Talking Sex and Sobriety with Dr. Anadel Barbour, MFTI

Dr. Anadel Barbour, MFTI has been working in the recovery field for the last 13 years and has been sober for the last 16 years. Sobriety put her on a journey that included finding ways to end self-imposed suffering and to enjoy life without needing mind-altering substances. Her studies in Human Sexuality have expanded her practice to help sober individuals through specific challenges that sobriety may bring, integrating Buddhist philosophy with Western therapies to help end the suffering that intimacy and sex can bring. She was kind enough to answer some of our questions about sex and sobriety.

Are sex and sobriety different for men vs. women? 

Sex in sobriety does not differentiate between genders. Since the concerns about sober sex are primarily mental, emotional and spiritual, the differences lie in the individual, with gender making little difference.

How does sexuality affect sobriety, is it a trigger for most people?

Sexuality was present before substances were taken into the body. The impact of substances on sexuality will be part and parcel to how sobriety affects sexuality. Hence, it can be a trigger for some. Humans are pleasure-seeking animals. Take away the substances, and sex can become the next best thing.

Do a lot of people in recovery have primary or secondary issues with sexual trauma? 

Certainly, many people in recovery have issues with sexual trauma. In recovery, the primary concern is always the Substance Abuse. Through the recovery process, clearer understanding becomes available and sexual concerns become discoverable.

Is sex and sobriety different depending upon what your drug of choice was? 

Yes. There are many factors to consider, not the least of which is the amount of a drug taken and duration of use. Physiology plays a role as well as the length of sobriety. For example, excessive alcohol consumption can render males unable to have an erection; depending on the damage done to the brain and body, this can continue into early sobriety. Male opiate users report elevated libido in the early stages of recovery, while female opiate users report a lack of libido. Amphetamine users can manifest Anhedonia, which is an inability to feel any kind of pleasure at all. As you can see, sex and sobriety can get complicated!

How can people in recovery use Buddhism/mindfulness to aid in the introduction of sobriety into their sex life? 

Mindfulness practices of meditation and yoga are direct communication with the mind and the body. When drug addicts and alcoholics discontinue their use, they find a radical disconnect between mind and body. Neurotransmitters and synapses that have been rerouted and depleted for years are suddenly reformatting and regenerating. The body begins to detoxify, energy returns, and a different type of attention to the body begins. Cravings and traumas that have been buried under artificial highs contribute to fear and confusion. The brain needs to be re-wired if you will. Mindfulness allows for attention to thought and a way to learn to redirect thought. Yoga allows for attention to the body and supplies gentle movement to restore health. When used in tandem and also at the same time, a connection of mind and body arises. Integration of the mind and body elevates the spirit. Buddhism helps bring an understanding of suffering, and its Four Noble Truths allow addicts and alcoholics to end their own suffering through the Eight Fold Path, which is the way to freedom from craving, clinging and aversion.

The Heart Practices are essential on the road to enjoyable sober sex! (Loving-kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity)

What are your top three tips for clients fearful of sober sex? 

Only three? Let’s see….

1) Get to know your fears. Explore what the fears are and befriend them, without trying to push them away. As time goes on, you will learn how to face them and work through them!

2) Practice formal meditation with an intention that cultivates intimacy with your self.

3) Re-acquaint yourself with your body. Look at yourself in the mirror and send love and compassion to each limb and organ. Practice restorative yoga as a way to explore hidden treasures in your body.

Refuge Recovery Centers is a mindfulness-based addiction treatment program that utilizes Buddhist philosophy as the cornerstone of our curriculum. Located in East Hollywood, California we provide detoxification, residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient levels of care as well as sober living. Our entire course of treatment has been designed to help engage the addicted person on multiple psychodynamic levels. For more information on our programs, call 323-207-0276.

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