Not having sex is nothing to be embarrassed about, sure. But it’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve had sex with another human being.

When you’ve leaned on alcohol to have sex for a long time, it can be confusing—or even scary—to get in bed with someone for the first time sober. That’s one of the many reasons that some have a hard time having sex after they get sober—not to mention that so many start exploring parts of their sexuality they’d been suppressing or denying, sometimes their entire lives.

I’ve spoken to so many people who’ve realized through sobriety that they aren’t heterosexual. This kind of discovery, and generally identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or anywhere on the queer spectrum, can make you feel  pressure—like you should be having sex. As if your queerness can disappear if you aren’t getting naked with someone else. (I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you’re still queer even if you’re not having sex. Crazy, but true!)

Although I’ve had plenty of booze fueled sexual encounters, I also had lots of sex between the time I came out as a lesbian at 16 and when I started drinking at 20. There was plenty of other sober sex sprinkled throughout the years that followed as well. As a lesbian who has only ever had sex with women, and is sufficiently confident in the area of sober sex, what could being sober possibly have to do with sex for me?

A lot, actually.

I’ve always been single for long stretches between significant relationships—it’s just how I am. I don’t mind being by myself. In fact, I prefer being single to casually dating someone that I don’t feel emotionally connected to. When I was drinking, it was easy for me to go out, have some drinks, and hook up with someone with whom I might not have otherwise felt a connection. The drinking enabled me to bypass the way I’m wired so I could perform the way I was expected to and have casual sex to fill in the gaps between relationships.

But, even then, many of the people I hooked up with were people I already knew and at least connected with as a friend.

The truth just below the surface, and what I realized for certain once I got sober, is that getting to know a woman—what they’re passionate about, what their personality is like, reading what they write, listening to them have a heated conversation, and feeling mutual respect is what I really find sexy. Those are the things that ultimately attract me to someone. And that’s why actual, anonymous, “never see you again” one night stands were so rare for me.

Just because I’m not having sex with someone else doesn’t mean I’m not a sexual being.

I don’t know that I’d ever call myself sapiosexual or demisexual. But I do relate to both of those identities and I admit that, even though I’ve been an out lesbian for more than 20 years. I’m still discovering things about my sexuality in sobriety.

As you can imagine, it’s a slow process to date when you need to get to know someone so well before you can tell if you’re even interested in them sexually or romantically. Living in a city where I already know so few people and often don’t quite feel like I fit in can make it extra slow. I have lots of amazing emotional connections with women all over the country, and would be thrilled to make out or get naked with many of them. But even if they were also interested, I don’t have the money to be flying all over the US for sex.

And that’s why I’m thankful for masturbation.

Just because I’m not having sex with someone else doesn’t mean I’m not a sexual being. Being alone doesn’t mean I’m not having plenty of orgasms. Having no one else to touch me doesn’t mean I’m not getting turned on by touch.

Masturbation is good for you, especially in sobriety. It can help you discover your sexuality and it can help you heal if you’re coming to terms with who you are as a sexual being. Orgasms are healthy and fun. Plus, they can be extra intense when you bring them on yourself. Learning what you like is not only great for self-pleasure but, it can make it easier to communicate what you like when you are having sex with a partner. Especially if you’re relearning your sexuality, go ahead and experiment with techniques, toys, other erotic inspiration.

If you’re not having sex, that’s okay. Humans can be sexual creatures in so many different ways. If you’ve realized you just don’t want to have sex because you’re not interested, that’s totally valid! Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. If you’re just discovering or accepting your sexuality and you feel like you’re too old, you’re not! I promise. And you don’t need to rush into anything with your newfound feelings if you don’t want to.

So, have sex or don’t. But either way, remember that you have the choice. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you’re not having sex in sobriety.