Further Reading

Does recovery from alcoholism mean giving up sex?


I'm struggling to understand the reason there is no intimacy in my relationship with my recovering alcoholic. Sexual intimacy was abandoned when he stopped drinking and began recovery. He has been in recovery a little more than 13 months, and attends 8-9 meetings a week. I do not discuss my need for intimacy as in the past he becomes extremely defensive. When we last talked he responded that he may never be functional and my response was when you are ready you'll know.

No pressure. This was about 3 months ago. We do not discuss needs or wants, it's a "not open to discussion" topic. Is this typical in relationships of recovering alcoholics?

Is this lack of "desire" something that occurs during recovery or is it symptoms of something else. I know the percentage of relationships that survive the early years of recovery are not very promising. We have been together for 4 years.

Any light you may shed would be appreciated.


Dear R:

There is no technical reason why someone who stops drinking should cease sexual relations. Indeed, you would expect that this would make a person more capable of sex.

In this case, it seems as though the total commitment to the recovery group has removed his motivation from intimate contacts with you. I assume this goes beyond sex to the broader range of intimacies.

Perhaps he is simply feeling afraid and guilty. Perhaps he is turning away from you because of anxieties and conflicts which he used to cover up with alcohol. Thirteen months is a long time, and one would expect him to have readjusted to his new sobriety. Obviously, the fear and danger is that he can only have sex while he is drinking, which makes you a potential source of breaking his vows of sobriety. That's not a good position to occupy.

The simple answer is that he needs to confront basic problems in the relationship that AA is not addressing, and that, indeed, AA may be covering up. How to get him to see this is not simple. You point out that bringing it up directly with him does not produce a positive response. On the other hand, because he had to stop drinking does not mean that you have to stop living your life. It can't be recovery when the person an alcoholic lives with is supposed to give up her needs. I suspect that, in many ways, this is a continuation of your relationship while he was drinking, where his needs predominated.

If he can't respond directly to you, suggest going to counseling together. If he cannot respond at all, ask yourself how long you can continue a relationship without intimacy. In other words, if you went to a therapist and said you were in a relationship where you didn't have sex for a year, the therapist would say you have a problem. You do have a problem.

Best regards, Stanton

Dear Stanton:

The lady asking about sex after treatment is not alone in her experience. They did that to my ex-husband in treatment too.

I am an engineer not a psychologest or anthropoligest. However I watched an AA based treatment program at Kaiser break communication between my husband and myself by labeling me co-dependent, give him the message that he was not supposed to have sex (the therapist told us our marrigage was an "emeshment"), and finally FORCE him into a sober living house by threatening him with child protective services though he had not hit either of the children.

They systematicly removed him from his family support and feedback.

Sounds like a cult to me.