For many people, early sobriety is like learning to walk again — and for me, learning to enjoy sex was part of the package. 

When I look back on my life before recovery, I realize that for most of the sex that I experienced then, I was either tipsy, high, drunk, or in a blackout.

As you can probably imagine, there wasn’t much sensuality involved in any of it; goal-oriented, penetration, and ejaculation focused sex was all I knew. I didn’t even think I deserved sensual intimacy. Nearly a decade of destructive drinking and the desire to put men’s needs before my own all left me with the belief that ‘real sex’ meant penis-in-vagina penetration, and everything else was extra or simply a waste of time… especially if it prioritized my pleasure.

It took me getting sober to realize that I’d never given myself the opportunity to consciously explore my body and pleasure beyond penetrative sex, and when foreplay had been involved, it was only seen as a warm up to the “real thing.”

The thought of sober sex terrified me because it suddenly became apparent that I could no longer run away from the insecurities I had about my body, the way my vulva looked, smelled, tasted, my body hair, and the million other things I’d decided were “wrong” with me.

It seemed fucking impossible to think that I could learn to accept and appreciate myself and my desire outside of the male gaze. It didn’t help that despite how much sex I’d had, I didn’t even know how I liked to be touched.

The thought of sober sex terrified me because it suddenly became apparent that I could no longer run away from the insecurities I had about my body.

A year and a half into my sobriety I made the commitment to heal my sexual shame and reclaim my pleasure body, and this decision took me on a wild ride of discovering just how limitless, creative, and abundant sex could be. 

Although awkward at first, because I no longer had alcohol to mask the vulnerability I felt, I started to explore my turn-ons. I educated myself on the different ways I could experience orgasm, I touched my body curiously without the goal of orgasm, and was finally able to feel the juicy sensations I used to fake.

This self-exploration showed me that what the rest of the world considered “foreplay” was actually the part that I valued the most.

Once I became comfortable with giving myself pleasure, it felt less daunting to explore sober sex with partners. Without penetrative sex being the focal point, my arousal was enhanced significantly, and I’d like to focus on the 3 things that re-introduced me to my sensuality:

1. Orgasmic kissing:

I, for one, used to underestimate the power of kissing and, in my early teens, I was no stranger to sex that didn’t involve any kissing whatsoever. Tragic, I know.

Luckily, I now know better, understand the science of kissing, and have realised that my lips are one of my most sexually sensitive zones. Kissing is just one example of intimacy with no expectation, and I’ve experienced orgasm more than a few times from this seemingly simple practice. 

But it takes just that, practice. And patience. And a skillful tongue.

While kissing, my hands (or my partners) can slowly move to massage, caress, and squeeze the neck, back, breasts, just under the breast bone, abdomen, thighs, and bum. Gradually bringing our bodies closer together to achieve a more intimate contact also increases pleasure significantly.

While kissing, my hands (or my partners) can slowly move to massage, caress, and squeeze the neck, back, breasts, just under the breast bone, abdomen, thighs, and bum.

Although orgasm doesn’t always happen, I know the importance of being patient with my body and my arousal, plus I no longer feel the need to compare my pleasure to my partners. It’s okay if things take a little longer, or don’t happen at all.

The removal of expectation unlocks the ecstasy that I withheld from myself for a long time, and I’ve found that erotic kissing, in particular, is a simple but great way to access that pleasure!

2. Breast/nipple stimulation:

For a long time, I thought that frantic clitoral stimulation was the only way I could experience orgasm. I’d never considered my nipples alone to be that powerful. Of course, I was wrong.

Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston opened my eyes to the many ways I could bring myself or be brought to orgasm through breast and nipple stimulation. And let’s just say, a lot of doors were opened that day!

I noticed how when I got into a relaxed state and either used just my fingers or a combination of oils, nipple vibrators, clamps, my partners teeth/tongue, or other sensations, I’d feel as though fireworks were being sent straight to my genitals. Scientifically-speaking, this is because there are signals being shot off into the genital sensory cortex, which is the same area of the brain that is aroused by clitoral or vaginal stimulation. 

Despite popular belief, stimulating the vagina or clitoris isn’t the only way to have an orgasm. 

I especially enjoy having a long session with a partner. They’ll usually start by slowly teasing me and breathing warm air around and onto my nipple to stimulate the nerves. Then they can move on to licking and experimenting with more sensations: Gently pulling, pinching, biting, flicking with the tip of the tongue, or whatever else feels good.

Nipple play is another way I’ve been able to achieve orgasm without being penetrated or a penis being involved. Isn’t it amazing what can happen when we get curious about our pleasure?

The bottom line is that, despite popular belief, stimulating the vagina or clitoris isn’t the only way to have an orgasm. 

3. Erotic massage:

Being introduced to erotic massage (specifically, pussy/yoni massage) transformed the relationship I had with my genitals and intimacy itself. 

I’d never experienced sex that focused solely on my arousal in such a loving and calming way, and it took me a while to get used to receiving pleasure without expecting penetration to follow.

Pussy massages helped me to let go of my vaginal muscle tension, which then allowed my partner to pay close attention to my vulva and erotic zones without involuntary muscle tightness on my behalf. I’ve also found that it’s a fantastic way to bond with a partner. 

If it hadn’t been for this type of intimacy, I wouldn’t have known that my body was capable of squirting (female ejaculation). Up until that point, I’d never been relaxed or sober enough in sex to know or be interested in the full capabilities of my body. 

Erotic massage helps me in releasing my fears and shame around sex, the appearance of my pussy, and all other body concerns.

So not only did erotic massage help me in releasing my fears and shame around sex, the appearance of my pussy, and all other body concerns — it showed me that I was deserving of emotional intimacy and care, too.

For me, it turns out that the true art of an orgasmic and blissful erotic massage is presence, intentionality, and being in the company of someone who I trust enough to fully relax and receive with.

As someone that found it difficult to enjoy penetrative sex in early sobriety, it was important for me to redefine my idea of “real sex.” I came to the empowering conclusion that all the consensual sex I choose to have is entirely valid, regardless of who I’m sleeping with and how we’re doing it.

I especially found the above to be great tools for giving myself permission to be sensual and to receive, please. And I continue to explore each step to this day, two and a half years into my recovery.

It can take some time to feel desire in sobriety, especially if you’d been used to numbing yourself in various ways, but that doesn’t last forever — and you don’t have to push your body to do things it isn’t ready for yet.

You are likely to feel a lot of emotions as you meet the most vulnerable parts of yourself, which is why self-compassion and kindness are key.

We all deserve to feel pleasure and connection, especially in our recovery. We also have every right to curate our pleasure menu as we see fit, and penetration does not have to be the pinnacle of any sexual experience.