Two Sense: I've Never Had Sex Sober


I’m a 39-year-old woman and I don’t think I’ve ever had sex completely sober. Not that I’m drunk when I do it—I rarely get drunk—but I always at least have one glass of wine, and often two. Now that I’m in a serious relationship for the past six months or so, I realize that it actually scares me to have sex sober. I don’t feel dependent on alcohol in general and I don’t drink every day. What should I do?

He Said: First of all, there is nothing wrong with using wine as an aphrodisiac. It has been used that way from time immemorial. Think of it this way: Many come to associate sex with much harder stimulants, such as the party drugs GHB and meth, both of which lower inhibitions and sexual shame so prevalent in our judgmental society. Compared to those, a glass or two of wine is mild.

Nonetheless, you obviously want to shake the habit. It does make spontaneous sex more difficult. Are you really going to guzzle wine before morning sex? In the backseat of your car? Probably not. From your description, it sounds more like a crutch than an addiction—although AA or some other recovery group would be a great way to share the problem with others who undoubtedly have similar concerns.

But I would first try to wean yourself from the booze-sex association. Try cutting back to one glass of wine per encounter, then half a glass, and then, well, none. Once you learn to relax on your own, the sex itself will become the stimulant.

She Said: I think the key to the situation is the serious relationship. It’s easy to have alcohol accompany sex when dating—after all, most dates involve at least a little drinking. But it’s not realistic, or healthy, to make alcohol a prerequisite to ongoing sex. A little chemical help in lowering your inhibitions might be useful with a new lover, but as you get to know someone, the goal is to loosen those inhibitions consciously. In fact, it’s the conscious desire and decision to let down your guard that actually generates erotic excitement. It’s not supposed to be comfortable—it’s supposed to be exciting, which is to say scary. Masking the fear with alcohol or drugs also masks much of the authentic sexual energy of the situation.

So, first of all, accept your fears and inhibitions. Embrace them. Imagine having sex sober, and whatever scares you about that—say you don’t like how your body looks, you’re tense about performance or worried whether you can orgasm—just let those fears be. Realize that most people, to some degree, have similar thoughts prior to sex. You’re a vulnerable human being who’s about to strip naked and let someone inside your body. Of course you’re a little nervous.

Second, if you can, share your feelings with your partner. This doesn’t mean you sit down before sex to analyze every emotion in detail. Keep it short and simple—a little goes a long way. Simply saying, “I’m kind of nervous right now,” or “I’m not sure if you like this,” or “I’m feeling a little inhibited” opens up the channel of communication and demonstrates your trust. Trust is sexy. Don’t just report your fears; ask for his help. What do you need to feel more open? Maybe it’s to start slowly. Maybe it’s to tell him what you like or have him tell you. Maybe there’s something about your sexual routine that needs changing. When it comes to sex, fear is often the lock on a whole Pandora’s box of desires and aversions. Take it slowly, be kind to yourself, and make your partner your ally, and you might find you need less of a buffer as time goes on.

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