Sexuality, Addiction, and Sobriety

Illustration of a lady watching herself in a mirror

The relationship between sex, addiction, and sobriety is complex. Among the many stress triggers in life, sexuality may be a hidden one. Sexual desires and orientation can contribute to addiction. Drugs and alcohol use can increase risky sexual behaviors. Sometimes people use drinking and drug use to achieve their highest level of sexual activity. Many also use drugs and alcohol to numb how they feel about themselves or mask who they are, especially concerning matters of sexuality. 

But after gaining self-awareness of addiction’s dangers and finishing treatment, you may need to take a different approach to issues of sexuality. Achieving sobriety gives you a chance to truly find out what your desires are. This should set you on a new path of self-discovery in terms of sexuality. Some people begin to fully accept the hidden pieces of their identity after getting sober, while others learn healthy levels of intimacy. Thankfully, it is not impossible to overcome these difficulties.

Enjoying Sexual Intimacy

Among many recovering individuals, some are troubled by the inability to resume sexual intimacy with their partner, whether in marriage or in a committed relationship. Sexual intimacy after sobriety may not be easy. For people who fall into addiction because of abusive sexual experiences, sobriety does not immediately heal the fear. Some people have used sex and drugs together but have a hard time being sexually active when sober. A recovering individual may experience hormonal changes that affect sexual desires. In a solid relationship, your partner should work with you to discover what you need moving forward in terms of intimacy, whether that be time, trying new things, or counseling.

To restore healthy sexual intimacy, you first need to know what a healthy sexual relationship looks like. It should be fun, playful, safe, mutual, trusting, and comfortable. There should be vulnerability but no trace of coercion, abuse, or fear in this kind of relationship. To align your expectations with this ideal type of sex life, it is important to detox previously held notions that are not healthy. These include negative judgments about sex in general and addictive patterns regarding sex. 

Sexuality Is About Connecting Emotionally

It is widely acknowledged that substance abuse and intimacy issues often go hand in hand. They form a vicious cycle that deprives an individual of health in all areas. In the recovery phase, individuals should check if they have any fear of intimacy. Below are a few symptoms:

  • Hesitant to share emotions
  • Uncomfortable with physical contact
  • Uneasy with nakedness
  • Feeling undeserving of love and affection

Sometimes this fear of intimacy is a way of self-protection caused by a range of psychological and emotional factors. If unguided or unresolved, this fear may leave someone isolated and depressed. There is a seed of intimacy in everyone, and it is possible (and natural) to experience intimacy through physical contact. That said, many health professionals still recommend that you avoid romantic relationships in early recovery. The priority of this phase should be your own recovery. You can’t understand what sexual intimacy is until you feel comfortable entering a healthy sexual relationship.

Sexuality and Self-Compassion: Accepting Your Desires and Who You Are 

During early recovery, you can learn about the new you and try to build healthy habits, hobbies, and interests. These are all important areas of self-care and self-compassion. Understanding and accepting one’s sexual desires is also a big step toward an all-over healthy life. It’s essential to know what one is looking for in a partner – sexually as well as emotionally – so that the relationship can be fulfilling for both partners. This is also important for setting boundaries and ensuring mutual trust in intimate relationships.

The same principle that helps people heal from negative emotions also applies to their view of sexuality, which is sometimes clouded by shame and guilt. Some people might be discouraged from entering into intimate dating relationships shortly after achieving sobriety because they still need to work out things within themselves. As sexual intimacy builds, be aware of triggers and take it slow. Sexual intimacy may also become an addiction, so draw healthy boundaries from the very beginning. 

Because sexual intimacy is only one form of communication among many, it should not be the foundation for a strong relationship. Professionals recommend individuals in early recovery continue going to counseling or therapy so that they have support in rebuilding your life and your relationship. Everyone can eventually reach emotional resilience when it comes to sexuality and sexual intimacy.

Achieving sexual intimacy can be challenging after recovery. Both partners need to talk about any changes with each other and with a professional counselor. For those who find sexuality a trigger after recovery, it is important to let honesty and self-compassion reign in your healing process. Sometimes it may be better to refrain from intimate relationships for a time. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we offer treatment plans such as detox, 12-step groups, and relationship skills coaching that can greatly enhance your experience on the road to long-term sustainable recovery. Schedule an appointment with a mental healthcare professional or therapist at Laguna Shores Recovery. We believe in holistic recovery, and we will listen, coach, and walk alongside you. We are a complete medical and residential facility offering a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, and treatment plans. Call us at (954) 329-1118; we would be happy to walk alongside you in navigating issues related to sexuality and sobriety.