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Relationships / Sobriety

The Joy of Sober Sex

"I was getting in touch with my body after a lifetime of trying to escape it."

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Written by Lauren McQ.

Art by Sheikha Al Habshi.

Before my morning vodka on March 6th 2018 I was admitted to hospital and given the option (not for the first time in my life) to get sober or die. I grimly resigned myself to life as a non-drinker, unable to engage in the one thing that made being a human bearable. On top of this, my phone was buzzing with concerned texts from the guy I was seeing, and I realised I didn’t know how to have sex sober.

Prior to this pivot point, I had a few stints of short-term sobriety or “controlled drinking.” In these periods, alongside all my other lofty sober resolutions, I would delete all dating apps and swear I would only have sober sex, with someone I enthusiastically wanted to fuck. This was usually short lived, as every time I felt unworthy I looked towards sex for validation. If the sex was scary or unfulfilling I conjured the image of a ski-lift going up a mountain – I’d follow it through its idyllic alpine journey, as my body on skilled autopilot dealt with the task at hand. Occasionally I’d be rocked by a feeling I couldn’t control or didn’t expect, and numbed it thoroughly with alcohol and my commitment to reaching the other end.  

When you’ve depended on alcohol to deal with life’s blows, sobriety can feel like your entire body is an exposed nerve-ending. Moving towards partnered sex I needed to trust a partner with this precious and precarious development. They would have to be willing to communicate on a level I’d never expected of anyone before, and I had to discover what boundaries were and implement them.

During intimacy with meaningful partners I struggled being so close to someone so wonderful when I felt so worthless. Alongside this, I could feel the first of my abuser on my throat, and my body weighed with the dull pressure of someone else’s hands on my chest. These sensations were locked into the corners of my being, sometimes a landmine, sometimes a nebulous and noxious cloud. So, in those hopeless moments, I drank.

As my sobriety progressed I stopped simply being an angry non-drinker. I started to consciously work through trauma without having to decipher where my hangover ended, and my depression/anxiety began. Through this I realised that trauma and addiction had been dictating my sexual motives, and I didn’t authentically know my sexual desires. I was initially embarrassed to buy books on sex and masturbation, given my number of conquests, but it was necessary to truthfully find what my body liked. If I was going to have present, sober sex I needed to learn how to actually enjoy it, and not just have it.

When you’ve depended on alcohol to deal with life’s blows, sobriety can feel like your entire body is an exposed nerve-ending. Moving towards partnered sex I needed to trust a partner with this precious and precarious development. They would have to be willing to communicate on a level I’d never expected of anyone before, and I had to discover what boundaries were and implement them.

On a date that ended at my place, I said I wasn’t ready to have sex yet – bracing myself for ridicule and rejection, perhaps force. To my surprise, he was accepting and respectful, an outcome that shook my belief that my only desirable quality was me always being a willing sexual partner. Drink had always seemed a necessity to help me obtain the only affection I believed I deserved. Taking it out of the equation was opening uncharted avenues of human connection.

When we eventually had sex, a long time later, I suddenly remembered he knew my favourite flower was tulips. No one had ever known that about me. Was this what people who only had wine with dinner think during sex? Fucking tulips? Cue my urge to board my ski-lift for some mountainous scenery. This time, however, I could catch myself, and rooted myself in the room, with his body, and with the assurance I could stop this at any time. Re-establishing verbal consent with a pause to breathe made the entire process seem entirely safe, and unbelievably exciting.

I then realised I could feel his hands. Did hands always feel like spiders? First fucking tulips and now spiders, my brain hatefully monologued on my incapability to stay in the moment. I remembered not to restrict my breath, to direct it deep into my core, and sync up my pattern with his. With this adjustment his hands sunk into me, and whilst I was feeling them closer than I thought was possible, it wasn’t a bad feeling anymore. They were his hands, and no one else’s. I continued to breathe into different parts of my body and I felt alive, even tingly, like the blush of love I always thought the first drink would give me. I was getting in touch with my body after a lifetime of trying to escape it.

 They were his hands, and no one else’s. I continued to breathe into different parts of my body and I felt alive, even tingly, like the blush of love I always thought the first drink would give me. I was getting in touch with my body after a lifetime of trying to escape it.

 

Focusing on what felt good roused another fear; what if I wasn’t GOOD at sex? What if I had drunkenly dissociated through something important? He asked me what I wanted, and I thought “fuck, I can’t do the splits sober.” The question hit me again; he was inviting me to tell him what I wanted so he could actively participate in it. In drunk sex I wanted power and oblivion, I hadn’t focused so much on the process itself as opposed to the outcome, like how I only drank to get drunk.

“Could we go slowly at first?”

The words clunked gracelessly out of my mouth. Here I was, with all my experience, speaking with such little game. I was overcome with embarrassment. But when I asked myself what I wanted, that’s what my body answered. It was a small voice, that knew I deserved to have amazing sex.

I did cry after that first sober fuck, but it wasn’t the inert shower cry, dripping with confusion – it was a relieved sob that it was so fucking good. Since then sex has nuance it didn’t have before, I can safely explore kink, find an intimate connection, and I can laugh, cry, or stop. Drink and dissociation were coping mechanisms, and under them I found this long, lost belief that I deserved to enjoy everything sex had to offer, and it’s better than anything I’ve ever tried.


About the Author

Lauren McQ is a sober opera singer, living and working on the East Coast of America. When she is not performing sad Russian operas she is writing and researching on trauma’s effect on the voice. She has recently been published in the Journal of Singing and The Spike.

Follow on IG: @BrutalRecovery | Follow on Twitter: @


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