Basic Tools for Sexual Recovery

Posted on March 25th, 2013

There are many tools useful to recovering sex addicts. Three of the most basic and commonly used tools are “HALT,” the “Three Second Rule,” and “Bookending.”


HALT is an acronym for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.” Any of these four of conditions can leave a sex addict more vulnerable than normal to acting out. Even healthy, non-addicted people get cranky, lash out, and behave in ways they later regret when their judgment is clouded by hunger, anger, loneliness, or exhaustion. For addicts, the potential for relapse increases exponentially if even one of these basic needs is not being met.

The problem in recovery is recognizing these naturally occurring needs. Typically, they’ve been pushed aside for so long in favor of the artificial need for sex that addicts lose touch—oftentimes misidentifying these naturally occurring needs, especially during the early months of recovery, as restlessness, irritability, and discontentment. For sex addicts the natural response to uncomfortable feelings such as these is “numbing out” by re-engaging addictive fantasies and behaviors. However, the feelings identified as restlessness, irritability, and discontent are usually manifestations of something much more basic—the need to eat, sleep, and/or be with other people.

So the next time you find yourself thinking about acting out as a way to self-medicate uncomfortable sensations like the all-too-common “restless, irritable, discontent” triumvirate, ask yourself: When is the last time I ate? Did I get enough sleep last night? Would a few minutes of fellowship so I don’t feel so alone be helpful? More often than not, a quick nap, a candy bar, or a five minute phone call will greatly diminish the desire to act out.


Sex addicts are often triggered by visual stimulation. They see a person and they immediately objectify and fantasize about that individual. The simple fact is sex addicts are not in control of the thoughts that pop into their minds. What sex addicts can control is what happens with those thoughts once they appear.

The way the three-second rule works is this: after recognizing an unwanted, objectifying thought or sexual fantasy, sex addicts give themselves a maximum of three seconds to turn away from the triggering thought and focus on something else. Typically, as soon as the addict becomes aware of the triggering thought, he or she “turns it over” to his or her Higher Power, asking for the thought to be removed. This process works, and works well, even for addicts who struggle with the concept of God/Higher Power. The simple act of doing something (anything at all) to get rid of the unwanted thought or fantasy nearly always does the trick.

Be aware, sometimes the three-second rule only helps for a few minutes. During difficult periods, unwanted sexual thoughts may pop in to an addict’s mind almost constantly. One unwanted sexual fantasy is banished, and moments later another one arrives. When this occurs, the three-second rule can be used repeatedly. Needing to do this can actually be a blessing, as practicing the three-second rule on a regular basis increases its effectiveness.


Sex addicts are constantly triggered. Usually this happens unexpectedly, but sometimes the addict can see it coming a mile away. Needing to do some online research for work, for instance, is an obvious potential trigger for many sex addicts. Having to attend a social or business event where people the addict is likely to find attractive will also be in attendance is another obvious potential trigger. Unstructured free time and traveling alone are other commonly recognized problem times. When a sex addict knows these potential triggers are looming on the horizon, he or she can arrange to “bookend” these events with phone calls to a sponsor or another supportive person in recovery. During the “before” call, the addict commits to not act out, and may even discuss with the other person the best ways to avoid relapse in this particular situation. The “after” call provides an opportunity to discuss what happened, what feelings came up, and what the addict might need to do differently next time. (The practice of bookending also helps with the “lonely” portion of HALT.)

Obviously the three tools listed above hardly represent the full toolkit. Boundary plans, 12-step meetings, being of service, gratitude lists, changing old routines, prayer, meditation, journaling, and just plain “thinking it through” are just a few of the hundreds of other tools sex addicts can use to combat their addiction. Some tools are more effective than others, depending on the addict’s particular personality and life history. It is recommended that each individual try as many tools as possible, finding out which ones work best for him/her. Over time, at least a few options will arise as “go to” choices.


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