When working with my clients who struggle with compulsive sexual behavior, the most common feedback I receive concerns their behavior that just teeters back and forth around their addiction. I refer to this as “edging.” Perhaps they are not looking directly at online pornography or not quite yet acting out sexually with another person…but, they are dangerously close and tend to stay in that zone for quite some time. If you are familiar with 12-step terminology, sometimes this is referred to as “acting in” rather than “acting out.”
What is Edging?
So, what is edging? It can mean something and look different to many people (i.e. delaying orgasm) but for the purposes of this brief narrative I will simply refer to it as skirting around one’s compulsive sexual behavior without actually diving all the way in. I also prefer to think of it on a color scale—green, yellow and red.
Green = Doing well with no compulsive impulses. In control
Yellow = Triggered and (un)consciously bantering back and forth between green and red
Red = You’re in the danger zone and acting out sexually.
Edging falls in the yellow zone and it’s common to prefer to draw out this middle behavior because you’re still getting the high but without all of the guilt and shame that’s just around the corner.
A few of my clients were kind enough to share with me what edging means and looks to them:
* “Almost, but not quite.”
* Looking at non-nude imagery like bikinis or underwear
* Surfing the Internet too long and watching provocative YouTube videos
* Fantasizing but not doing
* Starting the engines
* Masturbating but not allowing oneself to orgasm
* Letting your “addict” tell you it’s okay…it’s not really acting out
Edging need not be of a sexual nature. Self-inflicted negative behavior too can be part of your addiction ritual and may eventually lead to your acting out. Examples may be:
* Resisting doing good things for yourself or others
* Not following through with friends or social engagements
Edging and Triggers?
Is edging and being sexually triggered one in the same? I tend to think of edging as taking your triggers out for a spin…in other words, they are triggers in motion. If you are triggered by boredom and unstructured time, edging could look like the aforementioned not following through with social opportunities. If you are triggered by pornographic images of dominant women and you spend time online looking at female wrestling or MMA fights, that too could be edging.
What to do if you are edging?
The key to making any positive change in your life no matter the behavior begins with awareness. Once you have become aware that you are in that yellow zone behavior, you then have some (tough) decisions to make. The good news is that are many tools in your proverbial tool belt ready for action.
* Journaling—perhaps one of the strongest and most effective actions to take is to journal your thoughts, feelings, and actions. If you’re already familiar with Breaking the Cycle , then you take it journaling a bit further by separating or externalizing the addictive part of your personality and actually dialogue with that part.
* Mindfulness Practices—working mindfully with edging provides creating mental space between the thoughts and the part of you watching your thoughts. Meditation, yoga, prayer are just a few examples of sitting silently with the compulsive energy
* Be Accountable—do not isolate or withdraw when you notice your edging antics. Take a walk, call a friend, make plans, follow through…take action.