How Does A Sex Addict Define Sobriety?

Sobriety is a touchy subject for any addict. For those dealing with sex addiction, the idea of sexual sobriety can be fraught with concern and anxiety. What does sobriety mean for a sex addict? Is it the same as sobriety for alcoholics or drug addicts?

What Sexual Sobriety Is–and Isn’t

Right at the outset, it is crucial to make the distinction between sobriety for alcoholics and substance abusers, and sex addicts. While permanent abstinence is generally the primary objective with drug addiction, drug addiction and sex addiction aren’t exactly the same.  While alcoholics and drug addicts will generally benefit from total avoidance of alcohol or drugs, the goal for sex addicts is to resume sexual activity that is healthy at some point.

Furthermore, celibacy isn’t usually considered a long-term solution to sexual addiction. Instead of working toward permanently abstaining from all forms of sexual activity, sex addicts in recovery focus on developing healthier approaches and attitudes toward sex. This should involve developing self-control over the compulsive and more problematic aspects of sex and making it a more life-affirming activity.

Defining Sobriety for Sex Addicts

Since sexual sobriety doesn’t entail permanent abstinence, what does it entail? There really isn’t a clear-cut answer to this question. Everyone’s needs and circumstances are different. Every sex addict embarks on the recovery process with a unique background and a distinct range of compulsive behaviors.

Furthermore, each sex addict has different goals in working toward sexual addiction recovery. Consequently, the definition of sexual sobriety differs for everyone. Because of these differences, each sex addict is usually responsible for formulating their own definition of sobriety.

It is just as important to acknowledge different parameters and boundaries that define individual sexuality. For instance, what constitutes ‘healthy’ and ‘normal’ sexual behavior for a 20-something gay male could differ radically from the definition of that type of conduct for a 40-year old heterosexual male with a wife and kids. Subsequently, there could be a world of difference between their definitions of sexual sobriety.

What does this tell us? This suggests that “sexual sobriety” isn’t subject to a “one size fits all” definition that will apply equally to everyone. Instead, sex addicts may be better off by eliminating the more negative aspects of their sexuality healthily and sustainably.

Rather than conforming to a rigid definition of “sobriety”, it would perhaps be better to work toward a sexual life free from compulsion, shame, and negative consequences.

Setting Boundaries

How does a sex addict work toward sobriety? For many recovering addicts, setting a “boundary plan” seems to be a practical approach. This plan could be as rigid and defined as the individual wants. For some, it could simply be a loose set of rules that govern thoughts and actions toward sexual activity.

It might help to adopt a three-tiered plan, which has proven to be useful for many sex addicts. This involves categorizing behaviors into three groups:

  • Problematic
  • Slippery
  • Healthy

Problematic behaviors are those considered to bring about negative consequences for the individual and the people they have relationships with. They may include engaging in sex with random strangers, unprotected sex, compulsive sex, and so on.

Slippery behaviors are those that don’t necessarily involve sexual activity but may lead to problematic behavior. These include willful or accidental contact with people, places, and situations that could trigger unwanted behavior. They may even involve feeling emotions and engaging in fantasies that could cause them to engage in problematic behavior.

Healthy behaviors are those that create genuine happiness and satisfaction in the individual. They typically lead to long-term fulfillment and contribute toward the attainment of long-term life goals. They may also be healthy activities and life-affirming activities that recovering sex addicts turn to as an alternative when they are tempted to engage in problematic sexual behavior.

The Road to Sexual Sobriety

Classifying behaviors and behavioral patterns into these three groups won’t necessarily make it easier for the sex addict to achieve sobriety. But it can help distinguish healthy thoughts, actions, and emotions from unhealthy and problematic ones and identify potential triggers. This itself could help sex addicts determine when they need to seek help for their actions and behaviors, when they need to avoid specific triggers, and when they can draw encouragement from their commitment to sexual sobriety.

As with substance sobriety, sexual sobriety can be challenging to attain. Sex addicts often have to endure a long and difficult struggle before they feel genuinely sober. But with therapy and a realization of what sexual sobriety entails, sex addicts can live fulfilling and rewarding lives.