Guest blogger Harriet Waley-Cohen tackles one of the big issues you will have to face when you quit drinking alcohol: Sober Sex. Harriet is a health & wellbeing coach, empowering people to become the healthiest, happiest, most confident version of themselves through coaching, talks, workshops and retreats. Harriet also co-runs a group called Fantasies & Realities, which meets monthly in London for women to discuss and embrace all aspects of sexuality, and Harriet is also regular speaker at the Killing Kittens BookKlub and at Skirt Club.
When I first stopped drinking, many things that a drink (or five!) had made easy suddenly seemed like they would now be challenging at best, and impossible at worst. I hadn’t even known it consciously, but a few drinks, and then a few more, had made so many things apparently far better, and others became tolerable. I’m talking dates, work drinks, difficult days, airports, holidays, celebrations, weddings, catching up with an old friend, nights out and nights in.
My coping strategy when I first stopped was pretty drastic. Avoid. Do not contemplate for even a second. I guarded my sobriety fiercely, but I was also pretty terrified and rather than look for a way to get through something without a drink, for several months I just opted out.
It worked for a bit and got me through the first few months but I soon realised that I was missing out. Crucially, I knew I hadn’t given up drinking to miss out, but to experience more of life. And so slowly I started to figure out ways of doing both – whatever the event was, and not drinking. No longer were the two mutually exclusive, and life began to open up in new and wonderful ways.
Nowadays, more than 13 years after stopping for good, I can literally go anywhere and do anything. It never crosses my mind any more than not being able to drink might be a reason to miss out.
Seems like I’m not the only one who found that a glass or three of wine, or a vodka and orange, made so many events and occasions do-able. And, seems like I’m also not the only one who also felt completely baffled about how to handle them newly sober. That’s the exact reason why there’s an hour long section in my How to Create and Fall in Love with a More Sober life workshop for a massive brainstorm. Everyone gets to chip in all the tricky situations they’d like to know how to handle with less or no booze. Along with celebrations and bad days and annoying partners (!), dating and then sex always comes up. It’s a big one.
There are many reasons why sober sex feels so challenging, especially if a few drinks have always been an essential ingredient to getting naked with someone else. Loosely speaking, the common theme is always that it masks fears about the whole experience. How to freely give and receive, feeling uncomfortable about our bodies, worrying that the noises and faces we make might be weird…I could go on but I’m pretty sure you all know what I’m talking about!
The number one thing I have to contribute to the ‘sober sex’ discussion is that the best thing to do is to reframe what you’re telling yourself in your head about it. Instead of focusing on the negatives, which are most likely all fear based and not based in reality, focus on what there is to gain by being sober.
Why sober is better than boozy
So. After 13 years of being sober, here’s my take on boozy sex vs sober sex, and my top reasons why sober encounters are so much better.
- You are vastly less likely to have an encounter that you will later regret. Ever woken up with a raging hangover only to realise that there is someone else in bed and you’re not completely sure who they are or how it happened, and feel ashamed, embarrassed, confused and desperate to escape? This will never happen sober! It is pretty much impossible to jump into bed with someone sober that you don’t fancy. Encounters are likely to be way more meaningful and fulfilling, beyond just the physical side of things. My experience is that meaningful sex is way better and feels much better spiritually too.
- You get to be fully present for yourself. Being sober means being completely in touch with what’s going on for you – your thoughts, feelings, senses, responses and desires. You’ll get to know your physical and intellectual desires, not to mention your on and off switches, so much better through sober sex. This also means not agreeing after a few drinks to try something that you’re really not that into, just to keep the other person happy. Being present means being there for yourself and staying with what works for you.
- You get to be fully present for the other person too. Great sex is as much about the giving as the receiving of pleasure. Imagine noticing every small response and movement of the person you’re with, noticing every change in his or her breathing and heartbeat. Imagine noticing so much more what is it that you are doing with and to them that they are really loving (or not so much loving!), and being able to give more pleasure. The deepening of intimacy and trust that comes from being fully awake to what is going on for the other person is stunning because the other person feels heard, seen, respected and honoured, and this will have wonderful repercussions for the entire relationship.
- The mechanics work much better. For men sex can become impossible after too many drinks. For women, it can be harder to self-lubricate and for both sexes, reaching a climax can be totally out of reach too. Driving after drinking is dangerous because of impaired reactions, and drunken sex can miss the point completely too and be very unsatisfactory, with one or both of you not able to notice what is going on, or give the other person what works for them.
- Communication. For many people, a drink or two helps to lower inhibitions and can make it seems possible to communicate – naturally opening up about sexual things can be awkward! However, I like to see being fully present for yourself and for the other person as being about words as well as actions. It is much more possible to say what you really mean, and in a way the person can receive it, when you’re sober. Plus you can really listen to what the other person is actually trying to communicate and then respond, when your brain is functioning on full speed. Post-coital pillow talk can have so much more meaning and potential for deepening intimacy when you’re sober and present too.
So there you have it. Much to gain, for yourself, your partner and for your relationship beyond the sheets. Here’s to sober, conscious pleasure, intimacy and communication.