Widow’s Fire: The unspoken truths of sexual intimacy after grief
Sexual bereavement is the grief we don’t like to talk about. It’s only natural to miss sex and sexual intimacy when you’re grieving your partner’s death, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
In fact, there’s even a term for it – ‘widow’s fire’. ‘Widow’s or widower’s fire’ is a natural phenomenon defined as a strong desire for sex following bereavement and is often considered a natural part of the grieving process. Our new research* found that 3 in 5 (63%) widows and widowers felt ‘widow’s fire’ following the death of their partner and that 58% began to feel these sexual urges within 6 months after their partner’s death.
When it came to actually having sexual relations with someone new again, the average widow and widower waits 1 year, 3 months and 2 weeks to lose their ‘widow virginity’ (yes, that’s our actual term for it). 18-30-year-olds wait the shortest time, with an average of 9 months, 2 weeks and 4 days. However, there is no right or wrong time to explore intimacy after grief. It’s about what feels right for the individual.
Our study found that the most common reason for wanting to have sex again was “craving intimacy” (27%), followed by simply feeling “horny” (25%). We also found that 48% of widows and widowers have more sex now with their new partner(s) than they did previously.
Read on for the full results of our research and uncover what sex, masturbation, orgasms, sex toys, kinks and everything in between look like after experiencing the death of a partner.
Moving forward sexually with someone new can be scary in all walks of life, but our study found that, after experiencing the death of a partner, the majority of people become significantly more experimental in the bedroom, with over 3 in 5 saying they are more experimental when it comes to sex:
- Over half of widows and widowers said they found a new kink or fetish.
- 52% either have, or have considered experimenting with a gender different to their deceased spouse.
- 57% said they have a higher sex drive than before.
- 53% said they are more open to exploring sexual relationships with younger partners.
- More than half say they are more open to exploring sexual relationships with older partners.
- Over two-thirds (67%) are now more confident in the bedroom.
- 56% enjoy sex more now.
'The Big O' & masturbation
When it came to orgasms, 1 in 5 widows and widowers said that they have more frequent orgasms with their new partner(s), and another 1 in 5 said they have better orgasms. Interestingly, a quarter of men said that they now have better orgasms, compared to just one in eight women.
Regarding self-pleasure, only 3 in 10 widows and widowers said they began masturbating more than before their partner died. However, almost half said they bought their first-ever sex toy for masturbation, and 41% began watching porn for the first time during masturbation, showing that many are exploring new sides of their sexuality following their bereavement.
Interestingly, men were more likely than women to buy their first-ever sex toy for masturbation (54% vs 40%).
The most positive and difficult parts of having sex with a new person
Much like any other dating field, our study found that widows and widowers experience both positive and difficult aspects of having sex with a new person. But dating for widows and widowers can be especially tough, especially when navigating a new sex life. However, the study found that the positives outweigh the negatives, with almost a third of widows and widowers saying the most positive part of having sex with a new person is that it is exciting to try new things:
- One in five found having sex with a new person helped them learn new things about their body.
- 1 in 5 say it’s exciting to have sex with a new person.
When looking at the most difficult parts of having sex with a new person after the death of a partner, most (22%) said they found it difficult to relax with someone new:
- Almost 1 in 5 said they were nervous about having sex with a new person.
- Over 1 in 6 said they felt like their new partner(s) did not know how to please them.
- 14% said that the sex was worse with a new partner.
‘And just like that’, I began to wonder, should I go back to my ex?
Mainstream media has slowly started to explore the love lives of widows and widowers more and more. The second season of the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, will see Carrie Bradshaw going back to her ex. And last year’s, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, saw Emma Thompson’s widowed character seeks sex from a male sex worker to have her first-ever orgasm.
At Chapter 2, we’re passionate about breaking these sexual taboos and stigmas surrounding those who have experienced a partner’s death. With Ms. Carrie Bradshaw in mind, we asked widows and widowers if they have ever considered going back to an ex for sex…
Interestingly, 3 in 5 of the widows and widowers we spoke to have either gone back to an ex for sex or considered going back to an ex for sex following the death of their partner! A quarter of people said they had already had sex with an ex since their partner’s death, and 34% have considered it.
Chapter 2 is launching a sister-app in June 2023 called WidowsFire. The app is ‘all about the physical’ with other widows and widowers and seeks to offer a fun and flirty place to explore natural urges. More information about WidowsFire (and how you can sign-up) can be found here.
More advice and support resources for navigating your journey after the death of your spouse can be found here.
*Research carried out between 14th – 20th of February 2023 amongst 500 UK adults who had experienced the death of a partner and were currently sexually active with a new partner(s)