Acknowledging sexual bereavement: a path out of disenfranchised grief

Reprod Health Matters. 2016 Nov;24(48):25-33. doi: 10.1016/j.rhm.2016.11.005. Epub 2016 Nov 30.


Despite increasing awareness of the importance of sexuality for older adults, research and popular literature rarely acknowledge what we term "sexual bereavement" - mourning the loss of sexual intimacy when predeceased. The reluctance to acknowledge sexual bereavement may create "disenfranchised grief" leaving the bereaved unsupported in coping with this aspect of mourning. This preliminary study focuses on women in the United States and sought to determine whether they anticipate missing sex if predeceased, whether they would want to talk about this loss, and identified factors associated with communicating about sexual bereavement. Findings from our survey of 104 women, 55 years and older, most of whom were heterosexual, revealed that a large majority (72%) anticipates missing sex with their partner and 67% would want to initiate a discussion about this. An even higher percentage would want friends to initiate the topic. Yet, 57% of participants report it would not occur to them to initiate a discussion with a widowed friend about the friend's loss. Disenfranchised grief can have negative emotional and physical consequences. This paper suggests a role for friends and professionals in addressing this neglected issue.

Keywords: aging; bereavement; communication; sexual activity; widow.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Bereavement*
  • Female
  • Grief
  • Heterosexuality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Spouses
  • United States
  • Widowhood / psychology
  • Women's Health