In a previous posting to this site I discussed how sexual sobriety is defined and the ways in which sexual boundary plans are developed. In short, I wrote that recovering sex addicts, working with a sex addiction treatment specialist or a knowledgeable and experienced 12-step sexual recovery sponsor, create inner, middle and outer boundaries that define non-sober (inner boundary), slippery (middle boundary) and healthy (outer boundary) behaviors. Ideally, these boundaries form a plan for living, helping the addict to understand and maintain his or her sexual sobriety both in the moment and over time.
Unfortunately, following the guidelines of a sexual boundary plan is often easier said than done. Sex addicts must be motivated to change and open-minded about how this will occur. Otherwise, they will find ways to circumvent their boundary plan. I have listed below a few tips on sexual boundary plans that can help sex addicts to stick with the guidelines they’ve developed and remain sexually sober for the long term.
- Sex addicts in a relationship need to think about the ways in which their sexual boundary plan might affect their partner. For instance, a period of total abstinence may affect the addict’s partner quite significantly. Often, explaining the reasons for this period of abstinence can soften the impact. Similarly, anything else in the addict’s plan that could be troubling to the partner will usually be deemed acceptable if/when the partner is included in the process and understands the reasoning.
- Clarity is incredibly important. Boundary plans are created in an effort to hold sex addicts accountable to their commitments, particularly when faced with challenging circumstances and/or enticing temptations. This means that sex addicts need clearly written, well-defined bottom line (inner boundary) guidelines. Without this, a sex addict can easily decide “in the heat of the moment” that certain behaviors are OK. And usually these impulsive decisions do not nurture sexual sobriety or healing. When “gray areas” are eliminated by clear and concise wording in the boundary plan, these bad decisions are tougher to make.
- Boundary plans are not etched in stone. Recovering sex addicts often spend a few months with a particular set of guidelines and then realize that adjustments may be in order – either the plan should be tightened or loosened. However, changing a boundary plan is not something a sex addict should ever do unilaterally. Instead, the addict should include in the amendment process whoever it is that helped him or her create the boundary plan in the first place (his or her therapist, 12-step sponsor, etc.) If that person is not available for some reason, another person who is knowledgeable about sexual addiction, boundary plans and the addict’s particular circumstances should be consulted.
- Special circumstances are not a reason for changing a boundary plan. Engaging in a bottom line behavior in response to a special occasion or because some incredibly enticing opportunity arises is not called “changing the plan,” it’s called “acting out.” If this occurs, the sex addict needs to reset his or her sexual sobriety clock. The addict should also examine, working in conjunction with his or her therapist and/or 12-step sponsor, the rationalizations that he or she used to justify the slip/relapse. If necessary, the addict’s inner boundary guidelines may need to be clarified.
- A recovering sex addict should not look for people who will co-sign his or her problematic behaviors. If a sex addict is looking to continue with a certain aspect of his or her addictive behavior, he or she can nearly always find someone who will sign off on that. (This usually involves some form of secret-keeping and/or lying on the addict’s part, indicating the addict is not serious about healing and behavior change to begin with.) If a sex addict truly wants to recover, he or she needs to understand that the purpose of creating a sexual boundary plan is to eliminate problematic sexual behaviors, not to rationalize and justify those behaviors (or even a watered-down version thereof).
Following the guidelines provided by a sexual boundary plan is rarely easy, particularly early in the healing process. However, it is well worth the effort. For starters, consequences abate, which is very important. Even better is the fact that as sexual sobriety takes root, recovering sex addicts are nearly always able to create and develop meaningful intimacy with others, which they eventually come to value much more than the transitory high their addiction once provided.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, he founded The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles in 1995. He is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships and Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age. He has developed clinical programs for The Ranch in Nunnelly, Tennessee, Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, and the aforementioned Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. He has also provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and numerous other treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. For more information you can visit his website, www.robertweissmsw.com.