16 Jul 20

two people laying on the grass staring up at the sky

Relationships & Sex counsellor Jeremy Shub recently joined us in the Counselling Online Forums to discuss how recovery can effect intimacy and sexual drive. Here’s what he had to say about how we can connect with others when we have an addiction, trauma or distress. 

This is a great subject. I am really passionate about all these topics. Many of the people I’m working with are asking this same question. How can we connect with others when we have an addiction, trauma or distress? There is no simple answer to this question. It depends on the substance, the length and degree of the addiction. Also, sexual drive (libido) and intimacy are slightly different things. 

Let’s start with libido — what is our sex drive after addiction? For some people, they find sexual experiences part of their recovery. This can be a distraction from the challenge of being with the raw emotions that can arise after people stop using. For other people sex drive can drop suddenly. This is especially true for Crystal Meth users. When they get used to chemsex, sober sex after that is disappointing. These people need to relearn how to have sober sex, finding these subtle and nuanced pleasures. It is my belief and experience that everyone can find healthy sexual experiences in recovery. It does take a focused approach to get it right, just diving into bed with someone can be confusing and possibly triggering. 

I would say that overall, it is possible to return to normal after recovery. Although it’s probably truer to say that nothing is ever the same after addiction. Our bodies can be different, our thoughts can be different and our needs can change. We might have more gratitude for simple things in life. Some people find that they have more skills in communication. Being able to say what you want and don’t want are valuable skills for intimacy and sex. It’s like having a scar on your body after an accident, the skin is always more tender in that place, and it can return to function as before. 

Recovery is a time to reassess all relationships. It can be a time to cull your phone contacts and end some relationships. Often the friendships and intimates were people using substances also. It can happen that newly sober people arrive in your life and they can teach recovery people new ways of relating. At the same time, it’s a slow and gradual process to be sober and have lovers. There is an emotional tenderness in sobriety. Some AA and NA groups forbid relationships and sex for a period after use. They see the possible turbulence as disruptive to recovery.

Overall, in response to the question, I believe that people can have healthy, positive and pleasurable relations with others. It takes awareness, learning and effort (this is true for non-addict people also). The lasting effects of the use may be paradoxically positive. Like a toddler learning to walk, sometimes we stumble, eventually we go it.

Thanks to Jeremy for sharing his thoughts!

If you have questions about life in recovery, reach out and talk to your peers on the Counselling Online Peer Support Forum. You can also chat to a trained counsellor online — free, confidential, 24/7.