Sexual Sobriety Planning (Circle/Boundary Plans)

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In last week’s post we discussed the difference between sexual sobriety and sexual abstinence. This week we continue our discussion of sexual sobriety by looking at circle/boundary plans. For purposes of this article, we will discuss the “circle plan” rather than the “boundary plan,” but please understand the concepts are the same either way.

Circle plans define and set limits on which sexual behaviors are and not acceptable for each individual sex, porn, or substance/sex addict.


Typically, the process of crafting a circle plan begins with a statement of goals. Basically, addicts list the primary reasons they want to change their sexual behavior. A few commonly stated goals are as follows:

  • I don’t want to cheat on or keep secrets from my spouse.
  • I want to be present in the real world instead of living my life online.
  • I don’t want to use pornography ever again.

Once an addict’s goals for recovery are clearly stated, he or she can move forward with the creation of a personalized circle plan, utilizing these pre-established goals as an overall guide.

Circle plans are three-tiered, constructed as follows:

The Inner Circle: This is the addict’s bottom-line definition of sexual sobriety. Here a sex, porn, or substance/sex addict lists specific sexual behaviors (not thoughts or fantasies) that are causing problems in his or her life and that he or she therefore needs to stop. If the addict engages in inner circle behaviors, he or she has “slipped” and will need to reset his or her sobriety clock (while also doing a thorough examination of what led to the slip). A few common inner boundary behaviors are as follows:

  • Going online for porn
  • Engaging in webcam sex
  • Hiring prostitutes
  • Hooking up for casual and/or anonymous sex
  • Having affairs

The Middle Circle: This circle lists warning signs and slippery situations that might lead a sex, porn, or substance/sex addict back to inner circle activities. Here the addict lists the people, places, thoughts/fantasies, events, and experiences that might trigger his or her desire to act out sexually. 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, working too much, etc.)
  • Unstructured time alone
  • Emotional discomfort (loneliness, boredom, anxiety, etc.)

The Outer Circle: This circle lists healthy behaviors and activities that can and hopefully will lead a sex, porn, or substance/sex addict toward his or her life goals, including (but not even remotely limited to) having a healthy, non-destructive sex life. These healthy pleasures are what the addict can turn to as a replacement for sexual acting out. A few common outer boundary behaviors are as follows:

  • Time with family, especially the kids
  • Engaging in hobbies
  • Self-Care (exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep, etc.)
  • Developing a spiritual life
  • Going back to school

Circle Plans Are Not Cookie-Cutter

Every sex, porn, or substance/sex addict has a unique life history, singular goals, and specific problematic sexual behaviors. Therefore, every circle plan is different. Behaviors that are deeply troubling for one addict may be perfectly acceptable for another, and vice versa, so there is no set formula for defining and living sexual sobriety. The key is for each addict to be totally, completely, and brutally honest when formulating his or her circle plan.

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If you think that you or someone you care about might be sex, porn, or substance/sex addicted, we suggest taking our anonymous Sex Addiction Screening Test or our Substance/Sex Addiction Screening Test. Residential treatment for these issues is available at Seeking Integrity: Los Angeles. Seeking Integrity also offers online workgroups for addicts seeking recovery.