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No Sex in Rough Waters? That's OK

    We've written about why you should have sex when things are going rough. But what about the opposite? Sometimes not having sex is just as important as having sex. At a funeral or major life moment and not feeling sexy? That's totally natural. In fact, sometimes not having sex might be the best option at the time. Maybe talking or communication is what you both need to focus on.

    Indeed, there are many other activities that can bring you both together in addition to (or alongside) great sex. GetLusty staff writer Mary-Margaret Sweene is here to talk about a personal story of when sex just wasn't going to happen. And that was totally OK.

    * * *

    My boyfriend and I were taking the week off work. A "staycation," if you will. We had planned out every day, working from a list of things we'd both wanted to do since moving to Chicago. Not least among these things was good sex, and frequent sex. Sex at random times of day. Sex unfettered by a long, tiring day at the office. I was ready for the week.

    But the first night of our long anticipated retreat from the real world, I got a phone call. Actually, I got about nine phone calls, all from my step family. I stepped away from our picnic dinner in the park to call back. Standing on the side of Lake Shore Drive, watching headlights fly past the quiet park I learned that my mother had died.

    So much for that vacation.

    We spent our week off, and then some, traveling to my hometown, planning a funeral, attending a funeral, and making our way back home to Chicago, tired and worn down. Our week of indiscriminate sexy time had actually been spent on a friend's air mattress, switching off between staring wide-eyed at the ceiling in disbelief or crying myself into a fitful sleep when my body finally just gave out.

    Upon first hearing the news, I think I assumed that sex would be on the back burner for quite some time. I'm sure my boyfriend did. I definitely remember thinking as we packed our bags that this experience was either going to make us or break us. I was right.

    Today is our one year wedding anniversary.

    Before my mom died, we had talked about getting married eventually. Because we'd both experienced some pretty hairy relationships, we were content taking our time though. Looking back, perhaps I needed something to test it. And I certainly got it with the death of my mother. Two weeks after her funeral, I proposed. Not keen on wallowing in all of the mother/daughter moments that spring from weddings, we stood in front of our family and friends just twelve weeks after I had asked him to spend his life loving me.

    During our first year of marriage, things didn't get easier. Unlike the end of a rom-com, the wedding did not end our troubles, tying up our story sweetly and neatly. Because life isn't like that. In our first year of marriage, I had a routine surgery that ended in severe infection and complications. The job I had loved completely changed and I made the decision to quit and take on debt to pursue what I really wanted to do in graduate school; a family member struggled with coming out; and, my adopted father died.

    Not a super sexy year, for sure.

    I've always been a sexual person. Sex has always been very important to me in a relationship. Choosing monogamy, sex is about the only thing I do with my spouse that I don't do with anyone else. And undoubtedly, deaths in the family and illness can trigger a sex sabbatical.

    Or, it can rev things up. Sitting outside the funeral home awaiting my mother's wake, I said to my now-husband, "I want to go home to Chicago. I want our dog and I want to have sex again sometime!" I think he was surprised that I had been thinking about sex, and missing it. But after feeling completely upended by the events of that week, I wanted something familiar, happy, grounding, and engaging. I wanted a shared emotional experience that was not sad.

    After the complications from my surgery had subsided, I wanted to feel sexy again after weeks in sweat pants, swirling around in a Vicodin stupor. "You are still you, and you are still here" sex reminded me. "Despite what how you feel, you are beautiful," my husband told me.

    A year later, we're stronger for the sex we didn't have, and for the sex that came weeks late--or, really, right when we needed it.

    Mary-Margaret McSweene is a writer and graduate student in Chicago. Her undergraduate degrees are in Social Justice Studies and Feminist Theory which basically means she knows how to ruin a dinner party by calling bullshit on another guest.

    She spends inordinate amounts of time thinking, reading and writing about feminist issues, punctuated by brief respites to enjoy good tea and good beer. Contact her at or follow her on her brand new shiny Twitter, @MMMcSweene. Also, get in touch with her at
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