Problems affecting sexual intimacy in recovery

One of the biggest challenges facing many recovering alcoholics is sexual intimacy with their partner. Many believe that as soon as they get sober their sex life will automatically get back on track, but this rarely the case. Unfortunately, addiction and recovery from addiction can take a toll and sexual problems are common, especially in early recovery. Both the person in recovery and his or her partner can have issues with intimacy that can make lovemaking difficult. Below are a few of the common problems that can affect sexual intimacy in recovery.


Many male alcoholics lose interest in sex due to the fact that alcohol lowers testosterone levels. Also, liver damage causes oestrogen levels to increase, which can lead to the development of female traits such as loss of body hair and breast enlargement. Male alcoholics often find that these symptoms persist during early recovery until the body has returned to normal, and oestrogen levels decrease. Sex drive often returns once these symptoms have disappeared.

Female alcoholics are also affected in terms of sex drive. As testosterone levels decline, their interest in sex also wanes.

Low self-esteem

Many alcoholics will suffer from low self-esteem, especially in the early days. They may feel unworthy and not good enough, which can affect their ability to be intimate with their partner. This low self-esteem can cause erectile dysfunction in men and decrease sexual desire in both sexes.

Damaged nervous system

The nervous system is often damaged by alcohol, meaning that the nerves leading to and from the clitoris and penis are affected. Therefore, many male and female alcoholics can find it difficult to achieve orgasm. However, the good news is that blood vessels and nerve endings tend to repair themselves during recovery, and lasting damage is rarely an issue.

Fear of failure

Recovering alcoholics who have suffered from sexual performance in the past may be reluctant to try recovery again for fear that the problems will return. They have had the cushion of being able to blame alcoholism for poor performance in the past, but now that alcohol is no longer a part of their lives they may be concerned that their poor performance had nothing to do with alcohol in the first place. Nevertheless, the more they worry and the more afraid they are, the longer they will go without trying and the worse the problem will become. It can often end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.


A partner of a recovering alcoholic may find it difficult to become intimate again because they are harbouring resentment. While the person in recovery may have been unaware of many of his or her actions while under the influence of alcohol, their partner will have been fully aware of everything. He or she may feel no sexual desire for the partner that has caused so much pain for so long. This can be a huge barrier that can take a long time to fix.

Bad memories

Sex during addiction may have been unsatisfactory for both partners. It may have been abusive and unfulfilling, and the memories of this can make both partners reluctant to try again. It may have been a painful experience with the alcoholic being rough or sloppy. This can make the thoughts of sex, unappealing.

Improving the situation

The good news is that sexual intimacy does not have to be affected forever. Many of the problems will resolve themselves with time, but those that are more psychological than physical in nature need to be addressed. It is a good idea for both partners to discuss their issues, either with each other or with a qualified counsellor.


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