Sometime between the ages of 17, when I lost my virginity, and 18, when I went to college, I developed a fear of sober sex. Sex was reserved for when I felt sexy, and that only happened when I was drinking. When I was drinking, I became confident and sexy. I was a penis magnet. The notion that 21-year-old boys would have sex with an electrical outlet if the word “pussy” was written on it totally escaped me. I found these momentary glimpses of my “goddess” status to mean that I could only be turned on when I was drunk. So, that became a part of my narrative around sex.
But the entanglement from bar to bed presented issues. Mainly with me. I was never “wet,” and I never orgasmed. Still, I remained dedicated to this ungratifying practice for the temporary thrill of being wanted. Penetration seemed almost impossible every time (that I can remember) with my one night stands, and even with some stable partners. I say almost because every Tom, Dick, and Larry would find their own solutions to the “problem.” The most common being saliva, lubrication, and what seemed like their favorite — pretending that there is no sandpaper-like barrier and force through it. What about this practice made me feel attractive, I cannot remember. Or, I’ve chosen to forget about it. Or, I never knew. In all of the cases, I know now and knew then that the blissful state of desire encouraged by my ignorance left just as quickly as the fella. I’d be left feeling worthless all over again but with a little extra shame for adding another guy to my little black book. My sex hangover matched the one caused by alcohol well. Anxious. Self-loathing. Only cured by the hair of the dog.
My sex hangover matched the one caused by alcohol well. Anxious. Self-loathing. Only cured by the hair of the dog.
What I find perplexing is the ease in which I intentionally put myself in emotional and physical discomfort. As goddess-like as I felt having someone want me, my inability to climax was a source of worry and embarrassment, yet another thing that was wrong with me, yet another source of shame. Yet another reason why, in real life, I was not goddess-like at all. Or so I thought.
The Things We Don’t Discuss When It Comes to Sex
There are things about sex we don’t talk about commonly. Like how first-time sex is often a challenge when you’re doing it with a body you don’t know. It’s a secret pop culture doesn’t tell us when we’re starting out. Add alcohol into the mix, and there’s a whole new world of complexities. Some are culturally acceptable; other’s are swept under the blanket. Society has inexplicably made the challenges a penis experiences under the forces of booze to be okay. The notorious whiskey dick is a standard reference. Despite its presence being moderately embarrassing for the owner, alcohol-induced flaccid-ness is openly discussed.
On the other hand, having a vagina with lips sealed like a secret, that is a different story. We don’t talk about it. And if we do, we use expressions likes, “crotch of stone.” We’re led to believe that there is something “wrong” with women when their bodies don’t perform the way Hollywood says they should. Perhaps if the obstacle weren’t so much of a secret, the solutions would be more readily available. I learned from Ashley Haymond, a sexuality educator and doctoral candidate at Widener University’s Center for Human Sexuality that, “Sexual dysfunctional women are defined as ‘persistence or recurrent delay in or absence of orgasm,” affecting up to ¼ of the female population’.”
Naturally, I feel a little defensive at the use of the term dysfunctional. It’s a loaded word. One that I’ve used on many occasions to describe things like my childhood and my binge drinking. Never once had I considered using it for myself sexually. Yet, there it was. Describing my intoxicated intercourse to a T. And, apparently, my dysfunction was not special. Up to 25% of women. That is not a small portion. That, in my non-expert opinion, is common. Common enough, I would argue, to talk about it so that we don’t feel shame or ostracised. Also, common enough to ask the question. Of that 1/4, how many of them only feel like having sex when they have alcohol, and what’s the correlation there? The answer is unknown but worthy of finding out.
What Happened to My Sex Life When I Gave Up Alcohol
In October of 2019, my relationship with alcohol changed. I decided to take a one week break from drinking that hasn’t ended to date. It hasn’t ended because I keep discovering things I’ve never done sober. That’s how it started. I’ve never done A, B, and C dry, so I’m going to try them. Having been drunk for most of 2006-2016 and having an unwillingness to be social without alcohol until 2019, my list was long. As you can imagine, this included dating. This also included having sex for the first time with the person I was dating. Both of these scenarios were terrifying. Both were also incredibly gratifying, memorable, and, yes, mind-blowing.
