Taking the first steps to healthy sexual experiences
Part of our Real Chemistry series – connection, wellbeing and chemsex recovery.
This page introduces information about taking the first steps to engaging in healthy sexual experiences, and in a way this may be seen by some as the most important part of moving forward from chem use and chemsex experiences since the two themes 'chems + sex' can become entwined, and for some it may seem impossible to disentangle the two. After you have read through the information, and reflected on the themes that resonate with you, there are some exercises for you to work through. You may find it helpful to have a notebook to use as you work through the exercises, or you could use the function on a phone or tablet.
First Step is to Acknowledge that...
As unique individuals, with varying experiences, it’s fair to say that we are all on different journeys, and may be at different stages in terms of re-engaging with ourselves and others’ in a sexual sense.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to what may be needed to support re-engagement with sex, however there are some themes that may resonate with you, and that you may want to explore further to support yourself in starting the process or engaging in healthy sexual experiences.
We do understand that thinking about sex may be a trigger for some, so we remind you to keep yourself safe and implement the techniques for dealing with Triggers & Cravings which can be found on our Antidote Home Care page.
Touch & Belonging
If we refer to early development, it’s important to remember that ‘touch’ is part of the process of feeling that we belong and feel connected to others. Think about how our early caregivers provide this to us, and how we may have internalised this experience, and formed a blueprint of what we need to belong to another (or others’).
As we grow and develop, we move away from our families or caregivers, and transition into belonging to ourselves and fulfilling our touch desires through touching our own bodies and learning about what makes us feel good. We also start to engage in different groups & relationships whereby touch (be that hugs and kisses from friends, or sexual experiences with sexual partners) continues to be part of how we connect and feel that we belong.
Return to Self - Engaging in Masturbation
In a way, once we have grieved the loss of our chem experiences, an important part of moving towards re-engagement with healthy sexual experiences is to return to a sense of belonging to ourselves. One way of doing this is to re-engage in masturbation.
Some questions to reflect on regarding your engagement with masturbation are: What is your current experience of masturbation? Does masturbation create any issues for you i.e feel triggered to use chems? If so, then what steps can you take to overcome this? How do you celebrate this healthy sexual experience? Do you make time to indulge yourself? If not, then why not?
If you find that masturbation is a difficult experience for you, then it will be important to tackle this, and engage in some form of talking therapy, so that you can talk, process, and move forward with any issues you have.
Importance of Having Clarity about Who You Are as a Sexual Being
Moving forward can sometimes require us to reflect on the past. In terms of re-engaging with your sexual self, the following questions may help you have more clarity on who you are as a sexual being, as well as explore any issues that were pre-existing before any engagement in chemsex.
How do you feel about your past sexual experiences? Have you always been able to engage in sex with ease? Or have there been times when it has been difficult? If difficult then why?
In terms of chemsex, what was your experience of this? What were the pros, and what were the cons in terms of fulfilling your need to connect & belong?
For some of you, your chemsex experiences may have been as part of a group experience, and if so then what group rules did you have to follow to be part of that group, and how have you transitioned into other non-chem groups to support your need for connection?
Again, if thinking about the past is a difficult experience for you, then it will be important to tackle this, and engage in some form of talking therapy to support you with this process.
General Fears Around Substance Free Sex
Some common narratives of those who start to think about sex without chems are:
- Thoughts of ‘I’m not good enough’
- Anxiety around sexual performance
- Issues around body image
- Shame around sexual desires i.e to get ‘fucked’ may bring up difficult feelings
- Pain, or other uncomfortable physical experiences
- Being seen for who you are
- Being judged for who you are
- Being rejected for who you are
- Feeling inhibited about sex and the experiences that may arise in a sexual context
If you relate to any of these fears, or have different fears around substance free sex, and are at a loss of how to overcome them, then think about our Self-Esteem information page might help you, and how by taking some small steps in improving your self-esteem may support you with any fears you hold.
Inhibitions = Sexual Constraints
Though sex between men is much more acceptable in 2021, society still holds (and expresses) opinions and judgements about MSM sexual practices and this for many can often lead to inhibitions about engaging in sex freely & confidently, without any guilt or shame.
Generally, sexual inhibitions arise from cultural & social influences, regarding what is permissible or ‘normal’ and acceptable. In light of this it may be important to explore your own up-bringing and what you may have ‘heard’ about sex growing up, what opinions your families held, and what your religion (if any) says about MSM sex. Perhaps also our How Proud Are You information page can support you with gaining further clarity around these themes.
What does Chemsex Facilitate for Individuals?
