrespecting her honour or something, that the only appropriate way to respond to death in the family is to shut down everything else and just mourn. I had all sorts of plans and projects for this coming year involving erotic creativity, but now they all seem so...somewhere between "useless" and "disrespectful". Selfish. It's not "saving the world", it's hedonistic and extravagant.

Heck I'm even feeling conflicted over my personal coping needs. I usually tend to turn to personal touch for comfort - cuddles, hugs, that sort of thing. Part of me desires some sort of sensual comfort, to reach out and touch someone. But even now that seems selfish or inappropriate or something. It's likely irrational, but still.

So anyway. Does anyone know of any good resources, writings, reflections, etc that can help me reconcile these two opposing needs? Anyone who has looked delicately or thoughtfully at the connection between grief and sexuality? About embodying yourself while still honouring others?
posted by divabat to Human Relations (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

It's not specific to sexuality, but I read this poem recently and it expressed something that I found valuable in starting to pick up my own "frivolous" activities after losing my parents:

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have know and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
everyday in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction
we lessen the importance of their depravation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit that there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
Anchored late at night in the tiny port
Looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
Is three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
posted by crocomancer at 3:11 AM on January 3, 2011 [23 favorites]

Sex and death are not at odds, in fact they're two sides of the same coin, in a way. I was recently reminded of this when examining some of my favourite art; that all art is, to some extent, about sex and death. I recommend reading Georges Bataille for a more erudite take on this subject than I can offer. MeFi mail me if you'd like to discuss this further and have my assurances that it's not frivolous or meaningless at all.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 3:43 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you're overthinking this, and I also think it's very soon after your cousin's death to be deciding that you will be/won't be doing [thing]. Losing someone you love is traumatic, and it changes your perspective. But the change isn't necessarily permanent - at least, not the way you're experiencing it now.

Sit with your loss for a while. Don't worry about what you will create or not create in six months. Don't worry that what you saw as Important! before your cousin died suddenly seems unimportant and that's how it will stay.

Just breathe and be here now, and give yourself permission to put things on hold or decide to not do something, and give yourself permission to change you mind in three months or six months (or weeks, whatever works).

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by rtha at 5:54 AM on January 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

In the light of this death it seems like anything to do with sexuality seems so superficial, so pointless, so hedonistic and useless.

I don't think you'll think of it this way forever; it's what the living do. However, I will say that over the course of life and its serious experiences, I personally have found that most things sex-related have fallen into perspective - that though they are important parts of a well-led and joyful life, they are not central to my life. I agree with rtha that the intense period of grief, which does redirect your attention will moderate somewhat and your life will come back into a balance, but I would also say that the primacy of sex in one's life can really change and fluctuate with time and life circumstances. And that is totally okay and usual.
posted by Miko at 6:11 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

My biggest issue here is trying to reconcile my grief and the tragedy with my need/desire for further self-expression and exploration. In the light of this death it seems like anything to do with sexuality seems so superficial, so pointless, so hedonistic and useless.

Cooling it right now and dealing with your grief doesn't require you to make any long-term lifestyle changes. Take care of yourself in the short term, pay attention to your own needs, you'll know when it's time to get back on the merry-go-round.

Frivolity for its own sake is one of the blessings of life, but there is a time and place for everything.
posted by hermitosis at 6:57 AM on January 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

There is a kind of flip saying about this in Spanish: "El muerto al hoyo, el vivo al bollo." Life is for the living, basically.
posted by yarly at 8:45 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Denying yourself joy while you're alive won't stave off death.

Sex is not frivolous, it's a central part of life.

Let me recommend Grieving Mindfully by Sameet Kumar as a helpful resource.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:14 AM on January 3, 2011

I wish I could point you to the original source, but I have forgotten where I first read this idea many years ago. Wherever it was, the point was made that people often deal with death by engaging in activities that reaffirm life, notably eating and sex. Thus, after-funeral meals, and according to this unknown author, the frequency of people going home to have sex afterward. It's not saying that people find death appetizing or sexy. It's that we each face our own mortality when confronted with the death of a loved one, and one very natural response is to embrace our remaining life with vigor and gusto.

Do what you need to do to take care of yourself, whether that is taking a break from this kind of expression or diving into it headlong. There is no wrong way to grieve, and how you do it will change unexpectedly over time. I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by vytae at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you. "Frivolous" was the word I was struggling to find. This conflict was on the forefront of my mind because I had spent New Years weekend performing at a massive queer party/festival and the contrast was very very striking.

I just want to be held and comforted a lot...
posted by divabat at 4:06 PM on January 3, 2011

Response by poster: Well this question took on a special significance - I just lost a former friend to suicide a few days ago. She and I used to talk about sexuality a lot so this has extra poignancy. Just when I was making sense of things in life, this happens, and everything seems so frivolous again...
posted by divabat at 9:08 PM on October 11, 2011

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