(Sex)life after Chems – making sober sex less scary
The journey towards a Chems free life can so often be scary, hugely challenging and emotionally distressing. For those making the decision to reduce Chems or to stop use altogether, the initial struggle is often to find ways of managing triggers for use, coping with cravings and finding alternative activities to fill time previously dominated by Chems. This can take time (a lot of time), but after the dust has settled and you have managed successfully to stay off Chems for some time one of the biggest hurdles is to start having sex again without drugs around.
Having ‘sober sex’ after Chems is something that is not talked about enough, but can be an incredibly intimidating prospect. In fact, men we have worked with regularly tell us that difficulties in forming and maintaining sexual relationships without Chems can be one of the biggest triggers for relapse. So what can you do to make approaching ‘sober sex’ easier, and how can we reduce the feelings of anxiety that inevitably come along with this?
Getting to know your sexual self again
Using Chems often leads to having good sex (see our previous blog at http://thehavelockclinic.com/2017/03/06/chemsex-vs-sober-sex-the-sexual-functioning-lowdown/ for description of how and why). That’s something that is often hard to deal with when reducing use, but we can often forget that Chems (like any drug) can distort our sense of what is pleasurable in sex. It can take us away from knowing what our bodies might naturally respond to sexually, as well as causing a host of other sexual difficulties (like erection difficulties, or finding it difficult to come).
A first step to approaching sober sex is to reconnect with your own body. It’s really normal for this to feel awkward to begin with, so it is advisable that you start this when you are by yourself, before involving a partner if you wish to later on. Essentially this involves getting to know what turns you on, and increases your experience of arousal without the use of Chems. Spend time touching and exploring your whole body focussing on the physical sensations that work for you, the type of touch, the pace and the pressure applied. Explore your whole body (not just your genitals) to connect with the parts of the body that you find give the greatest sense of pleasure when touched, and the positions that feel most comfortable for you. It is important to also consider the environment, and to think about the setting, the time of day and the places that you feel most aroused and comfortable in when approaching sex. Lastly, it’s useful to explore some of the psychological factors that lead to an increased sense of arousal for you. What is your mood like? Do you need to do anything to feel relaxed before starting sexual activity? How might you like things to be between you and a partner before starting sex? Are there particular sexual fantasies that turn you on/ you could play out with your partner? By reconnecting to your own body and sexual arousal, you can increase you confidence that you know what works for you. If you chose to, you can then involve a partner, where you can explore the things that turn them on, and what works for you together. The aim is to increase your knowledge on what works for you, and to know that you have a range of things that you can try (and that work!) in order to increase enjoyment and sexual pleasure.
Managing triggers, maintaining your recovery
In becoming more in touch with our sober sexual selves, there may be things that act as triggers either for cravings around Chems or to think more about ways in which Chems might increase the pleasure we are experiencing further. This is really normal, and it is important to reflect on the relative costs that using Chems to heighten pleasure might have (or have had for you in the past). To have managed without Chems at all will mean you have lots of strategies to manage cravings and cope with Chems related thoughts, so it will be important to use these and to apply them when approaching sex more generally.
However, in some instances it might be that you decide that certain sexual acts or fantasies (however pleasurable) might be too strong a trigger for relapse, and so for now you do not want to engage in these. This is common, and part of getting to know your sexual self again is also to know what feels comfortable and safe within the context of your (Chems free) life more generally.
Once you have rediscovered your body and what turns you on again, something that is vital is to think about how this new-found (or newly rediscovered) knowledge can be shared with partners. This doesn’t necessarily mean having a serious and awkward conversation about sex with every potential partner (although it can be very useful to talk openly about sex with someone you trust before having sex).
There are ways of communicating about the things you like through casual conversation, over text or online or in the build-up to sex. Even during sex, it is possible to communicate verbally and non-verbally, by directing sex in a particular way, giving feedback on what you are enjoying or encouraging particular types of stimulation and touch.
What is key is that you think about ways of communicating what works for you, and what you want in sex ahead of time. If you partner has no idea what you want (and you have no idea what they want) it is likely the sex will not be as enjoyable as it could be, and this can lead to feelings of disappointment or anxiety that sober sex has been less successful. By increasing your knowledge of what works for you, and by finding ways of communicating this clearly you increase the chances that sex will go well, and that sober sex can feel less scary and more pleasurable for everyone involved.
Coping with life after Chems can be challenging and for some, it can be useful to talk to someone about overcoming sexual difficulties brought about during and after Chems have been around. At the Havelock Clinic we have a team of specialist doctors and psychologists who can offer support and help you to achieve the sex life that you want.
Dr Michael Yates, Clinical Psychologist- The Havelock Clinic.