craving/addiction-like behaviors and higher drug sensitivity.
The study demonstrated that there’s a close interaction between natural and drug rewards and that increased sexual activity has the ability to desensitize from effects caused by drugs, and increase tolerance. With increased tolerance, there’s a higher risk of addiction.
Matesa said few researchers have studied what happens to the human sexual response when addiction comes into the picture, “because it is hard to get funding [for] research projects connecting sexuality and addiction that does not explore sex addiction per se.”
Scientists at major research universities told her repeatedly that no research exists about the effects of substance abuse on sexuality, and that it’s difficult to secure institutional approval or funding for any work regarding the two issues. But because different drugs affect the body in different ways, what the body does is impacted accordingly. While heroin or Vicodin may reduce the libido, meth and cocaine have the power to make people want sex compulsively.
“Every drug that changes your head also changes your sexual response,” said Matesa. “Even over-the-counter cough syrup can change your sexual response. Stimulants send you through the roof. Benzos cut your sexual response. All the way from A to Z – from Ambien to Zoloft.”
“No intimate relationships during the first year of sobriety”
Recovering addicts who participate in 12-step programs often hear they should not be intimate with their partners during the first year of sobriety. Of course, that’s not necessarily always a welcomed advice. But many doctors actually stand by the hiatus, recommending that patients abstain from sex during treatment for drug addiction.
“We find that sexual behavior can be a huge barrier to someone in recovery,” said Clinical Psychologist Mike Rizzo. “If they’re engaging in sex, they tend to need to get high. If they’re high, they need to have sex. The two things are very hard to separate initially in recovery, so I have an unpopular stance on that. I believe there needs to be a period of sexual abstinence.”
‘No intimate relationships during the first year of sobriety’ is just a reminder that focus is needed and that it takes time before a recovering addict is emotionally prepared to be involved in an intimate relationship.
“I ask people to talk about their emotional feelings towards sexual behavior,” Rizzo said. “If they’re distorted or dysfunctional, we can talk about it in a month. Abstinence is a prerequisite to recovery, and you have to teach them how not to use before getting into deeper issues around why they’re using it.”
While sexual abstinence has been useful for many recovering addicts, every person goes through recovery in different, unique ways – the time frame that one person may need to focus on sobriety, isn’t the same time frame everyone else will need.
Matesa, who got sober through a 12-step program, said: “It’s super arbitrary. There are good reasons behind not having sex for some time, but I think setting an arbitrary limit is completely unreasonable, especially for young people.”
Rizzo agreed, stating that abstinence for a year isn’t necessarily realistic. However, he did urge people in recovery to take “the ‘one day at a time’ philosophy, not only towards the substance but towards the sexual activity as well.
Often, the problem isn’t the intimacy in the relationship, but the fact that for many people, sex tends to increase levels of emotional involvement and feelings of attachment.
“The goal should be getting to know oneself,” Matesa said. “It could be longer than one year or it could be shorter than one year. For me, it was two and a half years that I didn’t have sex, and it was very helpful.”
In Matesa’s case, abstaining from sex was helpful because she got to know herself better and learned about her likes and her dislikes. The knowledge acquired from her past struggles with addiction and from writing her book made her realize that cultural changes are important.
“As human beings, we absolutely need to touch each other,” she explained. “We don’t touch each other enough in our culture. The body can actually go through something called skin hunger when we don’t get touched.”
For psychologists, skin hunger is what happens when a deep desire for physical contact is present. The largest human sensory organ is the skin, and among all senses, touch is the first one acquired. Infants who don’t get enough touch suffer from… (continue reading)