Sexual Health in Recovery

Yes, here it is, that uncomfortable but commonly thought about but rarely discussed topic of sex. We will also push the bar a little bit further and talk specifically about sex in the context of recovery from Addiction and mental health issues.

Okay, maybe I’ve set my sights a bit high here as this is a complex topic with lots to discuss. Perhaps we can start with a few main points.

When people are struggling with Addiction and mental health problems, their sexual health and life is impacted. Often these mental health symptoms promote unhealthy behaviour with sex-sexual bingeing, sexual anorexia, risky sex, unprotected sex, sex with strangers, abusive relationships and sexual abuse, and more. It is important to clarify that these behaviours are not conscious choices made by the person engaging, they are symptoms of dysfunction.

So if we are on the same page that some of these sexual challenges are symptoms rather than the person, what happens when people start to engage in recovery and change? Exactly. A lot of questions, confusion, and uncertainty arises. People may not know how to have healthy sex, sober sex, connected sex, safe sex, or sex period.

How do we learn about this part of ourselves if no one is talking about it? Well, some people are talking about it. There are support groups out there (12-Step and otherwise) that provide community and a safe place to process feelings, thoughts, and behaviours connected with sex. There are professional therapists who provide a safe place to explore these things within as well. You may have some supports and/or cultivate these supports over time who provide that safe place for you to talk and share with. Journaling, reflection, education online or through books for wherever you are stuck can be helpful.

Another important part of the process is asking yourself about your values in relationships and with sex. What are the essential elements of a healthy sexual relationship for you? Do you value intimacy? Hugging and kissing? Hand holding? Foreplay? What are the ingredients that lead to you feeling safe, connected, and able to be vulnerable with your partner. Initially you may feel you do not know, and that’s okay. Try your best to identify even one or two things that are important to you. It may start with “I don’t want…” which can set the stage for “I do want…”

Sex is, at core, intended for procreation but it has evolved as we have evolved to be a byproduct of safe, committed, loving relationships (in health). In lack of health, it becomes another tool amongst many to create hurt, pain, and suffering. There is nothing inherently bad nor good about sex, it is what it is and is a fact of life, so sex, like anything, is what we make it. You have choices and the opportunity to shift your relationship with sex as you see fit. So start reflecting, talking, and exploring to identify what you need and what healthy sex looks and feels like for you.

By Paige Abbott

Learn more about me at Follow me on Instagram @sana_psyc

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