Q. I have only hooked up while drunk, and now I’m afraid to have sex sober. How do I overcome this fear/discomfort?
A. Alcohol and drug consumption are a huge part of our social lives - can even be considered for many, as synonymous with having fun. Romance is no exception - depictions of dating and wooing often include “wining and dining”. After all, people use alcohol and drugs to “unwind” and lower inhibitions. This in theory, goes “well” with sex for a lot of people, because a lot of us were taught sex is something to be afraid or ashamed of, for one reason or another. This can be anything from the type of sex you enjoy being stigmatized, to being in a body not viewed as “desirable” by mainstream beauty standards, to “negative consequences”, to being of a gender that’s not supposed to want sex; the list can go on. And whether you’re someone who has a history of abusing alcohol/drugs, or someone who drinks/uses recreationally - hooking up with someone soberly, especially for the first time, can be nerve-racking if you’re used to doing it under the influence.
*Preface: The following response acknowledges that if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol you cannot legally give consent. This does not mean that all sexual activity that happens while intoxicated is unwanted - I am addressing sex that is wanted, and good intentioned. Consent and consumption is an important issue and I will be following up with a post more specific to sex and substance use.*
In this week’s bitty bits, I will cover practical tools for overcoming fear and discomfort when sober sex is new. These tools should be helpful to anyone having trouble staying present during sex as well.
Firstly, even if your entire sexual history with others has been while intoxicated - you have probably masturbated while sober. This means you have sober experiences of sexual pleasure, and a connection to what feels good for you. This is a great place to start. (If you haven’t, try it!)
Also, I think there is this idea that sex is something we learn how to do, and then that’s it. We are either good at it, or bad at it (think: “I give good head”). This idea, that we can “know” how to sex, can be comforting, and positively contribute to our confidence. However, it can also lead us to being on autopilot. If we “learned how to sex” while drunk or high, of course there is anxiety around doing it without substances at the helm.
When this is the case, it’s helpful to remember, sober or not, the concept we know sex, can be a hinderance to exploration, growth, and presence to the responsive experience sex is (idealistically for pleasure, and necessarily for consent).
I invite you to consider: what if sex is something you are always learning? Whether that is how you like to do it, who you like to do it with, or who you are at sex - each moment, that is being revealed to you. What if you get to discover your sexuality across your lifetime?
As for the nuts and bolts - staying present during sex. One of the things substances do well is contrive connection (I hope all of my club and bar washroom BFFs from the late 2000s are doing well).
There is a spectrum of disconnection - it can range from mind wandering to being fully outside your body observing what’s going on. Sometimes, this is an indication something is not right, and sometimes this can be normal. The following are some techniques/tools for bringing yourself back to moments:
- I encourage you to be as up front as you can with whomever you’re with. Let them know where you’re at and that you may have to talk things out, be reassured, take breaks, or stop.
- Breathe! Try to focus on your breath, or a body part. Pay attention to a sensation and it’s location. Once you can focus on one thing, it can be sort of like catching a wave and you can be present to all the things.
- Practice mindfulness meditation in your day-to-day. This can deepen the pathways in your brain to presence, and make mindfulness during sex easier over time.
- Use a grounding tool - something like an article of clothing, cologne, a piece of jewelry - something that can make you feel sexy and remind you to be in your body.
My last piece of advice is to acknowledge that sex can be weird sometimes. It can be awkward. We can dip in and out of chemistry with someone. If learning to trust your instincts, as well as honour what your body/mind/spirit is telling you, is new - it can take some time. When in doubt, stop. I hope you can be patient, non-judgmental, and gentle with yourself!
Have a question for bitty bits?! Holler at me here!