This is part 4 of 4 in The Temper’s Sober Dating Guide, a series to help guide you through the dating world while in recovery. We talked about how to find a date, gave you some great non-alcohol date ideas, and then wrote about when to tell your date that you’re sober. Here is our last installment!

The last time I had sex was in April 2018. I was working on a TV show shooting on location in a different state, working an impossibly ambitious schedule and and living out of a hotel where I was surrounded on all sides by coworkers. I slept with a crew member two weeks into production. I was looking for validation and an opportunity to slip into drunken chaos. I foggily remember that it “was hot,” but the memory is more a feeling of a dream than something that actually happened.  

For over a year, I didn’t have sex with anyone — I didn’t even kiss anyone.

I was tense, wound up, and crazy. My recovery coach told me to get a vibrator. Since I was basically a born again virgin, I mandated that I wanted to “do it right” the first time I had sex in sobriety. It was important for me to feel safe, secure, and be with someone who treated me with care and respect.

Since I was basically a born again virgin, I mandated that I wanted to “do it right” the first time I had sex in sobriety.

I also told myself the days of casual sex were over. I drafted a hypothetical plan to meet someone, go on a few dates, and slowly work up to it. I relayed this to my sponsor who corrected my language and said I don’t have to “do it right” but I could “do it better.” She also said my grand plan of taking it slow was great if it happened that way but also reminded me not to judge myself if I just had sex because I wanted to. We’re all human.

I matched with a guy on Bumble who I know in real life and who is also sober. It was the perfect scenario since I dislike meeting people online. We had coffee and went on a walk and he kissed me in the park. We went back to my apartment with the pretense that my clothes would stay on and we would “nap.” It got to the point where he was willingly going to leave before anything else happened, and I took a moment to check in and ask myself why I was drawing the line. Was it because I wasn’t ready or was it because I made some arbitrary rule that I needed to go on an X number of dates with someone before it was “appropriate”? Fuck that.

Afterward, I felt like my body had finally taken the gigantic yawn it had been holding back for months. A part of me thinks I should have played harder to get… another stronger part of me contests that story. I know there’s potential for something deeper — emotionally and physically — if that’s what we both want.

Afterward, I felt like my body had finally taken the gigantic yawn it had been holding back for months.

I giddily relayed my news to a good friend and, while she was happy for me, she instilled the reality of the situation. She told me not to get my hopes up for anything else and to be grateful for the positive experience I had because that might be all it is. While I hope it’s not because I like him, I took her words to heart. Can I see where it goes without future tripping and self-sabotage? I’m ready for a relationship… a real one that’s not tied to solely sex.

Having sex for the first time in sobriety can be tricky, which is why we went to our audience to see how it went for everyone else — and what they learned in the process. Sober sex can be a scar and you should only do it when you feel ready but, if you are willing to start exploring, here are a few of the many stories* that were shared.

*Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

LISA, 31

Sobriety Length at the time: 4 months

Relationship with partner: best friend

What happened?

I live with one of my best friends who I had known for about seven years. He has been a constant in my life and, while I have always had an attraction to him, the boundaries were always drawn and very specific. We are a family. I was going through a horrific breakup and could not sleep. I usually would drink myself to passing out but my emotional distress was so strong I would wake up in the middle of the night. He would hold me until I got back to sleep. This became a regular occurrence, sleeping in each other’s beds — as friends — for comfort. We gradually got closer throughout the nights and our flirtations in the days grew stronger. But at that point, I was two months into my sobriety, with no desire for sex or being touched whatsoever. Losing alcohol caused me to lose all my understanding of sensuality. It was bizarre. I felt so raw. But slowly, with him, it just started happening. The first times were really fucking, it was awkward because we had been buds for so long, and also because it practically felt like I had never had sex before. It was (and still is) different than anything I’ve ever known.

What was different about this “first time”?

