More Basic Tools for Sexual Recovery

Posted on April 9th, 2013

There are many tools that are useful to recovering sex addicts. A few weeks ago we presented information on three of these: HALT, the Three-Second Rule, and Bookending. Today we discuss three more tools that sex addicts often find useful: Boundary Plans, 12-Step Meetings, and Gratitude Lists.


Unlike recovery from substance abuse, sexual sobriety does not entail ongoing abstinence. Instead, sex addicts define – working in conjunction with a certified sex addiction therapist or a knowledgeable 12-step sexual recovery sponsor – the sexual behaviors that are (and are not) problematic for that particular person. This information is then utilized to create a three-part written commitment, often called a boundary plan. The addict’s inner boundary is his or her bottom-line definition of sexual sobriety, specifically listing the sexual behaviors he or she wishes to stop. The addict’s middle boundary lists specific warning signs and slippery situations that could lead him or her back to inner boundary behaviors. The outer boundary lists healthy activities the addict can engage in as enjoyable and fulfilling alternatives to acting out. Sex addicts often carry printed or digital versions of their boundary plans with them at all times, referring to their plans in times of crisis, as boundary plans serve not only as a reminder of which behaviors are forbidden and/or slippery, but as a handy listing of alternative (outer boundary) activities.


Nearly any addiction you can think of has at least one 12-step program designed to combat it. For the most part these programs are remarkably similar in format and approach, as all of them are based on the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many sex addicts, especially those with co-occurring disorders (substance addiction, compulsive gambling, etc.) attend “non-sex” 12-step groups, finding a great deal of comfort and wisdom in those settings. But ultimately sex addicts are addicted to SEX, and they need to attend meetings where they can talk openly about that particular problem. Simply put: when a sex addict is triggered, the most effective tool he or she has is talking to and/or listening to another recovering sex addict, which occurs before, during, and after sexual recovery meetings. “S” programs include: Sexaholics Anonymous (SA); Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA); Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA); Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA); and Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA).


The road of recovery can be rocky for many sex addicts. Oftentimes they’ve used their sexual acting out behaviors to “numb out” and dissociate for such a long time that they’ve forgotten how to experience emotions in a healthy way – especially uncomfortable ones like anxiety, depression, and fear. In the recovery process, especially early on, sex addicts can become overwhelmed by such feelings, losing sight of what is going right in their lives. A great way for sex addicts to combat this “stinking thinking” is by writing a gratitude list. When a sex addict feels as if he or she might be in danger of returning to problematic, inner boundary behaviors, a ten-item gratitude list will nearly always change his or her state of mind. For some individuals, every gratitude list begins the same way: I am grateful to be sexually sober right now.

Obviously, the tools listed above are hardly the full kit. HALT, Bookending, the three-second rule, journaling, meditating, prayer, being of service, developing healthy hobbies, reading recovery literature, changing old routines, and just plain “thinking it through” are also effective, as are hundreds of other sexual recovery tools. Sex addicts typically find best tools for them nearly always involve reaching out to another recovering sex addict, so any tools that break the addict’s isolation are highly recommended.

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