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Navigating Sober Sex During Substance Abuse Recovery


sober sex

Substance abuse and difficulties around intimacy often go hand in hand. Intimacy oftentimes changes as you get sober, there is no doubt about that. Active addiction may be associated with secrecy and isolation; however, active recovery is the opposite of that. Active recovery is about cultivating connection and trust. Read on to learn more about the nuances of sober sex, the benefits, and how to engage with sexual partners within your sobriety.


Understanding Sex & Substance Abuse


Addiction can be connected to many negative experiences, whether it be medical, financial, or relationships. An aspect of one’s life that is often not talked about as much is the effects of addiction on sex, sexuality, and connection. Many people in early recovery might think, “My substance use was always connected to my sexuality/sexual activities/sex life, now I feel like I’m starting from ground zero.” This is a significant and powerful statement and it is one that can make you feel powerless and at a loss of where to begin on this new journey. People may be hesitant to stop their use, despite negative impacts on their life, because they are experiencing positive effects connected to their sexuality.


One study found that substances may alter sexual norms and expectations and may also make it more difficult to communicate what is wanted or not wanted during a sexual encounter. In yet another 2018 study, 180 individuals with a substance use disorder identified experiencing sexual health side effects. Some of those side effects include:


Arousal: Substances may affect vaginal lubrication or inability to maintain erections.


Desire: Substances can have an unpredictable effect on libido and this can depend on the individual, the specific substance, and dosage.


Orgasm/Pleasure: Some substances make pleasure appear to feel increased, while other substances can make it difficult to orgasm or may delay ejaculation.


Sexual Risk Taking: During drunk sex, when inhibitions are lowered, people may engage in activities they wouldn’t otherwise partake in while sober. Consent also has the ability to get blurred when someone is under the influence, which can lead to sexual assault or feeling taken advantage of as well as other forms of physical and emotional impacts.


Becoming chemically sober from substances will not change challenges related to intimacy or sexuality. However, it is possible to heal and to maintain healthy relationships with loved ones.


The Benefits of Sober Sex


Navigating intimacy while sober came come with many benefits. Sex during sobriety can help take your experience of pleasure, intimacy, and level of connection to that other person or people to a whole new level. Listed below are just a few of the many benefits of sober sex that you can experience:

  • You can become fully aware, paying attention to the present situation and are in complete control of your needs and desires


  • Feeling more confident about using your voice


  • Better relationship with yourself and your body


  • Increased sensation


  • Experiencing more long-term emotional and physical connectedness


  • By being able to consciously explore what feels good, your nervous system can experience a new defined sense of safety and comfort


  • Better communication with romantic and/or sexual partners


  • Having a newly refined feeling of your sexual self allows for you to show up with confidence


In exploring and experiencing sex while sober, you might just heal some old wounds from your past. You are giving yourself permission to have the opportunity to have a pure energy exchange, where you are in control, and can experience this level of intimacy more fully.


How to Have Good Sex in Sobriety


You might be thinking that this sounds amazing, but there may be questions lingering for you in the background such as: “How do I get there and what are the steps I can take to achieve good sex?” Sober sex is more than just being present; below are a few helpful tips to get you started:


  • At the beginning of sobriety, it can be helpful and validating to acknowledge that sex while sober will likely feel unfamiliar, at first. It may be triggering and bring up old fears or insecurities and that is not only okay, but also normal for many in early recovery.


  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! — identify your turn ons and turn offs and even your fears around sober sex; communication is a great tool because it can be a major intimacy enhancer.


  • Identify and communicate your boundaries — what are your hard “no’s” when it comes to sex? Where don’t you want to be touched and how don’t you want to be touched? Identifying your “no’s” helps you get closer to knowing what your “yes’s” are.


  • Practice mindfulness — immerse yourself in the moment and really be with your body.


  • Identify what feels pleasurable outside of the bedroom — remember, pleasure isn’t solely about what feels good sexually.


  • Feel your feelings — many emotions get suppressed when one drink alcohol or uses substances in addition to sex. The emotions that are coming up have a story to tell you; be sure to listen to them.


  • Seek out therapy with a sex therapist or someone who specializes in substance abuse (such as a Certified Drug and Alcohol Use Counselor) to help navigate this sober journey with you. This can be a safe and contained way to identify boundaries, preferences, dislikes, healthy communication strategies, and process and trauma that might be present.


Remember to be compassionate and patient with yourself as you are exploring this new path of sobriety. It may not be an easy road to begin on, but it IS one that is worth it. Remember to go as slow as you need to and know your future self will thank you.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Raquel VanLoon, LCPC, CSAT, CADC, is a Clinical Associate for Modern Intimacy. Raquel feels passionate about helping individuals through their journey on becoming their most authentic selves in any relationship or setting. Raquel works with people to develop and maintain healthy boundaries.



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