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Scott Brassart

Lately, both in the online sex and porn addiction workgroups I facilitate and in the free webinars and drop-in discussion groups on, I’ve heard more and more addicts using the term “edging” in conjunction with addictive behaviors, circle plans, and other aspects of sexual recovery.

To be honest, I’m struggling to embrace this term, primarily because it has multiple meanings when used in a conversation about sexual behavior. For a long time, edging referred to controlling/delaying orgasm to prolong and enhance sexual pleasure. Many sex therapists and self-proclaimed sexual gurus discussed techniques and practices for edging, and countless individuals and couples tried them – often with great success and satisfaction. Thus, edging has long been a part of healthy sexual behavior for many, many people.

Recently, however, certain 12-step recovery programs, most notably Sex and Porn Addicts Anonymous, have co-opted the term and given it an entirely different meaning. On the SPAA website, edging is explained as follows:

Our experience has shown us that certain behaviors … can still give us a “hit” of our drug and often lead to the loss of our sobriety. We call these behaviors “edging.”

While engaged in edging, we once again experience our great obsession – believing the lie that we can control and enjoy these secret behaviors. Therefore, as with our acting out behaviors, we asked our Higher Power to remove our desire to edge.

Edging activities vary widely from member to member, but many of us identify with the following:

  • Perusing social media apps and websites looking for arousing, non-pornographic images and videos (sometimes through the use of secret accounts).
  • Coercing, nagging or guilting our committed partner into sexual activity.
  • Looking for attractive people in public, then fantasizing about them, staring at their body parts or following them around. We’ve done this on foot and from our cars.
  • Flirting with others when we are already in a committed relationship – either by paying them compliments, teasing, having inappropriate/intimate conversations or “turning on the charm.”
  • Creating a list of “backup” partners in case things don’t work out in our current relationship.
  • Watching R-rated movies (and other suggestive videos) or reading erotic literature, with the goal of arousal.
  • Conveniently forgetting to mention we are already in a committed relationship when meeting a new, attractive person.
  • Fantasizing – often by replaying our past sexual escapades or pornographic images we’ve seen (sometimes while having sex with our committed partner).
  • Driving by known acting out locations.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It is recommended that each member work with their sponsor to establish a personalized, detailed edging definition for themselves and to stop keeping secrets about any of their edging behaviors. We offer this information to the newcomer so that they may learn from our experience, receive our strength, and gain hope.

So, now we have one word with essentially opposite definitions in the context of sexual behavior. One version of edging is generally encouraged; the other is strongly discouraged.

This, by the way, is referred to as a contranym – a single word with two meanings that happen to be the opposite of each other. More specifically, according to, “A contranym is a word with a homonym (another word with the same spelling but different meaning) that is also an antonym (a word with the opposite meaning).

  • Consult can refer to giving advice or getting advice.
  • Dust can mean to clean away powder or to sprinkle something with powder.
  • Fast can mean firmly attached or moving quickly.
  • Sanction can mean approval or punishment.
  • Variety can be a particular type or many types.

Thus ends today’s grammar lesson. Except to say that when the term edging is used in conversation about sexual behavior, listeners are forced to discern the intended meaning from context – something recovering addicts are not always good at.

I will also state that use of the word edging as defined by SPAA is unnecessary. In sexual recovery we have long utilized Circle Plans to define problematic, slippery, and healthy behaviors. (Read more about Circle Plans here.) SPAA’s definition of edging is no more and no less than what recovering sex and porn addicts have referred to for decades as “middle circle” activity.

So, what are we to make of this newly minted contranym? If it was up to me, not much. But it’s not up to me, and it appears the new definition is not going to disappear anytime soon, particularly when it’s so firmly embedded in the language and literature of a growing (and much needed) 12-step program. For now, until both meanings are widely known (as with consult, dust, fast, sanction, and variety), we will need to rely on context and, when the meaning is unclear, ask for clarification.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex, porn, or substance/sex addiction, help is available. Seeking Integrity offers inpatient treatment for sex, porn, and substance/sex addicts, as well as low-cost online workgroups. At the same time, offers a variety of free webinars and drop-in discussion groupspodcasts, and more.