What is Abstinence from Sex Addiction?

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When used in the connotation of sex between people who are not addicted, the term abstinence generally implies abstaining from, or not engaging in, sexual activity. However, this term takes on a different meaning when it is applied to those who are in recovery from sex addiction. Within the parameters of sex addiction, abstinence simply means not acting out; that is, not engaging in the compulsive behaviors that comprise an individual’s sex addiction.

While it may be difficult for those who have not struggled with sex addiction to understand, abstinence within this disease does not mean giving up sex entirely. That is celibacy. While some addicts have found periods of celibacy to be a useful practice during particular phases of recovery, it is not necessarily an essential component to successfully overcoming sex addiction.

A helpful example might be to consider the alcoholic. An alcoholic man, that is a man who is addicted to alcoholic beverages, will not stop consuming all beverages once he is in recovery. Rather, the alcoholic in recovery will stop consuming beverages containing alcohol. In the same way, the man who is in recovery from sex addiction may not stop engaging in all sexual behaviors and may, instead, abstain from those behaviors that have formed his addiction (things like extramarital affairs, voyeurism, compulsive masturbation, and pornography among others).

The twelve step group Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) has a particular methodology which allows individuals recovering from sex addiction to define for themselves what behaviors are to be abstained from. In this effective group, addicts write a list of their acting out behaviors and the patterns of behavior that lead to this acting out. The addict then develops boundaries, or a list of behaviors to abstain from. Very often this list writing process culminates in what is referred to in SAA as a sex plan. This sex plan is a list of the addict’s boundaries, developed with his or her sponsor, which is dated and signed, becoming a pledge of sorts.

SAA advises the addict that abstinence is not an effective tool when maintained by the force of will power alone, which is referred to as white knuckling. It is the belief of SAA, as well as many in the professional medical community and recovered addicts, that more than will power is required to truly stay sexually sober and abstinent. It is important to have a program of recovery, most often found within a twelve step program, other established groups, and sex addiction rehabilitation centers.

The purpose of abstinence is for those who are working to overcome sex addiction to stop hurting themselves and others, and to become sexually healthy. To be successful in overcoming the compulsive urges that are the hallmark of sex addiction, it is important that a number of personal and lifestyle changes occur. The individual who is working to overcome a sex addiction of any kind should alter his or her lifestyle from one that was created to support addiction to one that will support recovery.


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