Does the thought of having sober sex fill you with dread? It’s normalised to drink alcohol before sex. Whether it’s drinking to get past the awkwardness of your first time, getting drunk on a date before hooking up, or sharing a bottle of wine with your partner on date night – alcohol fuels many of our sexual experiences. And there’s good reason to. Alcohol makes us more confident, lowers our inhibitions, makes us feel calmer, and can reduce negative self-talk.
But in recent years we’ve seen the rise of the “sober curious” movement with more people embracing a sober lifestyle as part of healthy living. Non alcoholic bars have been popping up in cities across the USA, Dry January seems to get more popular each year, and Ruby Warrington’s book Sober Curious has pushed more people to question their relationship with alcohol regardless of whether they identify as having an addiction or not.
This interest in sobriety extends to our dating life too.
Recent data from the dating app Hinge found that 75% of respondents said they’d prefer a sober first date, with 55% saying they preferred it because it allows them to have a clear mind while getting to know someone.
More people are becoming interested in sober sex for more intimacy, greater pleasure and to feel more present. After all, research shows that too much alcohol negatively affects your genital response and physical arousal. For people with vulvas, alcohol reduces blood flow to the vagina and therefore can decrease the intensity of orgasms.
To learn more, we spoke to the internet’s sober sex expert Tawny Lara about how to be intimate without alcohol, sober date ideas, and why you should try it even if you’re not teetotal.
Tawny quit drinking in 2015 and started the SobrieTea Blog to document her sober journey.
“I started blogging and writing about sobriety in general. And in in my own life experience I was really scared to date and have sex without alcohol so I became the resource that that younger me – who was still partying – really needed,” Tawny explains.
The blog has since turned into a podcast, Recovery Rocks, and a book that she is currently working on. The driving message behind all of her work?
“To know that you don’t need alcohol to feel confident in bed, to have fun on a date, to have uncomfortable conversations with a long term partner.”
We’re so here for it. Read the interview below to find out why “liquid courage” isn’t real, why first dates are better alcohol free, how to have sex sober, and more.
More of a listener? Follow along with the audio interview.
Firstly, why do I have to be drunk to be intimate?
afterglow: Alcohol is so normalised in dating and sex. Why is it so hard for us to have sober sex?
Tawny: In society, in the media, in Hollywood, we’re taught that you take liquid courage when you need to do something difficult.
When I learnt that liquid courage is actually a facade it was mind blowing to me. To learn that, alcohol is actually shutting off your inhibitions. It’s shutting off the ability for your prefrontal cortex to work properly and you need that, it’s pretty important.
So sure liquid courage might make you feel more confident in the moment but it’s not real. It’s activating something that’s already in you and there are other ways to access it. And that’s what my work is about and what the book that I’m writing is about, how to tap into that intrinsic courage as opposed to taking a shot and powering through.
afterglow: Why is sober sex important?
Tawny: I think it can be important to just incorporate mindfulness into your life in general. To slow down and realize the role alcohol plays in your love life. You don’t have to give up alcohol and be sober for the rest of your life.
If you’re about to ask your partner to do something new in bed and you find yourself reaching for a glass of wine first, be present with that. Why are you reaching for that glass of wine? I’m not saying it’s wrong, I just think you can learn a lot about yourself if you really get present and get mindful with why you’re reaching for that drink.
Practice mindful masturbation on afterglow:
[button link=”https://xoafterglow.com/video/the-sounds-of-pleasure-an-embodied-mindful-meditation” type=”big” color=”black” newwindow=”yes”] The Sounds of Pleasure[/button]
afterglow: So, does sober sex feel better?
Tawny: We are taught through media and through movies that drunk sex is better because you have no inhibitions, but in reality, alcohol does a disservice to your nerves and to your to genital response. Excess drinking can cause premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. Alcohol dehydrates you so it can cause vaginal dehydration. There are so many negative sexual side effects to alcohol.
I’m not talking about when you have a glass of wine or you have a margarita, I’m talking about prolonged substance abuse. If you drink to blackout and you have sex, you’re really doing a disservice to your sexual experience. You’re not feeling it to its full potential.
I drank to self medicate, to numb my anxiety and depression, and you can’t selectively numb emotions. So while I was numbing those things, I was also numbing happiness and pleasure and my ability to communicate, and those are pretty damn important when it comes to sex.
And I would be remiss if we have this conversation without talking about the intersection of alcohol and sexual assault and people who have PTSD. If you’ve experienced sexual trauma, I completely understand why you think you might need to have a drink to have sex. As someone who also has experienced sexual trauma, I had to process all of that and it takes so much time and so much exhausting energy but it is 100% worth it to live fully present and to have really good sex and have fun on dates.
afterglow: What first date ideas do you have for dating when sober?