Having first-time sex with someone soberly felt like someone giving me the keys to the kingdom and saying, “Here you go, it’s all yours now.” All mine. Lusty kisses that I got to really enjoy. Clothes being pulled overhead and counter things and waking up the next morning with not an iota of regret, memory lapse, or illusion. There were also some profound differences, including:
- The lips sealed sandpaper situation was not a situation.
- My orgasm went from my head to my toes through the ceiling and around the world.
I thought that it was just a fluke. Or maybe divine intervention. Like a reward for doing something that I thought was scary. “Good job Taylor, in honor of challenging yourself, you are granted personal lubrication and an orgasm that reigns from sea to shining sea.” But then, it happened again. It actually continued and continues to happen. Not only that, but my desire also changed. I wasn’t afraid of sex, I craved it. My true goddess nature finally emerged. I was no longer just along for the ride (or to be ridden ), I was the co-pilot. Sex got to be about my pleasure too. I became my own advocate and reaped all the climaxing benefits.
Why and How Alcohol Changes the Way You Orgasm
Was I cured? This new human may have some sort of superpower to make my river flow, but I knew it wasn’t just being with him. It was being without alcohol. My curiosity got the best of me, and I found myself searching and emailing women sexologists hoping to find answers. Another pleasant side effect of my sobriety: my curiosity is followed by the ability to act on it.
I found Dr. Jill McDevitt. Sex is her language, literally. She has three degrees in human sexuality, helps women shed shame, and wants us to feel good while we feel good. She was kind enough to humor me with a bit of Q&A.
Q: What physically happens to make people orgasm?
A: An orgasm is a complicated set of processes of the central nervous system. We still don’t know the entire story. We know that at least 17 different regions of the brain are activated during orgasm. For instance, stimulation of the genitals is signaled to the brain via the pudendal
nerve. When orgasm is triggered, the hypothalamus releases oxytocin, which makes us feel connected. The release of dopamine gives that feeling of pleasure and euphoria, and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, the area, involved with decision making, shuts down, among many more actions.
Q: What changes physically during alcohol consumption that prevents women from orgasm?
A: Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system, slowing down chemical communication between brain cells. Slurred speech, stumbling, and delayed reflexes common with alcohol intoxication is an outcome of the slowed neuron communication. The sexual response and orgasm functions of the central nervous system are also slowed. It doesn’t necessarily prevent orgasm, but it often makes orgasm take a lot longer.
Q: Any other insights you have into the science of orgasm and how it is affected by alcohol?
A: I look at the relationship between sex and the effects of alcohol with 3 lenses: physical (such as orgasm) and behavior and cognitive. And the relationships are not linear, either. For instance, orgasm function decreases as more alcohol is consumed, but studies have demonstrated that sexual desire for cis women actually increases. An overall experience of pleasure and satisfaction is an upside-down bell curve. With a little amount of alcohol, some research as proposed that cis
women enjoy sex more (less inhibited, etc.), but as alcohol consumption increases and they become more and more intoxicated, their enjoyment plummets (because vomit and the room spinning does not make for a pleasant time.) I also want to note that alcohol-facilitated rape is the most common form of sexual violence. Just something I feel like I have to say as a sexologist whenever the conversation of sex and alcohol is mentioned.
The latter, I was grateful that she mentioned. My rape and assault experiences were ones that I felt ashamed to address. Reading her response to my questions, and using the word “common,” gave my 2007 version of myself a little more to heal.
It seems there is so much we need to bring more attention to in our conversations about women and sex. There is nothing “wrong,” with us just because our patriarchal culture has decided not to address our needs. We don’t need alcohol to get in the mood; we just tell ourselves that to mask what is happening on the inside, like fear of sober sex. The 2007 version of myself could never have imagined that, 13 years later, I’d be finding my goddess status without the aid of alcohol. My libido has never been higher, and I have never been more comfortable with my body. A true goddess indeed.