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Why grief makes some people horny

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This story is part of Thirst Week, a Mic series that explores modern desire and how the world around us shapes the way we lust.

Grief is a reality of life. We grieve breakups and deaths and, sometimes, spilt oat milk lattes. But as much as we want to organize grief into neat stages, the reality is that it affects people differently. Not wanting to have sex is often an assumed part of bereavement, but that’s not how grief operates for everyone. Some people find that instead of being a total libido killer, grief makes them horny.

“There's no one way to grieve,” says Kriss Kevorkian, a professor of thanatology (the study of death) at Walden University. “It depends on the loss and also how we've learned to cope with loss.” Kevorkian, who has studied death and bereavement from every angle, tells me that grief is a painful, but helpful process. “Grief is a life issue,” she says. “While it can cause a great deal of pain, it also teaches us to appreciate those we love because they won't always be there.”

Grieving can also spark a deeper awareness of a person's mortality, which, in turn, makes them want to live more vibrantly. Read: more orgasms. “Some people might choose sex as a way to cope with loss because it makes us feel alive,” Kevorkian says. “Sex is connecting with another person.” When we are raw and vulnerable, then we may be more open to the intimacy that comes with sex tap into our own vitality by connecting with another person. In this way, sex can be a healthy coping strategy for some folks.

Using sex as a coping mechanism is different than using sex as escapism.

The reasons why people get turned on when they are grieving may not always be healthy, though. Using sex as a coping mechanism is different than using it to avoid reality. “Sex might help someone cope with their grief, but it can also be used as a way to suppress the grief or avoid thinking about the loss,” Kevorkian says. This is sex as an escape route. It’s not the sex part that isn’t healthy here. It’s the suppression.

Kevorkian says that it is healthier for us to take time to process grief even when it’s tempting to suppress it. “Grief will come out in one way or another," she adds. It may be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but feeling our feelings keeps us mentally healthy.

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“The grief process is about dealing with a loss that leaves a void,” says Martina Paglia, a London-based psychotherapist and founder of The International Psychology Clinic, an online psychotherapy service. “Some people see an increase in libido because sex helps fill that void. Sex can also help as a distraction from the numbness, confusion, and despair that grieving entails. Other people turn to food or alcohol to fill the void.” Sexual distraction, then, can be used in many of the same ways that other pleasure-inducing activities, like eating or drinking copious amounts of wine, might.

But because our body experiences our emotions as much as our minds do, sex can also be used as a way to process our emotions. “Grief can be processed through mental, emotional, and physical experiences,” says Paglia. “Mental reactions can include processing feelings of denial, shock, numbness, confusion, anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and despair." So, someone grieving could either be using sex as a way to process all those complex emotional states or to avoid them.

None of the experts I spoke with seemed particularly concerned about the emotional health of people who get horny when they’re sad. They were way more concerned about people who use alcohol, drugs, and isolation to cope. Sex, at the very least, can help folks suffering with grief connect to other people. At best, as Kevorkian noted, it can help people feel alive when they are sad, and that’s no small thing.

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