a recovering alcoholic's guide to sober sex

If you're considering going dry but still fancy getting wet, here's some insider knowledge on approaching love and lust without liqueur

Hero image in post
photo: Sex Education, 2019, Eleven
Hero image in post
photo: Sex Education, 2019, Eleven

If you're considering going dry but still fancy getting wet, here's some insider knowledge on approaching love and lust without liqueur

By Anna Wolfe20 Dec 2023
5 mins read time
5 mins read time

If you're considering going dry but still fancy getting wet, here's some insider knowledge on approaching love and lust without liquor.

Over 9 million people pressed pause on the Pinot last Dry January. Technically speaking, they put more than the Pinot down. But for alliteration's sake, please let me have this one.

Compared to other countries, the UK drinking culture is more of a drunk culture. But that's changing, and Gen Z is leading the way. They're knocking back 20% less than millennials, favouring authenticity on dates over hangover hell, and everybody’s sipping on non-alcoholic drinks at sober house parties.

But just like January, sobriety can snag depressing branding - Google Dictionary calls it serious, sensible and solemn - rude and also not very sexy.

I get it. Socialising without a drink was more alien to me than why people go to Barry's BootCamp. So when I became a boozeless babe, I predicted my love life was about to omit serious "networking" and "school disco" energy.

Swiping told me everyone was an alcoholic who liked to eat, work out and go to Dubai. I'd never gone on a date without drinking, and the last time I'd had sex without one was in Year 12.

Luckily, I now know my dry spell fears were wrong, and just because I'm sober doesn't mean I'm dead. Even if I wasn't an alchie, I wouldn't go back to getting hammered to get hammered because as it turns out, sex and alcohol don’t have to go hand in hand. Mind blowing.

Whether you're also in recovery, not a fan of the buzz, or just taking five, here are a few "ah, that's good to know" nuggets to guide you through your teetotal escapades.

Cancel your public service announcement

After ditching alcohol, I waited about a year to start dating again. My lifestyle change wasn't the result of a new Gwenyth Paltrow diet, religion or sober curiosity. My relationship with alcohol wasn't about margaritas; it was about mental health.

Working on my relationship with myself had to happen before Hinge could, and I would've found myself with Mr. Unhinged if self-love hadn't entered my vocabulary. And self-love means some alone time.

In the beginning, I thought I had to be upfront by declaring my sobriety to a date, like a nervous smuggler at security. But exiting the drinking community isn't a flaw, and it isn't boring; It's bold, badass and sexy AF. You don't owe anyone an explanation or a confession, and whether you do or don’t get drunk doesn't define you. So, say what you want to say when you feel comfortable saying it.

If you have an Inspector Poirot on your hands, here are a few of my go-to lines; "I'm on antibiotics," "Used to hit it a little hard, now I don't," "I'm just not a fan," "mind your own business."

I still mention to my dates that I don't drink, but now it's to pre-warn them that they'll actually have to have a personality if we're to date.

You’ll know if you fancy someone

Back when I had my tequila-tinted glasses on, I dated someone for two months, not realising the spark I thought we shared was more of a shart. Similarly, the prospect of going on a romantic rendezvous without my anxiety alleviator was terrifying… until it wasn't.

Now, instead of getting wasted and Jane Austening a guy (AKA growing to love them), I could suss out how I really felt, and they could do the same because they were meeting the real me, not Ms Fancy A Post-Dinner Kebab? I could be present. I could connect. I could run for the hills if they spoke about their ex too much.

You don’t need a dirty martini to get dirty

I thought sober shagging would be like losing my virginity again. But it's been a sexual awakening 2.0. Partly down to the self-love and confidence I now have and partly down to the fact my body is no longer on a Caipirinha-numbed hiatus.

It’s not all adult ball pits and crazy golf

I still go to bars, but there are options galore. The dates I enjoy the most are ones where we go full Dora the Explorer: exhibitions, gigs, and obnoxiously long walks. You get the gist. If the company's good, it doesn't matter where you are. Ew, they taste like Guinness A few months ago, my date decided to smash seven drinks and then ask if I wanted to go home with him. I laughed, patted his head and popped him in an Uber. Drunk chat sucks, and I'm not going to snog someone who's had more than three drinks - for more reasons than one.

Mr Uber repeats haven't happened, but I learned from him that it's ok to opt for daytime dates and to request they have a Tic Tac if they want to tap that.

Forget rejection; you’re perfection

Back in the day, without liquid courage, I found it scarier to show somebody I was interested in them, because if I got cold-shouldered when I was completely sober I'd remember that horrific feeling. But rejection isn't personal, and putting yourself out there - in a non-creepy way - is incredible. So long as you fancy yourself, nothing else really matters.