A study published last month by the international journal Sexualities, offered a closer look at how women handle sexuality while in substance abuse treatment.

Interviews with 16 sober women from Sweden, aged 16 to 55, showed that although they reported having different experiences, there were similar patterns associated with drugs and sex. Most women reported enhanced self-esteem and sexual pleasure after they used amphetamines. But after they had stopped using the substance, past sexual encounters were also linked to shame.

Anette Skarner, professor of social work at University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and lead author on the study, concluded by stating that “the safest option then is to abstain from sex even if it may lead to frustration and longing. To some, toning down sexuality is a welcome respite, to others a meaningless wait.”

Jennifer Matesa, a fellow of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), who has been writing about health for more than 20 years, recently delved into the topic with her latest book “Sex in Recovery: A Meeting Between the Covers” – published in October.  

She spoke to 35 ordinary people in recovery about their sexual histories before, during and after addiction. Her interviewees were women and men, ranging from ages 24 to 67, who identified as straight, gay, gender-queer, gender-fluid and transgender. Some lived on the East Coast and some lived on the West Coast; some were married, some were single, and others were in complicated relationships.

Matesa addressed the importance of integrating a healthy approach to sexuality in recovery with the subjects, after her own battle with addiction to fentanyl, which she used for about three years as prescribed by her doctors for fibromyalgia and migraines.  

“I do not think that was good medical practice, but I didn’t know anything about fentanyl when it was prescribed to me,” Matesa said. “I had been on morphine before that but experienced sexual side effects.”

As she experienced side effects such as absence of periods, her doctors thought it’d be very important to switch drugs. Matesa experienced a subsequent loss of control and a waning of sexual responses while she was taking fentanyl. When she got sober, she did not know what sex was for – so she decided to write the book.

Jennifer Matesa, author of "Sex in Recovery: A Meeting Between the Covers"
Jennifer Matesa, author of “Sex in Recovery: A Meeting Between the Covers”

“When I got sober and didn’t have drugs anymore to control my sexual response, I had to rely on the relationship itself,” she said. “It wasn’t only because of my addiction that there were problems in the relationship. There were some problems before I started using drugs, but getting sober uncovered all those problems, and one of those problems was sexuality.”

Many people Matesa interviewed said the same thing: that sexuality was a problem that they had a lot more difficulty addressing when they were sober.

Sex and drugs go hand in hand

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience last September showed that the amount of sex one has can determine how sensitive they are to drugs.

The relationship between sex and drugs in the pleasure-seeking part of the brain was explored with male rats, that were allowed to have sex for five days before a period of abstinence from sex. During that period, rats displayed… (continue reading)