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How to navigate sexual intimacy after child loss

How to navigate sexual intimacy after child loss
Sexual intimacy can be daunting after suffering the death of a child. However with communication and compassion, it is possible to navigate intimacy after child loss
The death of a child is a brutal and devastating blow. Outliving a descendant goes against the natural order of life, in which the child is expected to bury the parent. Whether it is a sudden or expected event, no progenitor is really prepared to say goodbye to one's own flesh and blood. While it is true that all bereavement is a painful and complicated process, the death of a child is often the most heartbreaking loss to bear.  
In parental bereavement, both progenitors go through the greatest crisis of their lives at the same time. Those who suffer the death of a descendant not only have to deal with their own grief, but must also help manage the suffering and anguish of their sentimental partner. It is all very confusing; the mourners experience depression, guilt, anxiety, marital problems, communication difficulties and sexual disconnection. Soon, the afflicted parents discover that all normalcy has disappeared, and with it, desire and pleasure have also suffered. 
"In parental bereavement, both parents go through the greatest crisis of their lives at the same time"
Torkild Hovde Lyngstad (2013) has pointed out that “when a child dies, the bereaved parents and their marital relationship are affected by this event in many ways”. Clearly, this is an extremely traumatic and stressful experience that can impact the progenitors' lives for years to come. 

Gender differences and reactions to sexuality

After the death of a child, mothers and fathers often experience the grieving process differently, and this tends to affect daily life and contact. 
In terms of sexuality, many married or cohabiting spouses experience difficulties in their intimate life. Usually, one or both partners involuntarily lose interest in sex. Physical contact and intimacy are especially reduced during the first few months after the passing of a child.
A Norwegian study, conducted by Atle Dyregrov and Rolf Gjestad, indicates that, “men are ready to resume activity in the sexual area much earlier than women. Women suffer much more from grief…and they more often perceive sex as somehow being wrong. Men also easily misunderstand women’s need for closeness as a wish for sex.”
Bereaved mother
Parents can respond differently to child loss, which can put pressure on their relationship
Often, mothers have drastic changes in their sexual desire. In this sense, there is a powerful relationship between the “painful emotions” of grief and sexual difficulties. When a woman is overwhelmed by intense sorrow, emotional exhaustion, shock, or anger, she is unlikely to have space for sensuality and arousal.  
For their part, bereaved men turn to sex as a coping mechanism. In general, men approach their partners in the hope of finding solace, reducing stress, and releasing tension. Sexual bonding not only responds to a biological need, but also to an emotional need. Such a reaction does not mean that the father does not experience strong feelings associated with the loss. For some individuals, the intercourse may be a healthy coping strategy.
Most mothers are often upset by their partner's sexual urges, which can be intense and insistent. In this context, it is easy for misunderstandings to arise in the relationship. 
"After the death of a child, mothers and fathers often experience the grieving process differently"
Bereaved mothers find it quite difficult to understand the sexual advances of their partner. In fact, they often perceive this type of reaction as an incorrect and inappropriate impulse. The mother may feel that the father is not grieving adequately or that the partner did not love the child enough. In this regard, many women consider that resuming sexuality and experiencing pleasure is an act of disloyalty to the deceased child.  
As a consequence of these gender differences, both men and women experience feelings of isolation, disgust, loneliness, grief, anger and frustration.

How does bereavement affect the libido?

It can take time to be intimate again after parental bereavement
Parental grief is a very personal journey and each individual must find their own path to recovery and sexuality. As parents go through the stages of grief and process their emotions, carnal desires fluctuate. Here are some of the ways in which grief affects intimacy:  
  • Physical intimacy after the loss of a child can be complicated. Many people become disconnected from their sex life. They may go months, or perhaps years, without having relations. 
  • On occasion, grief can significantly heighten sexual desire. One or both partners may experience an increased need for physical intimacy. By connecting sexually, couples reinforce a sense of affection, rapport and mutual support.  
  • Some people may feel that intimacy would complicate the emotional situation too much, which is why they take refuge in masturbation. 
  • Certain couples feel the need to conceive a new child, so they immediately resume intimate contact. In this sense, having a child together tends to increase the level of commitment in the relationship. 
According to Reiko Schwab's (1992) findings, “Spouses withdraw from each other at various points in their bereavement, either because of their own intense anguish or out of a desire to avoid increasing their spouses' pain. Consequently, the marital relationship suffers.”

General recommendations

1. Open communication with your partner
Over time, the worst parts of grief begin to subside. As this happens, couples should seek opportunities to discuss sexual desires and needs. It is crucial that partners gradually work through painful emotions, and especially feelings of guilt associated with sexual pleasure. There is much to communicate, understand and reflect on.
2. Social support
There is nothing lonelier than coping with the death of a child. According to studies by Catherine Rogers (2005) parents who receive social support (bereavement groups, religious involvement, interactions with family and friends) are more likely to overcome the tragedy and remain united.  
"Many parents benefit significantly from talking with other couples in similar circumstances"
It is noteworthy that, through support groups, the bereaved receive knowledge, guidance and understanding. Many parents benefit significantly from talking with other couples in similar circumstances. 
3. Provide space for intimate gestures, even if they are not sexual
Even if the couple does not feel ready to fully resume their sexuality, specialists recommend maintaining a certain “physical connection”. It is enough to caress, embrace, hold hands, cuddle, pamper and keep each other company.  
4, Give it time
It may seem impossible, but over time, many parents rebuild their couple's connection and begin to experience deep, strengthened sexual intimacy. According to the findings of Benfield, Leib and Vollman (1978), such a devastating tragedy can also help forge a unique bond between parents. In the long run, and after much work, the meaning of life returns and so does sexual health. 
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