What It Looks Like To Finally Overcome A Porn Or Sex Addiction

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What Being Clean And Sober From A Sex Or Porn Addiction Looks Like
Self, Sex

In the early stages of recovery and healing from sex addiction and porn addiction, most people typically have little to no idea what the term "sexual sobriety" actually means.

Many fear that sexual sobriety mirrors chemical sobriety, where permanent abstinence is the long-term goal.

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Sex and porn addicts who are new to the treatment often pose some form of the following question, "Will I ever have a healthy, regular sex life, or do I have to give up sexual behavior forever?" 

This question is usually followed by a statement like, "If I have to give up sex entirely and permanently, you can forget about me staying in recovery."

Fortunately, unlike sobriety for alcoholism and drug addiction, sexual sobriety is not defined by long-term abstinence. Instead, sex and porn addiction recovery and treatment address sobriety much as it is handled with eating disorders — another area in which long-term abstinence is simply not feasible.

Essentially, instead of permanently abstaining from all sexual activity, a sex addict can learn to be sexual in non-compulsive, non-problematic, life-affirming ways.

Every sex and porn addict enters recovery with a unique life history and set of problems, along with highly individualized goals for his or her future life.

As such, every sex and porn addict must create a personalized version of sexual sobriety. This means that "being clean and sober" will look different for each recovering person.

Some recovering sex and porn addicts may be able to engage in behaviors from which other addicts must abstain and vice versa. And that is perfectly OK.

When it comes to sexual sobriety and overcoming porn addiction, the goal is not conformity but a healthy and satisfying sex life that does not create problems for the addict or those around the addict.

Typically, sexual sobriety is defined by a sexual boundary plan delineating which behaviors are and are not acceptable for that particular addict.

Most recovering sex and porn addicts create a three-tiered boundary plan as follows.

1. The Inner Boundary

This is the addict’s bottom-line definition of sexual sobriety.

Here, a sex or porn addict lists specific sexual behaviors (not thoughts or fantasies) that are causing problems in their life and that they, therefore, need to stop.

In other words, this boundary lists the damaging and troublesome acts that have resulted in negative life consequences.

A few of the more common inner boundary behaviors for sex and porn addicts are as follows:

  • Paying for sex
  • Viewing pornography (with or without masturbation)
  • Engaging in webcam sex
  • Hooking up for casual and/or anonymous sex
  • Having affairs

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2. The Middle Boundary

This boundary lists warning signs and slippery situations that might lead the addict back to inner boundary activities.

Here, the addict lists the people, places, thoughts/fantasies, events, and experiences that might trigger their desire to act out sexually.

In addition to obvious potential triggers (logging onto the Internet, driving through a neighborhood where prostitutes hang out, and/or downloading a hookup app) this list should include things that might indirectly trigger a desire to act out (working long hours, arguing with a spouse or boss, keeping secrets, and/or worrying about finances).

A few common middle boundary items are as follows:

  • Skipping therapy and/or a support group meeting
  • Lying (about anything), especially to a loved one
  • Poor self-care (lack of sleep, eating poorly, and/or forgoing exercise)
  • Unstructured free time
  • Feeling lonely, anxious, depressed, or bored

3. The Outer Boundary

This boundary lists healthy behaviors and activities that can and hopefully will lead an addict toward his or her life goals.

These healthy pleasures are what the addict can turn to as a replacement for sexually acting out. Outer boundary activities may be immediate and concrete (such as "working on my house") or long-term and less tangible (such as "redefining my career goals"). 

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In all cases, the list should reflect a healthy combination of work, recovery, and play.

A few common outer boundary behaviors are as follows:

  • Spend more time with family, especially the kids
  • Reconnect with old friends
  • Rekindle an old hobby (or develop a new one)
  • Get in shape (exercise)
  • Get regular sleep

Once again, and I can’t stress this enough, every sex addict is different. Each addict has a unique life history, specific problematic sexual behaviors, and singular goals.

As such, every sexual boundary plan is different. Behaviors that are deeply troubling for one sex addict may be perfectly acceptable for another, and vice versa. There is no set formula for defining and living sexual sobriety.

It is important to also state that sexual sobriety plans are about much more than staying away from problem-causing behaviors. Certainly that is the ultimate goal, but there is much more to the process of healing.

Over the long-term, recovering from sex addiction is about "living in the outer boundary" rather than simply avoiding the inner boundary. No sex or porn addict can fully recover simply by not doing certain things. The flip side is equally important.

If you think that you or someone you care about may be addicted to sex, a free and anonymous screening quiz can be found on the Sex and Relationship Healing website. They also offer free webinars, interactive discussion groups, podcasts, and blogs about sexual addiction and related issues.

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Robert Weiss Ph.D., MSW, CEO of Seeking Integrity LLC, is a digital-age sex, intimacy, and relationship specialist.