When I was drunk and dated men, I liked rough sex. I wanted them to call me a “bitch” and treat me like I was worthless. I fantasized about being a slut who went home with random guys, guys who didn’t care if I liked it or wanted it and guys who would fuck me hard enough that I couldn’t think anymore. When I couldn’t feel anything, I wanted it to hurt.

For most of my adult life, I was in a relationship with a man and, despite the fantasies we played out in bed, violence remained in the realm of fantasy. Outside of bed, he was gentle and sweet; he only treated me rough when I explicitly asked for it and told him what to do.

I stopped drinking around the same time I ended our relationship. I loved my boyfriend for nine years and broke up with him because I was queer and needed to date other genders. I needed the freedom to both fuck and fuck up, to feel my queerness in and out of bed.

Naked, my sweet date explained that we’re responsible for communicating what feels good and what doesn’t because we’re the only ones in our bodies. 

My first queer dates were also my first sober dates. The first time I had queer sex, I wasn’t sure how to speak my desires. Naked, my sweet date explained that we’re responsible for communicating what feels good and what doesn’t because we’re the only ones in our bodies. It was in queer hookups that I started saying what I wanted but, after a few gentle sexual partners, I wanted to be with someone who could treat me the way I’d known I liked. I was looking for somebody who’d hurt me.

I’d been sober for eleven months before I started having rough sex again. It was on the second night of hooking up with a new sexual partner when I asked them to call me a “bitch” and choke me. They happily obliged. Sober, I felt everything in a way I’d never felt before. It felt like we were tapping into an extreme and irresistible sexual power. 

The first time we had phone sex, they told me what to do and what to say, but this felt like a violation. They hadn’t earned the right to control me; we hadn’t known each other long enough for them to show they respected my autonomy. I processed it for a full day alone, something I’d never had to do back when I was drunk. 

I didn’t anticipate how sobriety would change my needs. 

When I was drunk, I couldn’t feel my body or remember what happened; the insults and fantasies rolled right off me and I fell asleep after I came. I was comfortable giving up control and being tossed around; I desired the intensity of sexual vulnerability. 

Sober, every sensation and emotion became so big.

I realized I needed real aftercare, the kind I’d never needed from sloppy, drunk sex. I needed to be reminded that my sexual partner cared about me and that I could make choices. I needed a conscientious transition out of the scene. When we talked again, I told them I couldn’t be controlled like that yet because we barely knew each other. They became committed to giving me what I needed and paying attention to both my body and words.

Over the next few months, I was adored and attended to in a way I’d never before felt and, it being my first queer relationship, I felt all the feels. “OMG! This is what love songs are about!” was a thought that regularly cycled through my head. I soon asked to be in a relationship with them. It felt expansive and unbelievable and creative but, within a month of being officially together, they stopped offering aftercare. 

Our relationship started to fall apart. If I was told I was a cheating slut in bed and they didn’t remind me it wasn’t real after the scene was over, I felt like an open hole. I’d never been sober in a relationship and I’d never felt so taken advantage of when I was drunk. My partner was fucking me the way they wanted without my input. If I told them I wanted them to be nice to me, they often transitioned into rough sex without asking. If I stopped them, they said, “That’s the only way I can get off,” and, more often than not, I let them continue, even if I’d already said no. It wasn’t kinky sex anymore: a person cannot consent if they cannot say no. 

It wasn’t kinky sex anymore: a person cannot consent if they cannot say no. 

When I recognized that I didn’t deserve to feel like trash and that their desire to use me extended outside of a scene, I ended the relationship. I’d internalized the messages they told me in bed: I was a cheating slut because I spent time nurturing platonic friendships, anything that went wrong was my fault, and I deserved punishment. Out of the relationship now, I saw these were lies they needed me to believe in order to continue fucking me into submission. 

In leaving the relationship, I needed to have both sexual and emotional exchanges with people who respected me. I needed to be reminded that I was a whole person with agency. 

Since then, I’ve been most attracted to people who do not presume me to be submissive. I take different roles now; I’m often either in charge or on equal footing with my sexual partner. By having sex with explicit, stated boundaries, I’ve learned I can be put in physical pain without being humiliated and, when I’m present in my body, pain can feel intimate and loving. I’m no longer using humiliation and fantasies to divorce me from my physical experience. Not being drunk and making an intentional effort to be present in my body has meant that I have access to a range of pleasure I couldn’t feel before.

I’m exploring when, and how, I’ll submit. I won’t be dominated by someone who doesn’t ask for and respect my limits, or by someone who hasn’t experienced the emotional vulnerability of submission. 

I need time for aftercare. 

Even though some of these guidelines seem basic to me now, this year has taught me that they aren’t commonly accepted. I’m constantly practicing how to state my limits clearly and how to proceed, or leave, in ways that center my safety.

Not being drunk and making an intentional effort to be present in my body has meant that I have access to a range of pleasure I couldn’t feel before.

It’s been hard to care about my own safety when I used to be turned on by being reckless and drunk. It’s hard to care about myself enough to not be violated. It’s hard to believe myself when women are taught that other people’s narratives about our bodies are more valid than our own. 

The emotional intensity of sober sex has required I change my whole relationship to sex and, in turn, reframe how I live. I’m twenty-one months sober and I’m finally learning that I’m not a worthless bitch! 

I remind myself of this every day with a page of fresh affirmations. I still enjoy the vulnerability that comes with submission, but I honor it for what it is: A precious gift.