Understanding Boundaries

To make any change in life, a person needs to set boundaries. Becoming free from an addiction or compulsion is no exception. Defining these boundaries is key to succeeding with your change. Holding true to these boundaries may be the most difficult part of the process of this change. 

In many support and accountability groups I’ve been in, boundaries are viewed as the line you cross when you look and porn and/or masturbate. This is a dangerous perspective if you want to succeed in getting free from porn addiction. 

To help make my point, I will share a story I once heard (I forget where) about a princess who searching for a new bodyguard.


  • The princess is interviewing three different applicants for a new bodyguard position.  She asks each of them to tell her how close they could bring her to this cliff and still keep her safe.  The first applicant responds, “Oh princess, I am very strong and powerful. I could bring you within 10 feet of this cliff and keep you perfectly safe.”  The princess then asks the second candidate and he responds, “Oh princess, I am even more powerful than the first man. I can take you right to the very edge of the cliff and keep you completely safe.” Then she asks the third candidate and was surprised by his response: “Princess, you are much too valuable to me. I would never take you anywhere near that cliff. I would keep you at least 100 yards from it! You are precious and too important to take any risk whatsoever.”  The princess responds, “You are my new bodyguard.”

Let’s translate this story to the recovery of an addict.  Know that it is a fact that You areas important as the princess in the story. God created you and you areHis precious child.  Imagine the cliff—sexual temptation—is at the end of a 100-yard slope. Behaviors such as masturbating, going to massage parlors, having affairs, and visiting prostitutes are like falling off that cliff. Viewing porn brings you right to the edge of the cliff.  While carefully imagining this 100-yard slope, picture it slippery and the decline increases as you get closer to the edge, so the nearer you get to the edge, the harder it becomes to avoid falling over. 

The battles with lust and photography are very similar. As you begin sliding down the slope by engaging in fantasies, lusting after someone you saw, simply “looking” at provocative images on Pinterest, browsing the adult channel titles on cable, or other risky behaviors, you not only begin the path of temptation, but you trigger the brain chemistry of addiction. This chemistry wakes up pleasurable memories of acting out. A simple 30-second view of racy images on the internet start the dopamine flowing and very soon, you being to crave the sexual release. Images begin to flood your mind as past experiences are triggered in the brain and brought to the front of your mind. It’s a natural event in our human minds, but a simple “It’s not so bad” behavior can truly open up Pandora’s box. 

Boundaries are about discovering where your beginning of the slope is and what starts you down the path. Many boundaries will be discovered and put into place as your recovery progresses, and some are standards that you must adhere to right away. 


  • Side note:I have used the word “recovery” multiple times in this book. A key part of stopping this type of behavior is to first admit that engaging in porn is something that controls you, rather than something you are controlling it (hence the first step in a 12-step program: “Admitting that I am powerless over porn and it is ruining my life”). You need to see that you are an addict and that you need to be in recovery. It’s a perspective that will help you accept this process and the requirements you need to follow in running your life. Personally, when I was writing this book, I had been in recovery for 10 years. Whenever I do presentations or talk to people about my struggles, I always say that I am “recovering sex addict.” This perspective keeps us in a proper heightened sense of awareness about life events, our emotional reactions, and the temptations that we then face. 


Defining Boundaries

I define boundaries in two segments, primary and secondary.


Primary Boundaries

Primary boundaries are clearly actions of sin or being morally compromised. This includes actions like masturbating, having an affair, and having relations with a prostitute or massage therapist. I also place looking at pornography in the primary boundary category, although I know some who consider it a secondary boundary violation because it’s not an actual sexual act. I think for the true desire of recovery, it’s best to consider porn use a primary boundary action.


