Should You Fulfill the Sexual Dream of a Dying Person?

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“I need more sex, OK? Before I die I wanna taste everyone in the world.” —Angelina Jolie

Is sexual generosity a virtue? And if so, should we honor a dying person’s sexual wishes? Although the answer is not straightforward, in most such cases, sexual generosity is valuable.

Various Circumstances Underlying Sexual Generosity

“Strangely, talking to people—especially parents and carers—about death and dying may be easier than talking to them about sex.” —Nick Willis

Generosity requires giving to another without expecting anything in return. It is characterized by a willingness to give the other person beneficial things freely and abundantly, beyond the call of duty. Generosity should be more dominant in circumstances of severe sickness.

I discuss several major real cases of sexual wishes of dying people: (1) Patients with Alzheimer’s who are sexually attracted to others who are not their partner; (2) Dying young people who want to lose their virginity; (3) A dying wife who wants to have sex with her ex-lover; and (4) A dying friend who wants to sleep with you.

1. Patients with Alzheimer’s

In Alice Munro’s poignant short story, “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” Fiona, who has been married to Grant for 45 years, has been placed in a nursing home due to her degenerating condition. She develops a strong attachment to another resident, Aubrey, who is in an even worse condition. When Aubrey’s wife, Marian, removes him from the nursing home, Grant tries to persuade Marian to reverse her decision, since Fiona and Aubrey’s relationship is beneficial for both patients. The moral dilemma here is less complex, since the Alzheimer’s patients have mentally degenerated to the extent that they are entirely different people from who they previously were. Their illness is so severe that almost anything they want, including sex with strangers, should be permitted. The hurt caused to their partners does not adversely affect their partner or cause a moral dilemma since their partners are to a great extent strangers to them (Portmann, 2013; Ben-Ze’ev, 2019, and here).

2. Dying young people who want to lose their virginity

Sanjoy Kumar Pal (2019) describes three young unmarried female terminal cancer patients in India, who had a wish to lose their virginity (to their boyfriends) before dying. Two patients were able to fulfil their wish of losing their virginities and for one, it was possible after getting married. One patient committed suicide after she became pregnant and the other two died due to their illnesses. A somewhat similar case in Australia describes a 15-year-old Australian boy, terminally ill with cancer, who told the nurse caring for him that he wanted to experience sexual intercourse before he died. His healthcare team raised money to pay for the services of a prostitute. The boy’s parents learned after he died that he had had sex with a prostitute (see here).

Pal indicates that since sexual health is described by the World Health Organization as a basic human right, it is a natural urge and nothing is unusual about it. Hence, there is no reason to deny it to adolescents with life-limiting illnesses (Pal, 2019). Again, the moral dilemma in these cases is less complex, as long as the healthcare team acts in a respectful and caring manner.

3. A dying wife who wants to have sex with her ex-lover

A Reddit user writes: “My wife is dying of a terminal illness, with only nine months to live. She has asked me if I would be okay if she had sex with her ex one last time … So now I’m left with this, denying my dying wife for my own ego, or letting her go fuck another man who she feels was better than me. Honestly, I’m so pissed off and betrayed that she has asked this of me … I’m so hurt that sex with an ex was apparently so good that she needs to do it once more before she dies. I just hate everything about this.”

It is unclear whether this story is real or not, but it expresses a genuine dilemma concerning sexual generosity toward sick people. A major difficulty in open marriages and polyamory is that it threatens the current relationship (Ben-Ze’ev, 2023a). However, in this example, the threat is meaningless since there is no horizon for an enduring quality relationship. Sexual generosity is more complex here than the situation of the Alzheimer’s patients, since here the sick woman is mentally healthy when wanting to actualize her sexual wish. Fulfilling this wish does not threaten her current relationship, which is unfortunately bound to end soon; it merely wounds the egoistic pride of her husband. Fulfilling the dying woman’s wish is by far more valuable than avoiding hurting the husband’s pride. A loving husband may even find comfort in the fact that despite his lesser sexual performance, his wife decided to remain with him.

4. A dying friend who wants to sleep with you

The following question was posted on the website Quora: “If a dear person’s dying wish were to sleep with you, would you grant it?” Here are some of the responses:

  • “No. My body is my own and I refuse to relinquish my bodily autonomy, whatever the reason … I’m a person and I don’t have to give consent just because it’s your dying wish. Pick something else.” —Brit
  • “If it hadn’t broken the rules with my partner (and I have), and both of us hadn’t met the person previously, and if I were attracted to this person enough that I could enjoy it, then yes, I would consider it.” —Josiah
  • “Dying men do not easily achieve erections. But if he could get to that point, and he really really wanted to penetrate me, and he were really really dear to me, then I suppose I could.” —Michelle
  • “No I wouldn’t. Because I wouldn’t want to sleep with that person out of pity, because she were dying. It would be taking advantage of a state of weakness.” —Thomas
  • “If either of us had anything communicable, or sleeping with them would cause either of us harm, then no. Otherwise, if I were in a relationship with them, then probably.” —Margaret

There is hardly any moral obligation toward the dying person who wants to have sex with you. Moreover, this experience may generate frustration and disappointment for both parties. However, there are circumstances in which this experience may be thrilling and fulfilling for those involved.

Concluding Remarks

“For it is in giving that we receive.” —Francis Assisi

Sexuality is an important issue for patients nearing the end of their life (Katz, 2005). Hence, showing sexual generosity toward terminal patients is highly valuable. John Portmann (2013) claims that both aging and sickness can transform romantic relationships in favor of increasing sexual generosity. The unaffected spouse is often required to exhibit sexual generosity, which should be praised and should lead the way to a redefinition of “fidelity” in regular relationships. Such circumstances could encourage all types of generosity (Portmann, 2013).

Another relevant issue here is that of curiosity, which is extremely valuable in human life and in romantic relationships. I have argued that romantic curiosity should be limited in order to avoid hurting the partner and the relationship (Ben-Ze’ev, 2023b). However, the more imminent the person’s death, the lesser the weight of this limitation, since the relationship will soon end and the dying person’s needs, rather than their partner’s, should be more significant.

Sexual generosity and curiosity are often virtues, but an unlimited amount can lead to financial and romantic bankruptcy.

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