Sex Addiction Recovery: Creating a Sexual Boundary Plan – Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S

leave-839225_1280In my previous posting to this site, I discussed the ways in which recovering sex addicts can best define sexual sobriety, noting first that lasting sexual sobriety does not involve long-term sexual abstinence, and next that it looks different for each recovering addict depending on his or her unique life circumstances and goals. Generally, recovering sex addicts create a written definition of what sexual sobriety looks like for them to ensure they fully understand which behaviors are and are not acceptable.

After creating this written and highly individualized definition of sexual sobriety, addicts must then work to live out their new ideals. To this end, it is recommended that they also create a three-tiered Sexual Boundary Plan, with inner, middle, and outer boundaries that provide them with further and much more specific guidance than a simple definition of what does and does not constitute sexual sobriety.

The Inner Boundary

This boundary lists the sex addict’s non-sober behaviors – the sexual activities (not thoughts and/or fantasies) that are causing problems in the addict’s life. In short, this boundary lists the damaging and troublesome sexual acts that create negative consequences, deep shame, and a sense of incomprehensible demoralization for the addict. If the addict engages in one of these activities, he or she is not sexually sober. Once again, each sex addict’s problematic behaviors will be specific to that individual. As such, the inner boundary may look very different from addict to addict. Items commonly listed in a sex addict’s inner boundary include:

  • Using pornography
  • Paying for sex
  • Infidelity (cheating on a long-term partner or a spouse)
  • Webcam sex
  • Using hookup apps
  • Having casual and/or anonymous sex
  • Mixing substance abuse with sexual activity
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Sexual massage

The Middle Boundary

This boundary lists slippery thoughts, actions, and situations – things that might lead a sex addict back to his or her inner boundary. The middle boundary includes thoughts, feelings, people, places, events, and anything else that might trigger a desire to act out sexually. Some middle boundary items are obvious, like a porn addict being online for any reason. Others are less obvious, like not getting enough sleep, which may lead to irritability, which may lead to a spat, which may create a desire to act out. A few of the more common middle boundary items include:

  • Telling a lie (to anyone, about anything)
  • Skipping therapy or a 12 step recovery meeting
  • Loneliness
  • Arguing, especially with a boss or a loved one
  • Ambient anger (undefined anger, felt for no particular reason)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Unstructured time alone
  • Boredom
  • Poor self-care (skipping the gym, not eating right, not getting enough sleep, etc.)

The Outer Boundary

This boundary lists healthy behaviors an addict can engage in when he or she is triggered to act out sexually. Over time, these healthy pleasures can and hopefully will create a sense of peace, freedom, and joy in the addict’s life. Outer boundary items may be concrete, like “painting the house” or more ephemeral, like “developing a spiritual connection.” This list should always reflect a healthy combination of work, recovery, family, and recreation. If “going to recovery meetings on a regular basis” is on the list, then “playing games and having fun with my kids” should also be on the list. This list will look very different from addict to addict, based on each person’s interests and life goals. One person’s list might include the following:

  • Work on my issues in therapy
  • Be active in 12 step recovery
  • Go to the gym and get in shape
  • Take better care of myself
  • Rejoin my church and become an active member
  • Spend quality time with my spouse and kids
  • Go back to school so I can further my career
  • Earn a promotion
  • Join a softball team or some other recreational sports team
  • Reconnect with old friends and develop some new friendships

It’s More Than Just the Sex

At the end of the day, sexual boundary plans are about more than just staying away from your bottom line, non-sober behaviors. Yes, of course that is the overarching goal, but there is much more to lasting sobriety than white-knuckling your way out of the inner boundary. In fact, I continually suggest to recovering sex addicts that they focus as much on living in their outer boundary as avoiding their inner boundary. After all, the behaviors listed in your outer boundary define the way in which you want to live your life. The inner boundary is about abstaining and the middle boundary is about being careful, while the outer boundary is about enjoying a healthy, happy life. Can you guess which boundary gives you an action plan for long-term sobriety?

Admittedly, early in the recovery process most sex addicts are so thoroughly focused on staying sexually sober that not much else crosses their mind. Eventually, however, they start to realize that the reason they’re working so hard to stay sober is because they want to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled. At that point, the outer boundary starts look like a step-by-step plan of action – and it’s usually a very good one, too.

For more information about sexual addiction, check out my recently published books, Sex Addiction 101 and Sex Addiction 101, The Workbook. If you feel you need clinical assistance with sex addiction, therapist and treatment referrals can be found here and here. I also conduct an open-ended discussion about sex addiction at InTheRooms.com, Friday nights at 6 p.m. PST.

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About Robert Weiss

Robert Weiss PhD, MSW, CEO of Seeking Integrity LLC, is a digital-age sex, intimacy, and relationship specialist. Dr. Weiss has spent more than 25 years developing treatment programs, educating clinicians, writing, and providing direct care to those challenged by digital-age infidelity, sexual addiction/compulsivity, and other addictive disorders. He is the author of several highly regarded books on sex and intimacy disorders including Prodependence, Out of the Doghouse, Sex Addiction 101, and Cruise Control, among others. He also podcasts (Sex, Love, & Addiction 101) and hosts a free, weekly interactive sex and intimacy webinar via SexandRelationshipHealing.com. His current projects are:SexandRelationshipHealing.com, an extensive online resource for recovery from sex and intimacy disorders. Seeking Integrity Los Angeles, an Integrated Intensive Program for Sex and Intimacy Disorders (Opening in Feb, 2019). For more information or to reach Dr. Weiss, please visit his websites, RobertWeissMSW.com and SexandRelationshipHealing.com, or follow him on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).
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