In order for addiction recovery to take place, there must be a bottom line definition of sobriety. For the alcoholic, sobriety is easily defined -alcoholics and drug addicts define sobriety as 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 person's sobriety time; the date that sobriety began or the day of entry into a Twelve Step program is used as a sobriety date.
For the recovering sexual addict, however, sobriety can be more challenging to define. Unlike sobriety from the use of substances, sexual sobriety is rarely considered to be complete abstinence from sex, although at times recovering persons may use complete sexual abstinence (celibacy) for periods of time while gaining personal perspective or addressing a particular issue. Sexual sobriety is most often defined as a contract between the sex addict and the Twelve Step support network, and/or the addict's therapist. These contracts (or "sex-plans") are written and list clearly defined concrete behaviors, which the sex addict commits to abstain from, in order to define sobriety.
Some sexual recovery plans have strictly defined boundaries - "No sexual activity of any kind outside of a committed marital relationship," could be one such defined boundary. For others, sexual sobriety can be defined as abstinence from sexual activity which causes the person to feel shameful, to hold secrets, or that which is illegal or abusive to others. Thus sobriety definitions may change over time as the recovering person evolves in understanding 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 plan might phrase it in the following way "I am sober as long as I do not engage in anonymous sex, sex in public places or sex with persons from the phone line or computer". These definitions are always discussed with at least one other recovering person, or therapist, and are not changed without thorough prior discussion and understanding.
An underlying motive for a concisely written sexual plan, beyond a clear definition of unwanted specific or romantic behavior, is to offer the sex addict an ongoing recovery reminder, even in the face of challenging circumstances. A common characteristic of many addicts is a difficulty in maintaining clear focus on personal beliefs, values and goals when faced with situations, which potentially involve intensity, arousal, stimulation and impulsive acting out. Without clearly defined boundaries, the sex addict is vulnerable to deciding "in the moment" (impulsively) what action is best. Unfortunately, for most addicts' "in the moment" decisions are often not ones that lead them toward their longer term goals and beliefs. A clearly written, well defined sexual plan helps maintain a focus on healthy recovery choices, regardless of situation or momentary motive, while offering the sexual addict a concrete way to denote their sobriety.