The Rise of Sober Sex Therapy

According to a Huffington Post report, increasing numbers of people are seeking sober sex therapy. Men who want to exit the chemsex scene, as well as patients who use sexual health clinics, are reporting a wide range of problems – including dependence on alcohol or drugs to have sex, or using substances to enhance sexual encounters. Sex therapy and addiction treatment can provide the keys to a healthier sex life – including how to recover from substance addictions and face common fears about having sober sex.

In this blog, we’ll look at who is seeking professional help with sober sex. We’ll also explain 4 very common fears connected to sober sex. Left untreated, these fears can lead to addictions, including to sex, alcohol, drugs and food. We’ll also give you 4 strategies that recovering addicts can use, to transform their experience of sober sex.

Are You Seeking Help for Sober Sex?

Chemsex addiction

If you’re part of the chemsex scene, you’re likely to be using a combination of crystal meth, mephedrone and GHB/GBL. You may be regularly attending chemsex parties hosted by dealers, where the supply of chemsex drugs can last for days. Sober sex may feel very far removed from the intensity of chemsex, which can become highly addictive.

If you’re searching for help with sober sex, then you probably want to reduce or stop your participation in chemsex. Sometimes there’s an obvious trauma that leads up to people getting help – such as ‘going under’ while using chemsex drugs, contracting an STI, witnessing death or being violated. Other times, the chemsex lifestyle interferes too much with work, family or relationship commitments.

Either way, learning how to have sex without using substances can be a very big adjustment. It may seem daunting, unnatural, mundane or uncomfortable. Sober sex therapy and addiction treatment can get to the root of what is really going on for you.

Sexual dysfunction

People also report sexual dysfunction in sexual health surveys and clinics. Physical problems include pain during sex, lack of libido, erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, difficulty achieving orgasm or premature ejaculation. All of these things can put people off having sober sex. They can also lead to increasing reliance on alcohol or drugs, to reduce inhibitions around having sex.

4 Reasons Why People Fear Sober Sex

There are also emotional reasons why people avoid sober sex. Fears about sober sex can become ingrained beliefs, which need therapeutic intervention to uncover. In sex therapy and addiction treatment, therapists work intensively with patients to reveal core beliefs that are preventing or interfering with sober sex. With awareness, transformational change becomes possible.

If you feel extreme fear about having sober sex, it’s really important to get specialist help. Without treatment and support, you may become more vulnerable to abuse, including from partners who may exploit your fears. Alternatively, you may decide to swear off sex altogether, which can feel like the only solution if you’re terrified of sober sex. Celibacy can be a healthy choice for some people – but not when you feel like there’s no other option.

1. Sober sex and fear of intimacy

Intimacy problems are very common in addicts – not just people who are addicted to sex, alcohol or drugs, but also those who are addicted to gambling, gaming, food, the internet, work, love and shopping. Why is fear of intimacy so common for addicts and how does this affect sober sex? Intimacy requires vulnerability, authentic emotional expression and honesty, which most addicts have learned to fear or disguise over the years in active addiction. This may be down to bad experiences in childhood or young adulthood. When people don’t get help to process difficult experiences, including any relationship issues they’ve had in the past, the fear of intimacy grows.

Substance addiction tends to make intimacy problems even worse. People get more and more out of practice in having intimate exchanges, including sober sex. Even process addictions such as gambling or gaming get in the way of authentic relationships, as the addiction becomes all-consuming and isolating. If sex addiction develops, intense sexual experiences are often prioritised over intimate experiences. When fuelled by drugs and alcohol, it can feel like meaningful connections are formed with other people during sex – however, on sobering up, sexual partners can feel like strangers.

2. Body image phobias and sober sex

Extreme dislike of an aspect of your body might be preventing you from having sex altogether or you’ll only have sex under certain conditions. Body image problems make sober sex particularly painful, as people who suffer can focus almost exclusively on their negative body image, rather than enjoying sex or focusing on their partner’s enjoyment. Obsessive thoughts and extreme fear of judgment can make sober sex a terrifying ordeal.

People may turn to an addiction to cope with body image fears, including alcohol and drugs. Food addicts also regularly report having body image problems.

3. Performance anxiety during sober sex

For addicts and non-addicts alike, sober sex can feel frightening because of concerns about sexual performance. There can be physical reasons why it’s hard to have sex or maintain arousal but performance anxiety always centres in the mind. People obsess about every aspect of a sexual experience. They judge themselves before, during and after having sex – often believing they can see through the eyes of their sexual partner.

Toxic shame builds up, particularly when people keep performance anxiety to themselves. Sober sex becomes emotionally painful, as it becomes associated with harsh self-criticism and feelings of low self-worth.

4. Trauma and trust issues

Sexual dysfunction can be linked to bad experiences in the past, including childhood trauma, sexual abuse and violence, or painful relationships. All of these experiences can lead to intense shame around sex, making sober sex particularly difficult. Religious abuse in childhood can include conditioning about sex or sexuality. Recovering drug and alcohol addicts in the LGBTQ+ community, for example, may have been told that their sexuality is wrong or immoral by family or community members.

4 Strategies to Improve Sober Sex

1. Get to know your needs during sober sex

If you’re recovering from sex addiction, or you always drink alcohol or take drugs to have sex, it’s essential to get to know your needs during sex. In order to have sober sex you enjoy, you need to know what you like and dislike, as well as effective ways to communicate that to your sexual partner(s). Sobriety is the first step – putting down the alcohol and drugs with professional help.

Some recovering addicts also choose to have a period of abstinence from sex at the start of their recovery, to identify their needs. Residential addiction treatment provides a means to achieve this. You’ll benefit from 1-2-1 and group counselling, alternative therapies and peer support, all of which helps to identify addiction problems and find recovery solutions.

You can also join support groups for recovering addicts in the community, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous and SMART Recovery.

2. Growing intimacy in non-sexual relationships

If you’re new to addiction recovery and you’re terrified of sober sex, then investing time in your friendships is the best place to start. You can practise intimacy in less intimidating relationships until you feel ready for a sexual relationship again. By practising social skills with a wide range of people, you’ll take some of the pressure off yourself when you’re ready to date again.

3. Valuing consensual sex

After years in addiction, often the boundaries around consent become blurred. You may have agreed to sex many times, despite not really wanting to have sex with a certain person. A controlling or violent partner may have coerced you into performing a particular sex act. At times, you might have pressurised other people into having sex with you. Sex therapy and addiction treatment allow you to explore what’s happened in a confidential and non-judgmental setting.

Once you’re more established in your addiction recovery, it still might feel scary to get to know someone on an intimate level. You might fear to get into a relationship with another addict or having sex too quickly with a new partner. If you value consent, however, it can help you to take some positive risks. Remember that you always have the right to say no to sex or a particular sexual act. Equally, anyone else has the right to say no to sex with you.

4. Ongoing professional and peer support

Amongst addicts and recovering addicts, fear of sober sex is very common. The fear can last months or years into addiction recovery, especially when people don’t talk about it. If you don’t feel able to talk about sex in a group setting, then 1-2-1 therapy provides a very safe space to discuss what’s going on. In residential rehab, you’ll always have the opportunity to talk to trained counsellors in private.

Start your recovery process today. Contact Addiction Helper to discuss professional addiction help, including interventions, residential rehab programmes or outpatient counselling.

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