Sexual Addiction and The "3 Second Rule"

Unhealthy thought patterns can lead a person struggling with sexual self-control to spiral into relapse long before any specific behavior occurs. This brief article explains how the "3 Second Rule" can help prevent fantasy, intrigue and objectification from spreading to dangerous proportions.  As an Atlanta counselor, therapist and consultant who specializes in problematic sexual behavior patterns such as sex and porn addiction I teach this and other strategies to help my clients live in a sexually safe, sane, ethical, controlled and fulfilling manner.

Sexual addiction is one of the most "cunning, baffling and powerful" forms of out-of-control behavior (that famous phrase comes from the Alcoholics Anonymous "Big Book", which after 70 years is probably still the most influential text ever published on the subject of addiction). 

Part of what make sex addiction so difficult to treat is the source of the "high".  An alcoholic or drug addict needs to ingest a substance in order to feel the effects, but a person who struggles with addiction to sex can experience a "hit" simply by engaging in the following categories of thought:

  • Objectification (thinking about another person more as an object to be used rather than a relationship to be honored);
  • Intrigue (engaging in thoughts or actions designed to manipulate a person or situation for sexual purposes);
  • Fantasy (the act of imagining scenarios that fulfill an idealized wish);
  • Obsession (recurrent thoughts outside of a person's control).

Mood changes and loss of self-control are hallmarks of all addiction, and for a sex addict these can begin to occur long before actual physical arousal ever kicks in.  Since the primary sexual organ is the brain, long-term sex addiction recovery requires dedicated attention to unhealthy thought patterns that can burn like the fuse on a bomb.  This is where the "3 second rule" comes in handy.

The philosophy of the "3 second rule" starts with basic understanding that it's difficult to predict or control the thoughts that will come into your head.  Since some people have spent decades using fantasy, objectification and intrigue on a regular basis, their brains can go there in an instant in response to the slightest emotional disturbance.  This is an automatic process, not a conscious decision.  It's helpful to think of this process as a form of self-medication, and it's dangerous as a snake to a person struggling to control unhealth sexualy impulsies.

The goal of the 3 second rule is to prevent a potentially unhealthy thought from lingering any longer than is necessary to recognize and deal with it.   Think about a match dropped in a dry forest: at first the fire is small and can easily be extinguished.  But if action isn't taken right away even a small flame can quickly spread out of control to destroy everything in its path.  It's the same with thoughts: while you're not responsible for the first thought that comes into your head, after about three seconds you "own" them (or more accurately they own you).  So the 3 second rule is a term to remind you to notice your thoughts right away and quickly change ones that will light the match of addictive desire.

"Working the 3 second rule " can be an extremely useful tool for preventing the spread of thought patterns that can undermine hard-won sexual sobriety.  This requires a degree of mindful self-observation that may be difficult at first but which grows stronger with regular practice and brings benefits almost immediately.

If you are in Atlanta and would like my assistance in helping you heal from sex or porn addiction or any other form of sexual behavior that violates your promises, values or self-control, I invite you to schedule an appointment with me to talk about what is happening in your life and how to reach the goals you seek.

Bill