A Widow’s Yearning: The Loss of Sex
Introduction: Death and Grief
Death hits all of us hard. It is often said that the sadness, the despair and the aching pain that stems from the loss of a loved one lessens as time passes, but it isn’t true. Not for everyone at least. For some people, sorrow and loss are constant. Some people do not get the chance of ‘moving on’ or ‘starting fresh’. Unfortunately, a large majority of these people are widows.
Widowhood and its Tragic Traditions
In large parts of our country, post the death of her husband, the status of a woman is reduced from a human to an object. She may not be forced to sit on his funeral pyre but widowhood oftentimes directly translates to death of her social and personal life. She is forced to live a spiritual life with heavy restrictions, which deteriorates her psychological and emotional well-being.
The deplorable state of their lives, is by large a result of the myriad ways in which the society attempts to control their sexuality. They are forced to give up colorful attires, part with their jewellery, ornaments, and ‘bindi’ and in some extreme cases, even shave their heads. At the heart of all these practices and rituals is the sexual and social death of that woman.
These rituals, a form of social castration, are supposed to prevent any man from being sexually attracted to her. Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of their plight, they aren’t allowed to eat a large variety of food items such as – onions, garlic, pickles, potatoes, fish etc. because they are supposedly considered aphrodisiacs (are known to fuel sexual energy), even though they have essential nutrients necessary for proper nutrition.
Widows and their Defiant Desire
Wearing a widow’s veneer can be tough, especially when you have to mix that with fulfilling your sexual desires, without stepping on the toes of society’s expectations. This poses a question in front of us that in a society like ours, where people think that
- “sex is only for married couples”
- “widow-remarriage is adultery” and
- “self-pleasure is a sin,”
how is a woman, whose husband died while she’s still in her prime, supposed to fulfill her sexual desires?
The answer is, she can’t. She can’t ask her body to stop releasing estrogen and progesterone just because the person she was married to, died. Therefore in this tussle between hormones and ideology, she learns to suppress the libido. But suppressing sexual desires isn’t a good idea, because sooner or later they’ll resurface and when they do, to fight them off will be a struggle like none other.
Problems with the Second Innings
The life of a widow who chooses to move on, is also full of hardships, judgment and criticism. A widow may vent her pain out, but not without being judged. A widow may indulge in acts of self-pleasure, but not without feeling guilty. A widow may seek new relationships, but not without being labelled.
The process of seeking a new relationship or a new partner, is extremely difficult for widows. They fear that in their new relationship, their children (if any) may experience negligence, or that every relationship that they ever enter into is based on their partner’s unrevealed assumption that she’s “desperate for sex”. If that’s not all, at times adult children control the sexuality of their single parent, often by discouraging sexual liaisons.
It has been observed that widows don’t discuss their urge of sexual intimacy with friends or even mental health professionals because they feel like they’re cheating. They think, ‘How can I feel this way? It’s unethical and beyond reproach.’ They think this way, because these are the cues that the society gives them.
Source: Modified Cover Image of book Dyslexia Advocate.
Liberation: A Long Way Ahead
Widowhood is socially constructed as an asexual period in this patriarchal society where heteronormativity and marriage prevail as the accepted norms. Our society has little to no regard for a woman with energy around her sexual desires, especially if she’s a widow. A woman’s sexuality has forever been a tool for the society to control them, to restrict them and to establish authority over them but it has to change.
Instead of pushing widows into an existence devoid of all pleasures, we as a society should push the boundaries of our restricted and regressive mindsets to acknowledge the needs of a sect of our fellow human beings.
It’s imperative for us to understand that any widow who chooses to move on in her life, isn’t cheating or casting aspersions on their love for their partner who died. We can honor our past, even treasure it, but choose not to live there. It’s not an either-or situation. We can incorporate our previous life into the life we’re moving into. These realizations are the first step in a long journey to come towards the liberation of widows from the shackles of this patriarchal society.