Sexual Addiction and The "3 Second Rule"

Sexual addiction is one of the most "cunning, baffling and powerful" forms of out-of-control behavior (that phrase comes from the Alcoholic Anonymous "Big Book", which after 70 years is 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 its neurochemical "hit".  While a drug addict needs to ingest a substance in order to get high, a sex addict can begin to experience subtle mood alteration by simply engaging in risky thought processes that fall under several categories, including:

  • Objectification (the process of 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 unrelated to reality);
  • Obsession (recurrent thoughts outside of a person's control).

Mood alteration and loss of self-control is a hallmark of all addiction, and for a sex addict this often occurs long before actual physiological arousal ever kicks in.  Since the primary sexual organ is the brain, long-term recovery requires dedicated attention to unhealthy thought sequences that can burn like the fuse on a bomb.

The basic premise of the "3 second rule" is that it's difficult to predict or control what thoughts come into your head.  Since some sex addicts have literally spent decades calming or distracting even minor emotional disturbances with fantasy, objectification and intrigue, even a passing moment of anxiety or sadness may automatically trigger the emergence of these dysfunctional attempts at emotional self-regulation.  This is the heart of the concept of self-medication, and it's dangerous as a snake.

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.   Consider a match dropped in a dry forest: initially the fire is small and can easily be extinguished.  But a person who doesn't pay attention or who delays taking action soon discovers that even a small flame can quickly spread out of control with devastating repercussions.  It's the same with thoughts: while you're not necessarily responsible for the thoughts that start to form in your head, after about three seconds you "own" them (or more accurately they own you).

"Working the 3 second rule " can be an extremely useful tool for preventing the spread of dysfunctional thought processes that can undermine emotional and sexual sobriety.  This requires a degree of mindful self-observation that may be difficult to initially develop but which grows stronger with consistent practice and yields benefits that are almost immediately evident.