Secondary Boundaries

Secondary boundaries are a much bigger and more of a “gray” area. These are behaviors like engaging in fantasy, lusting after a person you see in day-to-day life, going to a strip club, engaging in an emotional affair with someone of the opposite sex (a relationship that is definitely more than a friendship, has an emotional connection, but has not gotten physical). An emotional affair (the word “affair” suggests that you are married and this relationship is with someone other than your spouse), should really be considered a primary boundary because it is very close to cheating. Ask most women and they would tell you they consider it cheating if their husband had an emotional affair with another woman. 

As you grow in your recovery, your list of secondary boundaries will grow. Secondary boundaries should include actions that are not so obvious but frequently lead to crossing primary boundaries. Secondary boundaries can include looking at email at night after everyone else has gone to bed, taking your electronic device in the bathroom, looking at the computer when the house is empty, watching movies or TV programs with sexual content, intentionally driving down streets with strip clubs or adult bookstores. The idea that some of these behaviors break boundaries may seem far-fetched to you, but if you honestly consider them, you will see that these activities include lust or simply create easy opportunities to cross primary boundaries. Honestly, stop and consider what percentage of the time you get on the computer after everyone has gone to bed, even with innocent intent, and ultimately end up looking at provocative sites or even viewing porn. If you get on the computer every night before bed and once every two weeks it leads to looking at porn, then it should be considered a secondary boundary and the behavior should stop.

Look at it this way. You’ve read chapter 8, “Your Brain on Porn,” so you know about neural pathways and how they work. If you looked at porn while surfing the net after everyone else in your family has gone to bed, then a pathway to sexual arousal has been started. If you have engaged in this scenario multiple times, then a path has been set. Once this path has been established, even though you sit at the computer for innocent purpose, your brain says, “Oh, everyone is in bed—opportunity is here. Remember last week the cool images we saw and how pleasurable it was? Just finish your email; then look at some sexy images on Pinterest or google sexy celebrities, and that’s good enough.” Then when browsing these “teasing” images, you go a little further, and further, and then find yourself acting out. “Oh, what’s one more time?” you say. … And your innocent time on the computer took you right to the location you are trying to avoid—your addiction. Trust me, it really does work this way. 

For visual effect, let’s look at these boundaries as distance in yards from the “cliff.” The slope to the cliff I spoke of starts 100 yards from the edge. The closer we get to the slope, the more the decline increases, making it harder to turn around and go back to the top. 


  • Falling off the cliff: Masturbation, prostitutes, massage parlors with sexual intent, affairs. 
  • 1 inch from the edge: Looking at actual porn (maybe even one of your feet are slipping off at this point).
  • 10 yards from the edge:Googling images of women with partial body parts exposed. (I won’t get graphic here, as I don’t want to trigger you, but you know what I am talking about.) Taking part in sexually explicit conversation via text, email, etc. Visiting a strip club. 
  • 20 yards from the edge:Browsing sexy celebrities, cheerleaders, or other images on websites. Browsing the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Engaging in chat rooms. Previewing the titles and program descriptions of porn movies on cable TV or similar venues. Watching R-rated movies specifically because they have sexual content. 
  • 50 yards from the edge: Watching an R-rated movie that happens to have sexual content even though that wasn’t your primary motive for watching the movie (you need to be honest and self-aware here). Taking a second look at a woman’s body as she passes by. Flirting with the cashier or bank teller, etc. Searching for old girlfriends on Facebook. And, for some, watching violence on TV or movies (this can be stimulating and so needs to be limited).
  • 80 yards from the edge: Using the computer with innocent intent after everyone has gone to bed, when you are aware this behavior has led to acting out in the past. Taking your smartphone in the bathroom with you, even for innocent intent.  Watching TV after everyone else has gone to bed when you have “browsed” sexually explicit programs in the past. Suggestive, immoral, or crude TV, movies, radio, music, and so on. 
  • 100 yards from the edge—at the top of the hill looking down:  Intentionally picking the checkout line at the store with the prettiest girl; browsing the covers of Cosmo and similar magazines while in line at the grocery store. 

