It is accepted among those of us who work with porn and sex addiction that there will be relapses or “slips” at some point in the first year or so of recovery.  Internet pornography in particular is notoriously hard to quit.

Sex addiction is  clever and devious.  It wants to find a way to come out and play.  So even when the addict is totally abstinent from his or her “bottom line” behaviors (behaviors that the addict has identified as the ones that need to be out of bounds) the addict may engage in other watered down kinds of behavior to get a “hit.”  For example, the addict who wants to quit internet pornography may find himself watching movies that have a significant amount of sexual content or looking at YouTube or Facebook videos that are suggestive or outright sexual.

But in early recovery addicts are likely to repeat even their bottom line sexually addictive behavior at some point.  So when is this something to be concerned about? When should it be called a slip and when should it be seen as an out-and-out relapse?

When is it just a slip?

What is counted as a slip is doing the addictive behavior (e.g. going to a strip club, watching porn, engaging in cybersex, having a sexual hook-up with a stranger, or getting together with an old affair partner).  It is not doing the things that lead up to the bottom line behavior but it is actually doing something that is what you have decided not to do any more.  (Slips will usually count as sexual acting out and will mean changing your sobriety date.)  What I believe makes it a “slip” rather than a relapse is:

  • You perform the sexually addictive behavior without planning to.  You did not enter the situation consciously intending to do the behavior.  It “just happened” and you may feel a certain shock at finding yourself in the situation.
  • You do the behavior only once.  You realize immediately what you have done and you get out of the situation before you do it again.  You turn off the computer, you hang up the phone, you get rid of the person’s contact information etc.
  • You talk about it with someone like a sponsor, counselor or recovery partner and you describe it in your regular 12-step meeting right away.  You do not attempt to hide it or minimize it.
  • You figure out what you need to learn from the slip. This means that you use the slip to gain a better understanding of the circumstances that can lead up to you slipping.  Do you have to plan your day or evening more carefully? Should you be more aware of slippery situations like business trips?  You will need to anticipate known stressors or other things that constitute your “relapse scenario” as it is called.
  • You may change your recovery plan in response to the slip.  You might decide to put additional behaviors, people or activities, such as browsing singles ads, into your list of bottom line behaviors so that you see them as relevant to your staying abstinent.   You may also consider whether other addictions such as alcohol or drug use have played a role in your slip and consider addressing them more strenuously.  And you may want to consult with a doctor if appropriate when you believe you may have psychological issues or need medication to stay emotionally stable enough.

Avoiding Relapse

If you respond to the incident of sexual acting out in the way described above you will have gone a long way to avoiding a full on relapse in which you continue the acting out behavior.  Often people have a slip and decide that it is a relapse.  They therefore feel “What the heck! I’ve already blown it; I might as well go all the way.”  This is using the slip as an excuse to keep acting out.  But the fact is a slip does not mean that you have blown your program.  It is an opportunity to make your program better and to learn about yourself.  If you use it.

Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource

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15 Comments

  1. Really interesting read. Some helpful tips in this that I shall follow. I often get that “all or nothing” view where i feel if I have acted out I might aswell get my monies worth so to speak. Thanks for the blog!

  2. My partner confessed to cheating. He has been a good and honest man throughout our relationship of 2 years. He admitted to sex addiction during his confession, which is the first I had heard of it. I have learned so much from this website and now see that his behavior has been consistent with what is described here. He also admitted that the betrayal was with a much younger, barely legal girl. He then told me that I should no longer be bothered with him… that I deserve better. That he is not worth my time and effort. That he is not the good man I thought he was. He has since shut me out of his life completely, despite all my attempts to help him through this. My question to you is: is it normal for a sex addict to dissociate from a partner and relationship in this way? Is it normal for them to feel that they are not worth it?

    Thanks so much.

    Tiff

    • Hi Tiff- yes it is not unheard of. There’s not much more you can or should do at this point. All the best-
      Linda

    • My boyfriend dud the exact same thing but he didn’t push me away. I feel it’s normal.

