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Enjoying a Good Sex Life in Recovery

by Jackie J

For adults who are in recovery, one of the best things about this time of awakening is the ability to enjoy a better sex life — one in which you’re able to give yourself fully to your partner and the present moment. However, embracing sexuality can sometimes be a challenge. One study by researchers at the University of Granada, for instance, showed that drug abuse can impair sexual performance in men, even after they have quit alcohol and substance abuse. Alcohol is the drug that most affects sexual arousal. Past use of heroin, cocaine, speedball and alcohol can impair orgasms. This study is just one that indicates that building a fulfilling sex life is one that takes time, patience, and good communication with one’s partner.

When Drug Abuse is Linked to Sex

Sometimes, abuse is at the heart of drug or alcohol abuse, and is also a trigger for sex addiction itself. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, for instance, states that “as many as two-thirds of all people in treatment for drug abuse report that they were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused during childhood.” Researchers at the Harvard Medical School in Boston found that childhood abuse is frequently present in people who have PTSD and who abuse drugs. Many of these traumas are longstanding and difficult to address. Treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy help people address issues such as guilt and self-blame. Therapy can help them learn useful techniques, such as controlled breathing and gradual exposure to traumatic memories.

Behavioral Couples Therapy for Substance Abuse

Historically, alcohol and drug abuse have been viewed as individual problems that are best treated on an individual basis. However, new treatment modalities such as behavioral couples therapy are increasingly popular, since they involve partners (and, sometimes, other family members) in the process of supporting behaviors that are conducive to abstinence. Therapy can also help foster optimal communication of health concerns, doubts, and insecurities by both partners and teach vital skills of conflict resolution. Therapists can run through key strategies that promote a good personal and sexual relationship. Some common strategies: focus on solutions (not who’s right or wrong), honestly share emotions and have a goal in mind when difficult subjects are brought up.

When Will You Know You’re Ready?

If you don’t have a partner, you may wonder when you should start dating. Many people refer to the ‘one-year rule’. This essentially emphasizes the importance of waiting to grow and heal before jumping into one or more sexual relationships. It can be all too easy to use sex as you used drugs in the past. Using sex to fill a void or as a means of reward continues the addictive behavior. However, setting an arbitrary time period is futile because each individual varies in terms of when they are ready to start having sex again. In the end, no one should experience shame about their desire. So long as you’re honest with yourself and your partners, you are the best person to decide when you’re ready to engage in healthy sex.

Embracing Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices, such as yoga, meditation, and breathing, can help with your recovery and reduce stress levels. These practices are not only healthy from a physical point of view, but also a mental one, since they have plenty to teach about limits and self-awareness. Receiving support and creating a strong social network also boosts your sense of self-love and teach you about healthy relationships. As you begin to discover and embrace honesty, respectful boundaries, and trustworthiness with others, you become kinder to (and more respectful of) yourself, and you can bring a better self to future romantic or sexual partners.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for people in recover wishing to lead a fulfilling sex life. Some can start sexual relationships quickly, learning from mistakes or simply enjoying the connection without the latter turning into addiction. Others need to learn about boundaries and limits first. It is okay to learn as you go along. Choose therapies and activities that sharpen skills like communication and limit setting. Knowing to banish cognitions such as self-blame and guilt are also important if self-love is to be fostered alongside sexuality.

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