Setting these boundaries is part of the work you need to do. It needs to be clear that primary boundaries are the marks of “falling off the cliff” and “one inch from the edge” type behaviors.  Secondary boundaries are everything else. Part of the work you will be doing on an ongoing basis is asking the Holy Spirit to guide you on what needs to be defined for your boundaries. You don’t need to specify the “10 yard,” “50 yard,” etc. marks, but just know what starts, or what can start, the path and trigger false intimacy cravings and desires that are in actuality the neural pathways in your brain. 


If you choose to get the 40 Days to Freedom book, In the 40-day journal, you will be recording any violations of primary or secondary boundaries. 


  • Personal note: For perspective, I will share some of the secondary boundaries that I have set for myself. These include R-rated movies with ANY sexual content, as sexual content in such films is typically nudity. PG-13 movies with sexual themes or that have significant sexuality (examples: The Notebook, Titanic, Austin Powers movies). TV shows that feature dancing such as Dancing with the Stars (I find a lot of dance-type exhibitions arousing and stimulating, so I avoid them). I don’t keep my phone by my bed.    Habits: I review all PG-13 and higher rated movies for information on sexual content. When checking out at a store, I often go to cashiers who are men or women I don’t find attractive; I do this even if the line is longer. I avoid streets that have strip clubs, massage parlors, or adult bookstores if possible.  Even though I have been in recovery for 10 years, I still have covenant eyes on ALL my electronic devices and I still make contact at least once a week with an accountability partner or group—sometimes multiple times per week.  I don’t typically contact my accountability partners because of temptation, but more to discuss difficult life events and emotional experiences that I know, if not resolved, can leave me open to desiring forms of false intimacy and be triggers for desire to act out. (I treat this as a 200-yard boundary—solve the “reasons” to motivate acting out. Remember “The river under the river”? That’s where the real battle lies.)

Are You Ready?

Now, at this point, you are either completely on board or thinking that this is “way” overreacting. You need to be honest with yourself: Are you serious about changing your behavior? Are you serious about healing your life and your relationships? Healing your relationship with God? You may even think that you already have a great relationship with God. Think about this, would you go and openly tell your spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend every time you looked at porn or lusted after the hot girl you saw at Home Depot? Likely not. You know that would hurt your loved one deeply, causing rejection, disrespect, and even feeling violated. Well, God already knows about these actions. You don’t need to tell Him. His heart breaks every time you engage in something that hurts your soul, because it pushes you farther from Him. And that’s nota great relationship. A great relationship looks quite different: It’s one where when your heart hurts or you are feeling the need for intimacy (as you now know, lust and porn is truly a form of crying out for intimacy), you turn to authentic intimacy with other genuine godly people or directly to God Himself rather than trying to achieve intimacy from things of this world.  THAT IS THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF EVERYTHING WE ARE DOING IN THIS BOOK! HEARING YOUR HEARTS CRAVING FOR AUTHENTIC INTIMACY AND CHOOSING IT. 


Let’s support some of these theories with scripture. 


Watching movies/TV with sexual content?

Psalm 101:3 (KJV) “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not cling to me.”


Proverbs 31:3 (NRSVCE)“Do not give your strength to women, nor your ways to that which destroys kings.”


When in situations of temptation, say to yourself:

“I will not give my power to that woman.”


Secondary Boundaries—Keeping the Princess Far from the Edge.

This is the choice to avoid suggestive, immoral, or crude TV, movies, radio, music, etc., as they lead to temptation and will trigger your neural pathways and dopamine craving, leading to intense desires to act out. 


Proverbs5:8 (NRSVCE) “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house”


Primary Boundaries—Acting Out

Matthew 5:27-28(NRSVCE)“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.


1 Corinthians 6:13-15(NRSVCE)“The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!”


Romans 8:13(NRSVCE)“for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”


Choosing God, Choosing Authentic Intimacy, Instead of Lust and Porn

Romans 13:14(NRSVCE) “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”


In the 40 days to Freedom book, the end of this chapter includes an excercise that guides you through creating your own boundaries and guides you how to put them in place.