What is a Sexual Boundary Plan?

Posted on March 4th, 2013

Oftentimes sex addicts entering recovery fear that sexual sobriety requires total sexual abstinence in the same way that recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction requires total abstinence from alcohol and drugs. This is not, in fact, the case. Instead, sexual sobriety is defined differently for each individual. Working in conjunction with a certified sex addiction therapist or a knowledgeable 12-step sexual recovery sponsor, the addict defines the sexual behaviors (not thoughts or fantasies) that do and do not compromise his or her core beliefs and values (fidelity, not hurting others, not breaking the law, etc.) The addict then commits in a written sexual sobriety contract to not engage in problematic sexual behaviors (inner boundary behaviors, described below) and to only engage in other, healthier sexual behaviors moderately and appropriately. As long as the sex addict’s sexual behavior coincides with his or her concrete boundaries, the addict is sexually sober.

Sexual boundary plans are unique to each addict. Behaviors that may be proscribed for one addict might be perfectly acceptable for another. Each individual sexual boundary plan is founded on the primary personal goals of the particular addict seeking recovery. These goals are then utilized to create a personalized three-part boundary plan.

The Inner Boundary

This is the addict’s bottom line definition of sexual sobriety, listing all sexual behaviors (not thoughts or fantasies) the addict wants/needs to eliminate from his or her life. Placed within this boundary are the addict’s most damaging and troublesome sexual behaviors-the activities that are resulting either directly or indirectly in negative life consequences such as destroyed relationships, trouble at work or in school, financial issues, declining physical and emotional health, arrest, etc. If the addict engages in any of these behaviors, he or she has had a slip and will need to restart his or her sobriety clock while also examining the thoughts, feelings, and actions that led to the slip. Typical inner boundary behaviors-and remember, these vary from addict to addict depending on life circumstances and individual goals-include (but are not limited to): extramarital sex, prostitutes and erotic massage, looking at and/or masturbating to pornography, exhibitionism, and voyeurism.

The Middle Boundary

This is a listing of the warning signs and slippery slopes that trigger or lead a sex addict into his or her inner boundary behaviors. These include people, places, and experiences that cause the sex addict to think about acting out. The list should include obvious danger zones, and also less obvious things that are not directly related to sexual acting out that may nonetheless trigger the desire to do so. Basically, anything that might cause an addict to want to dissociate and therefore reengage in inner boundary behaviors belongs in the middle boundary. Typical middle boundary items-again, these vary from addict to addict-include (but are not limited to): skipping therapy or a support group, fighting with a spouse or boss, unstructured free time, travel, going online for any reason (even legitimate ones), financial insecurity, telling lies (about anything), lack of sleep, eating poorly, overworking, and lack of exercise.

The Outer Boundary

This is a list of healthy activities, life improvements, and positive things to come. Here the addict creates an inventory of assets and behaviors he can turn to instead of acting out-activities that lead the individual toward his or her life goals, hopes, and dreams. Items on the list may be immediate and concrete, or long-term and less tangible, reflecting a combination of work, recovery, and enjoyment. These healthy pleasures and activities can be used by the recovering person to replace the intensity of sexual acting out. Some typical Outer Boundary activities-again, these vary from person to person-include (but are not limited to): spending time with family, going back to school, earning a promotion at work, starting a new career, exercising, working on the house, developing a spiritual connection, and developing or rekindling interest in a healthy hobby.

Many recovering sex addicts carry printed or digital versions of their boundary plan with them at all times, referring to their plan in times of crisis. Not only does the boundary plan serve as a reminder of which behaviors are forbidden and/or slippery, it provides addicts with a handy list of alternative activities in which they can engage. For most sex addicts, even a quick glance at an outer boundary item such as “re-earn the respect and trust of my wife and kids” is enough to halt the acting out process.

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