I was so uncomfortably present. I needed to go very slowly, and safety with the person I was with was of utmost importance. Safety and respect have not been a priority when heavily under the influence.

STEPHANIE, 41

Sobriety Length at the time: ~40 days

Relationship with partner: a “friend” from AA

What happened?

I attended AA meetings and wound up chatting with this guy who had about seven years sober at the time. He asked me to coffee one night and we went to a local stop. We talked about recovery and I felt a connection — both intellectually and physically — because I was genuinely able to talk openly about recovery with someone. We kissed and he asked me out the next time but, this time, we had to stop and get something at his place (wink, wink). Then, BOOM! I had first-time sober sex. It was different. I felt SUPER self-conscious. I didn’t have the “protection” of the drink/drug to mask my feelings of imperfection. I didn’t have the haze of not knowing what was truly happening. I had just me and him, in all our sober nakedness. Afterward, it was just like any other 13th step story ends. He drove me back to my rehab bedroom with my pale blue plastic mattress and then distanced himself from me after a few more times of seeing each other. But, don’t feel too bad for me. It wound up growing me in the long run.

Did anything surprise you?

For the first time, I wasn’t numb. I was alert. I was hyper-sexual because of that. I was able to connect to something for the first time, sober. I think back to this now and I’m like, “yup, you connected to a… dick.” A big part of me needed to get the first time out of my system. I needed to know what sex was like sober to feel like I would be able to do it again. I needed to know that life would go on, even if the heroin addiction didn’t.

Were you ready?

Fuck, no, I wasn’t “ready!” A big part of me knew that and didn’t care. I wound up letting my sponsor know about my encounters and she told me, “You need to hold your sex up, like a Golden Chalice for all the world to SEE but for very few to hold…” and it really stuck with me. I totally sold myself short. I was grateful for being broken down so early, though, and having really strong WOMEN there to lift me up. Someone in the program looked at me and said, “Honey, the women will save your ass; the men will grab it.” And, to be honest, that also stuck. I carried on after being hurt by “Mr. 7 Years.” I actually felt bad for him when hindsight came up and nudged me. He taught me a lot about myself. Don’t settle. You are worth being the Golden Chalice. You don’t have to experience sober nakedness with the first person that seems like they’ve got it all together, because chances are, they don’t. You can dream about all the things you want in a person — or in sex — once you know who you are. Until then, keep your sober nakedness between you and the pale blue plastic mattress. Your inventory list will remain at the length it was today and your self-worth will thank you.

MACAULEY, 27

Sobriety Length at the time: 30 days

Relationship with partner: my long term partner who I had been with for a year (and am still with)

What happened?

It was terrible. My partner and I had been together for a year and sex was a normal part of our relationship. He is sober so, for him, nothing changed. We were in a long distance relationship at the time and he came to visit me. I felt so deeply insecure and uncomfortable in my body. It was like a foreign experience. I literally CRIED in the middle. The positions and the rhythm we had were such a result of me being so numb and out of tune with my body and experience, that doing them again sober felt jarring and terrifying.

Had you ever had sex sober?

It had been a LONG time. I had sex with this partner while not literally intoxicated by alcohol, but I still had that fog from hangovers all the time so I never was really present for it.

Would you have done anything differently?

I was not ready! I would have talked more beforehand. I did not anticipate sobriety changing sex so much, especially with a long-term relationship. I think I needed more time to explore what felt good for me by myself and honestly more time to just HEAL before I jumped back into sex. I drank for years before sex and had no idea what a trigger it would be at first.

MEG, 32

Sobriety Length at the time: 12-18 months

Relationship with partner: It was casual and we had an existing sexual relationship. She got into recovery soon after I did.

What happened?

I can’t remember too clearly, it was casual though. Meaning, we didn’t hype it up. Felt natural. We hadn’t had sex with one another sober before.

Would you have done anything differently?

Though we were toxic for one another, I do feel grateful to have experienced that moment with her, as I feel it gave me confidence and permission to experience future sober sexual relationships.

