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What is Sexual Sobriety?

January 18, 2010

We were reading in our Men’s Purity Group recently from Mark Laaser’s book “Faithful and True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World” on the topic of sobriety. 

Sexual addiction circles have different ideas of what sobriety is.  Dr. Laaser offers this:

The word “sobriety” describes a life of self-control, free from bondage to addictive chemicals or behaviors.  Sexual sobriety excludes any behaviors which are not a part of healthy, biblically-based sexuality. (p.192)

Chemical addiction is not a good comparison to sexual.  You can abstain from sexual activity, like abstaining from alcohol, but you cannot switch off your sexuality.  God has designed us to be sexual beings. 

Dr. Laaser compares sexual addiction instead to food addiction:

Food addicts are taught to eat for the nutritional value of food.  They also learn to discern between actual hunger and using food to medicate their emotions. (p.192)

The person who is recovering from sexual addiction is learning what healthy sexuality is, sharing his needs with others, and finding healthy outlets for his passions. 

The single person is pouring themself into their relationship with God and with others.

The married person is pouring himself into God, his spouse, and others. 
Q:  How do you understand sexual sobriety?
Q:  What does your group, counselor, or accountablity partner consider “sober”?

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2 Comments
  1. January 19, 2010 10:37 am

    The term “sober” is used in various ways. When thinking in terms of alcohol it can mean complete abstinence from drinking, it can mean “not drunk,” or it can mean a controlled or moderate use of alcohol.

    The term “sexual sobriety,” as far as I can tell, first emerged in SA circles (Sexaholics Anonymous) in the 19070s. SA was started by an AA member who wanted to translate the 12 Steps for sex addicts. Their literature states, “[F]or the sexaholic, any form of sex with one’s self or with partners other than the spouse is progressively addictive and destructive. We also see that lust is the driving force behind our sexual acting out, and true sobriety includes progressive victory over lust.”

    Some in SA circles have said their particular group focused mostly on the first part of the sobriety definition: no masturbation or sex with other people other than a spouse. In other words, in those particular group settings there was little emphasis placed on the second part of the definition: progressive victory over lust. Overall, this tends to be the emphasis in sex addiction literature. Mark Laaser’s definition is more clinical, but reflects the heart of the first part of SA’s definition: self-controlled behaviors that reflect biblical sexuality. In his book, The Game Plan, Joe Dallas has a similar definition of sexual sobriety: no longer sexually “acting out” (such as fornication, watching pornography, etc.).

    I believe if we are going to use the term “sobriety” in sex addiction circles at all we should recognize that it is a good first step to achieve and maintain, much like an addict going through rehab and withdrawal. Our bodies need physically need to be cut off from the source of sexual sin. But we also need to stress again and again that sobriety is not enough, it is not the biblical standard.

    In one sense Paul describes the sexually “sober” when he describes the Corinthian Christians “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality . . . will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). These men and women were powerfully sanctified by God and thus no longer lived lives of outward sexual sin.

    Yet this statement is tucked away in a letter full of rebuke and concern. Their behavior had changed, yet their hearts needed further transformation.

    I would prefer to divorce the language of “sobriety” from sex addiction circles altogether. It works well for AA and NA circles, but it is hard to let the same language carry over into sexuality.

    • January 24, 2010 1:10 pm

      Luke, thanks so much for your thoughts.

      We do have to be careful not to focus all of our attention on the stopping of behaviors and more on the heart. Recovery is largely an inside out process.

      Some guys in recovery make so much out of “3 months since I last masturbated” or “2 years since I last went into a porn shop”, but they have crappy marriages, and objectify women regularly.

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