By Amanda Holloway, LPC

Everybody knows that “sex sells.” This is true of so much of the advertising we are exposed to, that many of us never consider what is being purchased. Quite simply, these images have bought space in our heads and that gives direct access to our hearts and as a result, our lives.

Many millions of dollars are spent marketing to adolescents, the most vulnerable group. As teenagers, we are trying to figure out who we are, and how to belong and fit in. We are becoming more independent, and beginning to look at the future. One of the primary ways we learn to belong is through watching and imitating others. The average young person in the United States views more than 3000 ads per day on television, the Internet, on billboards, and in magazines. Advertisers are always seeking new and creative ways of targeting young consumers. The sexually provocative images, sounds, and suggestions that are specifically designed to arouse interest in a product can be very confusing.

It should be no surprise, then, that advertising is especially influential for young women during adolescence. The advertiser sells the vison that sex equals the key to popularity, happiness, and dreams coming true. Also, at this age, many young women first begin to first experiment with and abuse substances. For some, using provides the opportunity to fit in and look cool while living out the fantasies in the ads/movies/TV shows. For others, it is the chance to finally feel comfortable in the skin of a changing body seen as ready for sex despite still being led by a mind ill-equipped for adult attention and sexual experiences.

The use of alcohol and drugs during this stage of life as a way to connect with others, become more comfortable with a changing body, and reduce sexual anxieties, creates a deep-rooted connection between sexuality and substances. In early recovery, the idea of a sexual self without drugs/alcohol is either unfathomable or so far in the distant past that the memory seems lost forever. For many women, sex is the last connection left to others; serving as a final vestige of intimacy stolen by the isolation of addiction. Entering treatment, one is confronted with a body that they have either never known or cannot recognize. Bodies that they struggle to find a way to connect with, appreciate and love.

Learning about one’s self in recovery includes learning how to embrace the sexual self and body that may have been avoided during adolescence. This includes learning to overcome feelings of shame related to past sexual choices, trauma work, body acceptance, and ideas about love. Not addressing the role that sex and sexuality have played in the various stages of addiction is to ignore one of the major relapse triggers for women: relationships.

In the midst of discussing feelings and patterns, and learning to take time to develop healthy, safe relationships, a woman in recovery needs to be reacquainted with her body, possibly for the first time since adolescence. She needs to understand that the feelings and sensations are not abnormal or dirty and that substances are not needed to embrace this aspect of self. A woman in recovery needs to recognize that sex is more than what was advertised, not for sale, and that they can be sole owners of their sexuality.