I thought it had to be after I rolled a joint or did a few shots at a bar. I thought I had to be in a shadowy room with a stranger. For me sex was about the dark side. Romance had to be cloaked in drugs and booze. One night I was on a bus, and a woman who was dressed as a baby got on. The man across from me laughed, and I laughed, too. We got off at the same stop. "Come over?" he asked. "Have a drink." There was whiskey, a joint. The lights were amber. The rest is a blur. His hands were wide and fleshy, but I don't recall his touches. I don't remember if I came. Or if he used a condom.

Everything I craved began with the letter D—drugs, drink, darkness. And it all morphed into danger. Sex meant not being the good girl I'd been raised to be. Nothing turned me off faster than kindness. Where was the excitement in that? I wanted to be flung on a bed in Málaga, guitar music rising from the street, drunk out of my frigging mind. I couldn't imagine sex in the afternoon, newspapers lying on the duvet in a patch of sunlight, cups of coffee growing cold on the bedside table.

It never occurred to me that you could make love without a drink. How was that sexy? Then I had a child, and I met someone. In that order. When I told him about my daughter, he didn't flinch. When I said I didn't want a relationship, he offered to be my friend. One evening before I'd poured my first drink, he wrapped his arms around me and kissed me. I've never forgotten the power and sweetness of that kiss. Perhaps because I was sober.

When we made love, everything slowed down. He took his time. At first it made me impatient. "Get to the point!" I wanted to shout. Or "Pour me a drink." When I opened my eyes, he was staring into mine. Not knowing what else to do, I began to giggle. It was hard to accept the tenderness of his fingers and mouth. I felt awkward in my body, so vulnerable and present. But I began to see that love can come out of friendship, that real connection beats mystery. Love can arise from comfort, not pain. I didn't stop drinking, but I did top needing a drink to make love.

Maybe someone should come up with a 12-step program for sober sex. Or maybe you just need a good guide. A sponsor, if you will. I still want those nights in Málaga. But at some point I became able to be naked and unafraid—as determined as the drunk who stands up in an AA meeting and at last says her name.


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