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