If we think about the term facilitation we are focusing on what chemsex may ‘solve’ for an individual. Some examples that you may relate to are:
- Decreases anxiety about sex and sexual orientation.
- Supports a sense of belonging especially in a chemsex group context.
- Enables instant connection & sexual attraction
- Is a fast route to intimacy.
- Facilitates sexual experimentation.
- Releases any inhibitions an individual may hold.
- Increases sexual confidence.
- Supports in reliving poor self esteem, or poor self worth.
- Relief of shame around asking for sexual needs to be met.
- A relief of any physical pain that may be present during more extreme sexual experiences.
In light of these points then, before we think about engaging in sex with another or others’, it may be important to bring the focus back on ourselves, who we are, what our sexual needs are, and how Okay we are with these themes.
Some questions to reflect on are: In light of the issues that we may have with being okay with ourselves, being intimate with others, and our sexual needs - what did the use of chems ‘solve’ for you personally? How do you feel about yourself’ and body. Are you comfortable naked? Do you accept all your imperfections? How Okay are you with your sexual desires & needs? Are you able to communicate them to another, or is this a difficulty in terms of feelings of shame?
Again, remember the information we have provided around Being a Man, How Proud Are You, and Self-Esteem, and how this may be helpful to review, and implement at this stage.
Moving Forward - Getting to Know Yourself Again
Essentially this involves getting to know what turns you on without the use of Chems. Generally it will be important for you to think about your use of pornography, since this can often be a Trigger for some, but is also doesn’t have much longevity in fulfilling your sexual needs. In light of this we advise that you take a break from pornography and see what comes up internally for you, and start to rediscover what turns you on by noticing your thoughts & fantasies and using this content to support your enjoyment of getting to know your body again and masturbation. Of course, as unique individuals we understand that watching porn may not be an issue for you, and we hand over that choice to you to make for yourself.
It’s also important to acknowledge that without the increased levels of dopamine that some chems provide, your first sexual experiences might seem a bit flat, and you may even experience some awkwardness or some uneasy feelings about performance to begin with. Some of you may experience a decrease in libido, or problems with getting and sustaining an erection and if so then PLEASE REMEMBER that this is just part of the process of recovering sexually from the use of chems, and should be viewed as short term. In light of these factors though and the feelings they may bring up for you, it might be a good idea to push through these feelings and experiences on your own (or with the support of professionals), before involving a sexual partner(s).
- Some general themes that may be important to think about when exploring your sexual self are: Sensations in the body are an important part of any sexual experience. Can you focus on what physical sensations feel good, what type of touching you enjoy (hard/soft/fast/slow) as well as where you enjoy being touched the most.
- Another theme is to consider which environments feel sexy and turn you on. Is it just in the bedroom, or do your fantasies take you to other situations?
- One more theme is that of intimacy, and it may be important for you to think about how you can feel more comfortable in a sexual situation with another person, and what you may need to experience with them to ensure you have some degree of trust with them, and feel safe.
Moving Forward - Experiencing Sex Again with a Partner(s)
Fact or Myth?
If your partner has no idea of what you enjoy, and want to experience during sex, then it’s likely that you will not get your needs met.
Generally, sex with another requires communication, and once you have taken some steps to rediscover your sexual needs and what turns you on again, sharing this with sexual partners (either before or during sex) will support the experience of sex as being enjoyable & fulfilling.
When focusing on what you are losing in terms of sexual experiences on chems, consider instead what you are gaining, and what sexual experiences can you potentially aim for to broaden your ideas and engagement with sex i.e authentic connections, intimacy, communication, exploring your sexual sex.
Consider taking a break form using pornography to satisfy your sexual needs, and instead start to engage in touching, and masturbation while taking note on what comes up in your thoughts and fantasies during these experiences, as well as what steps you can take in limiting & negating any negative issues you may experience.
Try and own what you desire sexually, even if this brings up any feelings of guilt & shame. Remember sex is a natural part of being human and we all deserve experiencing the sex we want as long as it's between two consenting adults. If this is a difficult process for you, then consider what support may be necessary in implementing it, be that a talking therapy, or joining a group where this type of discussion is permissible and welcomed.
Start to think about how you can communicate your sexual needs to another(s) be that before sex or during. We understand that this can be a difficult process, so again consider what support you may need with this, as well as support to navigate any feelings of vulnerability or of feeling exposed. Perhaps there is another Sunday Session theme that can support you in this process, so we do encourage you to go over all of the material from the various topics we have provided you with.
We understand that taking the first steps towards engaging in sexual experiences can be difficult to navigate, therefore if you feel that you require additional support, then we encourage you to reflect on what support may be helpful and to take steps to putting this in place.