  3. When I made it impossible for my husband to refuse me access to his office emails I discovered irrefutable confirmation of the doubts I’ve struggled with our entire marriage. The body of evidence when opened in my presence, was sufficient for him to acknowledge that he has a problem. He admitted afterwards he was terrified of my reaction. He tried every device to persuade not to make him open is secret place but I was unprepared to grant the “one more chance” he begged for. I did not register the reaction he feared but was compassionate while on guard not to be sucked in to his predictable feeling of relief and moving on as though nothing happened. He wanted back into the bedroom but I refused without the condition that he seek help. Afterwards he asked for a hug which I freely gave for the 1st time in 9 years.

    Was that wrong to refuse him to (only) sleep in my bed? He knows I do NOT condone the behavior but treat it as an illness much as I would if he had cancer. I don’t want to be set up as an enabler but don’t know what’s best. We are a retired couple- talking openly for the 1st time in many years as a result and he’s thanked me for pushing through with my demand.

    • You were not wrong to do what you needed to do to take care of yourself. Thanks for the comment!
      Linda

  4. Tiffany-
    As a recovering sex addict and someone who was in the grips of this sickness for many many years, let me make a few observations:
    First- you state he has been a good and honest man. He may be good but he has not been honest and that is a trademark of those with sex addiction.
    And secondly- the insanity of this sickness is such that we reject and push away those we love in order to continue our addiction. That may be why he won’t get back with you- his disease has the upper hand. (While I was active in my addiction I would push my wife away so I could continue acting out with pornography—- now how sick is that?!)
    I think you would do well for yourself and him to terminate the relationship until he gets involved in recovery. I wish you the best

  5. I am a recovering sex addict sober for some years using the 12 step recovery model and we have lots of differences in how we recover than has been my experience with therapists. To me, this idea of “slip” versus “relapse” just seems like wordsmith hair splitting invented by well known notorious therapists to either make clients feel better – – or perhaps to make themselves feel better after their own “slips” to save face and keep on practicing. I too played this game calling my relapses “slips” and I stayed sick for a long time until I agreed to have zero tolerance for relapse of any kind. Today I have no relapses – – including no “slips”. Lets just call it as it is. If I am working my program I will not relapse. If I relapse I was not working my program. That has been my experience.

  6. My husband has been in recovery for almost exactly one year. I recently had feelings something was going on again and looked through his phone. I found in his history where he looked up an ex as well as his half sister, who I’m sure is an sex addict and had shown very inappropriate sex addict behavior with my husband in the past. I Immediately questioned him. He first tried to deny and lie but quickly followed up with the truth. Admitted to having moments where his thoughts overcome his reasoning to stop and it took it as far as looking up the ex and his sister. He swears it didn’t go any further than that and he never contacted anyone. I had asked him weeks before if he was getting in that bad place again and maybe needed to go to more meetings. He assured me more than once he was fine, so in my eyes he only stoped after he was caught again. My question, is this considered a “slip up”? Is a slip up an excuse? It was hard enough in the beginning to have the rug pulled out from under me several times , now feels we’re starting all over. I guess I’m looking for answers wether or not to cut and run at this point, which I know no one can answer but me. So maybe just a little feedback please.

    Thank you,

    Hoping for Hope, praying for Grace.

  7. […] 4 months of sobriety because of the intent. He was honest right away and stopped. According to Sex Addictions Counseling, it is a slip if it was an isolated incident, you stopped immediately afterwards, you did not […]

  8. As someone who has been involved for many years in sex addiction and recovery, I can tell you that the information given here is not good if you are serious about working a good recovery program. Sexually acting out with another person is in no way a “slip”, it is full-out relapse. Saying that it is a slip is harmful to addicts and minimizes their behaviors. It is very important when seeking treatment or a therapist to make sure the therapist is a Certified Sexual Addiction Treatment therapist, trained under Patrick Carnes or Robert Weiss. The addict must maintain a good recovery program in order to remain sober- have a sponsor with some sobriety time, attend regular 12 step meetings, be open and honest with others and work on the issues of codependency- needing to please others to be ok.

  9. […] trusted adviser to whom they regularly report their days of abstinence from porn and admit their slipswhen they happen.  This should include the details of the […]

  10. Helpful and informative article. But the picture of a woman with cleavage ???


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