Tawny: I have written so many articles about alcohol free date ideas and realized that dating is inherently alcohol free, we just add alcohol to it.
Go to a museum, walk in the park, go to a botanical garden, go axe throwing. There are just so many activities other than sitting at a bar across from each other talking. You can observe something external like art in a museum or beautiful flowers in a botanical garden and that’s something to talk about. It can really form a different organic, beautiful connection.
I’m not saying you’re going to find the love of your life on your first sober date. But I will say that some of my most meaningful connections, other than my partner, have been dates with people where they didn’t go anywhere but they were genuine connections. Some of those were more powerful than some of my long term relationships when I was drinking. I might have lived with someone for three years, but we really didn’t know anything about each other because we didn’t know anything about ourselves.
afterglow: Is it important to date someone who is also sober?
Tawny: This is one of the most common questions that I get. You don’t have to date someone who’s sober, it’s more about mindfulness than it is about a hard line on no alcohol. This is also where boundaries come in.
If someone’s like, ‘hey, let’s meet for drinks’ and you don’t want to do that, but you do want to meet them, then just offer another idea for a date. Or meeting for drinks can still mean having iced coffees and going for a walk.
But something to be aware of is that it’s not up to you to decide if the person you’re on a date with has a drinking problem. It’s up to you to decide if the person you’re on a date with is someone you want to be around.
afterglow: What about people who feel like they need alcohol on a date to have fun?
Tawny: Alcohol has what’s called a biphasic effect, meaning it has two stages of how it affects our bodies. So, the first phase is maybe you have one drink, you relax a little bit and you’re more social. Then it gets to the point of inebriation when you’re not forming memories anymore.
It’s important to notice the two and it’s not up to me or anyone to say, ‘Oh, this is problematic drinking’. It’s not necessarily bad that you’re having a glass of wine on this date but why are you having a glass of wine? That’s the bigger question than necessarily needing to remove the alcohol. Why do you think you need this? Those are the questions to ask yourself to talk to a therapist about.
afterglow: What sober dating apps are there?
Tawny: There’s one called Sober Dating. There’s one called CASL – Clean and Sober Love. Loosid is a sober social networking site with a dating component. And Bumble recently implemented a sober filter.
Tawny’s first steps to getting sober
1. Date yourself
“It’s really important in the context of alcohol free sex and dating to spend some time alone dating yourself. Whether you’re single or you’re in a long term relationship you have to spend time alone to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol and the role that it plays in your love life. Get to know your own interests without alcohol.”
2. Get to know your body
“I am a huge proponent of masturbation, especially for people with vaginas. Get to know your body and what turns you on. The more time you spend with your body, the more you’ll know what you like and the more confident you can feel. Then you can have that intrinsic courage activated to bring that into the bedroom with someone else.
“When I was drinking, I had no idea what I liked sexually. I did what I thought I was supposed to do as a woman. Old school porn really messed me up. I wish we had really beautiful porn resources like there are now but that wasn’t an option back then. I thought my job as a woman was to please a man and that’s it, period.
“So once I got sober and had to spend a lot of time dating myself I learned what I liked sexually and then I unlearned the societal things that we as women are supposed to like.”
Find out how to answer, ‘so what are you into?’
[button link=”https://xoafterglow.com/video/answering-the-question-so-what-are-you-into-part-one” type=”big” color=”black” newwindow=”yes”] Get to know your desires [/button]
3. Find support
“The Internet has changed sobriety and the sex and dating conversation so much. So as corny as it sounds, Google stuff. Look up sober, follow #sobercurious on Instagram.
“There are tons of free support groups. They can look like what you’ve seen on TV where you’re sitting in a circle, talking about your feelings. Or it could also be a Facebook group of sober curious people talking about their experiences. I got a lot of support in early sobriety just by following #sober, #recovery, and reading books by women in recovery.
“There are so many podcasts and so many free resources. I co host the Recovery Rocks podcast. My co host Lisa Smith wrote a book called ‘Girl Walks Out of a Bar’, about being a New York City lawyer who was struggling with substance abuse. She went the AA route and I did not, and so our podcast is really us meeting in the middle talking about different ways to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. And every episode ends with us talking about rock and roll just to remind you, life goes on, have fun, listen to some music.
“The conversation of sobriety or sober curiosity is heavy. It has a lot of weight to it but you still have to find ways to have fun.”
About Tawny Lara
Tawny is an NYC-based writer, blogger, public speaker, podcaster, and Webby-Award Winner who’s passionate about smashing stigmas associated with both sexuality and sobriety. Her words have been published in Playboy, Men’s Health, Huffington Post, The Temper, and more. Her book, Dry Humping: A Booze-Free Guide to Sex, Dating, and Relationships, comes out in the fall of 2023.
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