I gave up al­co­hol and now I’m shy in bed with my wife

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I’ve al­ways been quite a big drinker and re­cently de­cided to quit al­co­hol for good be­cause I just wasn’t en­joy­ing it any more. Since then I’ve felt re­ally shy in bed, so I’m just not en­joy­ing sex with my wife as much as I used to.

>> Drink­ing al­co­hol has ob­vi­ous down­sides, but many peo­ple who feel shy or anx­ious feel it has ben­e­fits. In 2015 re­search by the psy­chol­o­gist Su­san R Bat­tista found a 4% de­crease in anx­i­ety for ev­ery al­co­holic drink con­sumed over a two-hour pe­riod. How­ever, the “plea­sure zone” for al­co­hol is a blood con­cen­tra­tion of 0.03 to 0.059%, which equates to a max­i­mum of two al­co­holic drinks. As Shake­speare so ac­cu­rately ob­served, drink “pro­vokes the de­sire, but it takes away the per­for­mance”. Al­co­hol af­fects the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem, so if you drink too much it se­ri­ously im­pairs sex­ual func­tion.

It sounds as though you have be­come quite re­liant on al­co­hol — and I can guess why. For some­one who is nat­u­rally shy, a sub­stance that in­creases con­fi­dence and arousal has ob­vi­ous ap­peal. Anx­ious peo­ple learn to drink in re­sponse to stress, and this neg­a­tive re­in­force­ment means that al­co­hol be­comes their pri­mary cop­ing mech­a­nism.

The same is true with re­gard to sex. In mod­er­a­tion al­co­hol makes peo­ple more ex­tro­vert and in­creases feel­ings of lust, so peo­ple who are shy, or sex­u­ally un­der­con­fi­dent, of­ten have a drink in an­tic­i­pa­tion of sex­ual ac­tiv­ity. So, although you be­lieve that not drink­ing is mak­ing you feel shy about sex, the op­po­site is ac­tu­ally true. The shy­ness you are feel­ing is the real you and drink­ing was your way of mask­ing that.

Shy peo­ple have a ten­dency to with­draw rather than ex­pose them­selves to sit­u­a­tions where they may be re­quired to open up. How­ever, dis­clo­sure and emo­tional re­spon­sive­ness are key com­po­nents of in­ti­macy, so shy­ness can be a real bar­rier to close­ness. This is true for cou­ples who are mar­ried too.

In 2010 the psy­chol­o­gists Levi Baker and James K McNulty found that a lack of con­fi­dence meant that shy peo­ple have lower lev­els of mar­i­tal sat­is­fac­tion and less suc­cess­ful re­la­tion­ships. Sim­i­larly, Aus­tri­alian re­searchers as­sessed the links be­tween shy­ness, well­be­ing and ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship qual­ity, and found that shy­ness was neg­a­tively as­so­ci­ated with lev­els of in­ti­macy and sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion. The im­pact was sig­nif­i­cantly more pro­nounced in men than in women; men tend to ini­ti­ate sex more than women, so a shy man is at a greater dis­ad­van­tage than a shy woman.

The stud­ies estab­lished that shy peo­ple have prob­lems with trust, and be­cause they also find it dif­fi­cult to de­pend on oth­ers, they are less will­ing to be­come in­ti­mate. By ex­ten­sion, they will of­ten shut peo­ple out rather than risk open­ing up and so part­ners are of­ten left won­der­ing whether they are the prob­lem. Un­less you have ex­plic­itly in­formed your wife that your re­cent sex­ual ret­i­cence is re­lated to quit­ting al­co­hol, there is a strong chance that she is in­ter­pret­ing your be­hav­iour as dis­in­ter­est. How­ever dif­fi­cult you find it, you need to tell her what is go­ing on. She will be hugely re­lieved to find out that she is not the is­sue and I’m pretty sure she will re­as­sure you and tell you that your shy­ness and sen­si­tiv­ity are what at­tracted her to you in the first place.

Keep things in per­spec­tive and em­brace your vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Au­then­tic­ity is in­cred­i­bly at­trac­tive and, in the greater scheme of things, hav­ing a hus­band who is hob­bled by a tem­po­rary loss of sex­ual con­fi­dence be­cause he has vol­un­tar­ily thrown away his al­co­holic crutch is quite a small moun­tain to climb.

“The shy­ness you are feel­ing is the real you and drink­ing was your way of mask­ing that

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