How Does a Sexual Addict Define Sobriety?
By Robert Weiss, LCSW, CAS (Reproduced by permission SRI Institute)
In order for recovery to take place from any addiction, there must be some bottom line definition of sobriety. For the alcoholic this is a simple definition, alcoholics and drug addicts define sobriety as being the amount of time they have abstained from the use of alcohol and other mind-altering chemicals.
The time away from the use of these substances is the recovering persons’ sobriety time, the date they began this sobriety or the date they entered 12 step recovery, is used as a sobriety date. Example: “I stopped using drugs and alcohol on June 15th 1987, therefore I am over 10 years sober.”
For the recovering sexual addict however, sobriety can be a more challenging to define. Unlike sobriety from the use of substances, sexual sobriety is rarely considered to be complete abstinence from sex, though at times recovering persons may use complete sexual abstinence (celibacy) for short periods of time while gaining personal perspective or addressing a particular issue. Sexual sobriety is most often defined as a contract that that the sexual addict makes between him/herself and their 12 step recovery support and/or their therapist/clergy. These contracts or “sex plans” are always written and involve clearly defined concrete behaviors from which the sexual addict has committed to abstain in order to define their sobriety.
Some sexual recovery plans have very strictly defined boundaries and as such are fairly black and white. For example: “No sexual activity of any kind outside of a committed marital relationship”, could be one such definition. For others, sexual sobriety can be delineated as abstinence from sexual activity which causes the person to feel shameful, to hold secrets or that is illegal or abusive to others. These more personal definitions may change over time as the recovering person evolves in their understanding of the disease. An example of such a plan might be: “I am sober as long as I do not pay for sex, go to strip clubs, or use pornography”. Another example might be: “I am sober as long as I do not engage in anonymous sex, sex in public places or sex with persons from the phone lines or computer.” These definitions are always discussed at least one other recovering person, therapist or clergy and are not changed without thorough discussion and understanding.
The underlying motive for a concisely written sexual plan, beyond a clear definition of unwanted specific sexual or romantic behavior, is to offer the sex addict an ongoing recovery reminder, even in the face of challenging circumstances. A characteristic of addiction, particularly for sexual addicts, is their difficulty maintaining a clear focus on personal beliefs, values and goals, when faced with situations which potentially involve intensity, arousal, stimulation and impulsive acting-out. This is where the best of intentions, the “please trust me just one more time” and all of the promises “to be good”, go out the window. Without clearly defined boundaries, the sex addict is vulnerable to deciding “in the moment” what action is best for him/her. Unfortunately, most addicts’ “in the moment” decisions are not the ones which lead them toward their long term goals and beliefs. The sexual plan helps to maintain a clear focus on recovery choices regardless of situation or momentary motive.