JULIA, 27

Sobriety Length at the time: 5 months

Relationship with partner: second date

What happened?

We had late-night bites, went back to his place, and cuddled for a good amount of time. I kissed him because I wanted him. As we kissed, we began to make out and hands started to move into other regions. We left the lights on, which was bold but also encouraged me to give it my best. [I thought] if I’m going to enjoy myself, [then] I better tell him what I need and what I want in order to get off. I’m mostly submissive during sex but this evening I wanted to dominate. Afterward, I drank a full glass of water and can’t really remember the rest.

What was different this time around?

How freaky I got! How much eye contact was present. How I was shy, nervous, and insecure and then suddenly broke from my shell.

How did you leave?

I walked home from his place. I felt alive, I felt sexy, I felt confident, and I felt blissed out. I felt like I had overcome a big hurdle. I was proud I didn’t drink in order to have sex.

SONYA, 59

Sobriety Length at the time: one week

Relationship with partner: married

What happened?

I was hiding from him that I’d gone into recovery because I wasn’t sure that it would stick. I organized a date, sent the kids out, told him that I was going to AA. He cried. Then, at my request, he emptied the booze. I showed him all my hiding places. We held each other for a long time, then tenderly made love.

Did anything surprise you?

How loving it felt.

What did you do afterward?

We went to pick up the kids and get dessert.

OLI, 29

Sobriety Length at the time: 1 year

Relationship with partner: new girlfriend

What happened?

After concentrating on my own sobriety for a year (alcohol had been an issue in most of my relationships before this), I started going on some dates. The first time I had sex after becoming sober was on the fourth date with a girl. It was much more intense than I remember drunk sex ever being, definitely much more deliberate. I would go as far as to say more universally consensual on account of there being way more communication involved. The sex was great, we dated for a year after that.

Were you ready?

I think I was ready. I found the “first date” bit much harder than the “sex” bit because of the awkwardness around being British and meeting new people and alcohol being such a huge part of socializing in our culture. It’s definitely also about finding the right person to have sex with. I find since being sober my taste in people has changed quite a lot.

SYMONE, 31

Sobriety Length at the time: 5 months

Relationship with partner: friend

What happened?

It didn’t start out with sex. He and I were best friends and he had seen the dark and harsh times of my life in early sobriety. We shared the same goal: To live a sober life. We spent almost every day together, hanging out, watching Game of Thrones, meetings, everything. And (very) slowly, things began to change… We would sit a little closer to each other, hugs lasted a little longer, I’d start laying on his chest while we watched TV. And then we kissed. It was amazing, hot, and passionate. I’d never kissed anyone like that. We left it at that on that night. We did talk about it the next day, talked about not having sex for a while, how I wanted a relationship and not just casual sex or friends with benefits. I talked to my sponsor about it a day or two after we kissed. She asked me to talk to her before having sex with anyone.

The “while” lasted, I think, three days? Haha. It was a mix of really good sex and [thoughts about how] I’m really uncomfortable with my body sober. I don’t remember being this unsure during sex. But it was so good, I really had never had sex with someone I got to know beforehand, ever. Almost two years later, and we are still together.

What was different about this “first time”?

How shy I was. And self-conscious. I used to cam in my addiction — I couldn’t be shy doing that.

Having sex for the first time in sobriety isn’t easy but, hopefully, some of the stories we share were helpful and encouraging. While some do regret it or have sex too soon, others are glad about the choices they made. Make sure that you have a strong support system before you venture into sex, though, because you don’t want to risk your sobriety for booty. But if you are feeling good about your choices, then go for it!

Thanks for reading The Temper’s Sober Dating Guide, a series to help guide you through the dating world while in recovery. If you want to check out previous pieces, then read about how to find a date, non-alcohol date ideas, and when to tell your date that you’re sober. And feel free to write to us on Instagram to let us know what other dating-in-recovery questions we can answer.