When Grief Turns Into Sex

Why hooking up at funerals isn't as awful as you think.
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Why hooking up at funerals isn't as awful as you think.
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

A part of me feels guilty for even suggesting it.

There is something inherently performative and gross about admitting that you had sex after a funeral. Unless you’re carrying around the type of emotional baggage that generally only exists in Zach Braff films, owning up to post-funeral coitus puts you somewhere on the scale of funeral selfie takers (at best) and girls who pretend they’re heroines of Chuck Palahniuk novels but really just listened to that one Barenaked Ladies song about being the kind of person who laughs at a funeral way too often in elementary school (you know, at worst). And yet, for a number of the blessedly few funerals I’ve had to attend, for better or worse, I keep finding myself entangled with other mourners time and again.

Given that correct funeral etiquette involves paying your respects rather than taking a page out of the Wedding Crashers playbook and going ten toes to Jesus with a pallbearer, it’s not a subject that comes up often. So it took me a decent amount of time to realize that I wasn’t the only one who has indulged against better advice.

“I have an irrational fear of funerals,” says my friend Howie. “I’m not proud of it, but there’s no way in hell I’m attending a funeral. It was when my aunt passed away in college that I realized I was having much more sex with my girlfriend in the days before and after funerals to take my mind off of death.”

Howie estimates that he’s missed about ten funerals — a fact his parents are not pleased about — but that the sex has given him a healthier outlet to deal with his grief. “I have sex to not think. And maybe a few people think it’s callous, but isn’t it better than grieving with drugs or alcohol?”

While some psychologists warn against using sex and other vices to mask grief, many see its benefits, citing the fact that mourners are generally more open at funerals. As psychologist Diana Kirschner puts it: “There’s more potential for a true emotional connection … Funerals cut down on small talk.”

Unfortunately, deep grief isn’t exactly the reason I end up indulging in funeral hookups. Unlike Howie, who tends to seek solace in the long-term relationship he’s in at the time, I usually reconnect with an old friend at the funeral itself.

To be clear: I don’t skip the proceedings just to fuck around. The grief boning comes after the funeral in question. But even though I’m someone who actually doesn’t mind attending funerals, I’m also someone who hates change. Funerals themselves don’t upset me; the writer in me likes hearing the stories of someone I love as told by their family and friends. But those stories also remind me that the book ends there, and that’s the part that stresses me out — the idea that things change, that death is accompanied by finality.

And that’s why I end up having ill-advised funeral sex with someone who was at the funeral, rather than random solace sex born out of cheap drinks at the closest dive bar in town. The funerals I’ve been to have all been a veritable reunion of sorts; the type of memorials that involve more revelry and storytelling and dozens of friends who may as well be family. And with those reunions have come ex-boyfriends, flames, and forgotten friends, who have served as a reminder that even though things change, sometimes you can go back, even briefly.

While appeal may be too strong a word here, the logistics of funeral sex are a large part of why grief hookups work for me at all; the act generally serves as a punctuation mark on the end of an otherwise taxing day, rather than a precursor to further hookups. A hookup is someone you meet at a bar, flirt with, debate how clean your bedroom is if you take them home, and secretly wonder if you’ll hear from again, while pretending that you don’t really care. A funeral hookup on the other hand is a hasty scramble, done anywhere you can find a shred of privacy that isn’t the actual house of mourning: cars, guest bedrooms, parking lots of grocery stores when you’re supposed to be picking up more ice for the wake. Nothing about funeral sex says “this might be repeat behavior,” everything about it says “I have the emotional range of a horny teenager,” which is precisely why it works at all.

Funeral sex is still a largely selfish act, and not one that I’m thrilled about — after all, nothing screams “Making this about me!” more than contemplating my own mortality at someone else’s cold buffet spread. But every time I feel particularly low about the ways in which I choose to deal with my grief, I remember what Howie said — that as far as outlets for grief go, self-aware sex is about as benign as it gets.

While I’m not especially thrilled with my choices – and not just because being the type of girl who’s “bad at funerals” has become the Hollywood damage of choice – every time I have solace sex, I find myself a little better at accepting change, and not just when it comes at me in the form of funerals. 

Will I grow up from needing to cling to the familiar in bed every time I come across another funeral? Probably. But as far as reminders go, they could be worse.