Everyone’s experience of early sobriety is unique. Some people have trouble sleeping. Others are emotionally unhinged. And many become so incessantly horny that they require a constant string of nuts to keep themselves from humping every vaguely plump object they pass. (Of course, most of us are all of the above.)
“I’m extremely horny all the time,” says Kevin, a 28-year-old Chicago-based electronic musician who’s in the process of breaking up with cocaine. “I’m 95 days sober.”
There are a few physiological reasons that help explain why many of us, like Kevin, get horny in early sobriety. For starters, dopamine-producing drugs can overstimulate the brain’s reward center, causing it to decrease its natural dopamine production. That means we’ll be craving dopamine like crazy when we get sober, and it just so happens that sex generates plenty of it.
Alcohol and other drugs can also reduce our testosterone production, which decreases libido in both men and women. Therefore, our testosterone levels surge — along with our boners — when we get sober.
It’s also possible that early-sobriety horniness is a symptom of us clawing to fill the void we were previously packing with chemicals. For example, Evan Haines, co-founder of Oro House Recovery Centers, explains that many people who suffer from addiction simultaneously suffer from trauma, which may have been caused by spousal abuse, neglectful parents or another form of interpersonal dilemma. When we stop masking that grief with drugs, sex can become a new way of searching for meaningful connections.
But, in many cases, an increase in sexual feelings during early sobriety is a form of self-exploration. Julia, a 32-year-old in New York, began her relationship with booze when she was only 13. As such, many of her formative experiences — including learning about sex — happened under the influence, so she describes her sexuality at the time as a “drunken need to fill holes in my heart via my vagina.”
It wasn’t until Julia said goodbye to alcohol that she really felt inspired to push her sexual boundaries in a purposeful way. “I had a cabin weekend with friends where we did public masturbation, and it was very bacchanalian,” she says.
Since then, Julia has felt more connected to her sexuality than ever before. “I still do things like orgies,” she explains. “It’s a more pure form of who I am.”
Ashley, a 27-year-old in California, had a similar experience when she stopped drinking, which led her to explore new kinks and sex clubs. “Those communities are so inclusive that they don’t even blush at someone for not drinking,” she says. Not to mention, Ashley feels much safer exploring her sexuality as a sober woman. “I don’t have to worry about being taken advantage of,” she explains. “I know that if I’m going to have a foursome, it’s because I want to, not because alcohol is convincing me that it’s a good idea.”
Kevin’s post-cocaine horniness comes from the opposite place, however. He trawled Tinder and Grindr day and night while on drugs, so he was doing a lot of hooking up. But that all came to a halt now that he’s sober, leaving him feeling alone and ready to unload. “For me, horniness comes with loneliness,” he says. In short, he’s become more reserved, but his peen still craves its old ways.
Which goes to show just how different people can be, and that while many become horny in early sobriety, others lose interest in sex altogether. “It can go either way,” says Alex, a 29-year-old in San Francisco who had no sex drive whatsoever while he was in rehab. This can happen for many of the same reasons mentioned above: Hormonal changes, emotional upheaval and a greater focus on other aspects of life. But again, people react to these changes in their own ways.
If you do get horny in early sobriety, Haines says, “no coping mechanism is inherently bad,” and that includes boning. (That said, there are people who engage in risky sexual behaviors as a result of underlying mental health problems, so it’s obviously important to keep an eye on your mind, especially in the early stages of sobriety.)
While some sober communities treat sex as something that should be avoided as though it can become a new addiction, Haines says these notions are largely relics of our Puritanical foundations in America. “Addiction and mental health problems might actually be a result of the Puritanical elements of our culture and the repressive ways we deal with the body, women and pleasure,” he explains.
So, if you’re sober and horny, get your nut. We all know you deserve it.