The 3 Circles

Our goal when entering the SAA program is abstinence from one or more specific sexual behaviors. But unlike programs for recovering alcoholics or drug addicts, Sex Addicts Anonymous does not have a universal definition of abstinence.


Most of us have no desire to stop being sexual altogether. It is not sex in and of itself that causes us problems, but the addiction to certain sexual behaviors. In SAA we will be better able to determine what behavior is addictive and what is healthy. However, the fellowship does not dictate to its members what is and isn’t addictive sexual behavior. Instead we have found that it is necessary for each member to define his or her own abstinence.


The Three Circles of SAA

To help us define our sexual sobriety, many of us use a tool developed within SAA called The Three Circles.

We draw three concentric circles, consisting of an inner, middle, and outer circle. With the help of our sponsor or others in recovery, we write down various behaviors in each of the three circles. In the inner circle we put the sexual behaviors we want to abstain from, the ones we consider “acting out.” These are the behaviors that we identify, with our sponsor’s guidance, as addictive, harmful, or unacceptable for us. In the middle circle we put behaviors that may lead to acting out, or that we are not sure about. In the outer circle we put healthy behaviors that enhance our life and our recovery.

The Inner Circle

In order to start a 12 step program with SAA, it is necessary to define for yourself (with the consult of your sponsor, others in recovery, and trusted advisers knowledgeable in sex addiction) what your definition of “acting out” is. To assist in recovery, it is also beneficial to identify triggers to this behavior and identify those things that you can do which replace addictive behaviors with more positive things.

Many of us may list behaviors such as: anonymous sex, voyeurism, masturbation with [or without] pornography, prostitution, sadomasochistic behavior, manipulative or angry sex within a relationship, phone sex, cross-dressing with masturbation, exhibitionism, child sexual abuse or incest, Internet chat sex, and bestiality.

The Middle Circle

We call these “boundary behaviors.” Some examples of actions which may be defined as boundary behaviors are: cruising for prostitutes or for a place to practice voyeurism, acting seductively in an inappropriate situation or contacting an old acting out partner in order to renew an addictive sexual relationship. Crossing a boundary is engaging in a ritual or slippery behavior that may result in acting out. Engaging in boundary behaviors does not change our sobriety date, but because we recognize that our sobriety is jeopardized, we take action to re-connect with the program.

The Outer Circle

The outer circle consists of behaviors that enhance one’s life, and moves him or her away from their addiction. Examples of this could be attending meetings, seeing a therapist, exercise, calling a sponsor and working the 12 Steps.

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