Comparing the Four Different 12-Step Meetings for Sexual Recovery

     It can be confusing to first learn that four different 12-Step fellowships address sexual behavior.  They are all based on the original 12-step fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  From the time of its founding in the 1930's. A.A. has been so successful in helping people recover from alcohol dependence that its format has been adapted to many other behaviors.   

     Four different fellowships for achieving sexual sobriety originated in different parts of the country within a few years of each other.  They are:

  • Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
  • Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)
  • Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA)

     Some fellowships are more prevalent in some parts of the country than in others.  Many smaller localities (if they have any 12-step meeting related to sex at all) will only have one of these fellowships.  Larger metropolitan areas often have some or all of these different fellowships to choose from. In Atlanta, far and away the most prevalent fellowship is Sexaholics Anonymous (SA).  However, each of the other fellowships is represented in the metro area, although to a lesser extent.

     All of these fellowships exist to offer "experience, strength and hope" (a famous phrase originating in A.A.) to a person who is "powerless" over some aspect of his or her sexual behavior.  However, the definition of what constitutes sexual "sobriety" is not the same among the four different fellowships.  Knowing these differences can be helpful in deciding which fellowship best suits the individual needs of each person seeking sexual recovery.  The sobriety definition of each fellowship is described below (with as much language as possible taken from the official position of each fellowship).

Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)

     SA does not define the problem it addresses as addiction to sex but as addiction to "lust".  It is the only one of the four fellowships to use this term. 

     SA is also the only fellowship that specifically defines sexual sobriety for its members.  According to S.A., "for the sexaholic, any form of sex with one’s self or with partners other than the spouse is progressively addictive and destructive......This will and should discourage many inquirers who admit to sexual obsession or compulsion but who simply want to control and enjoy it...."

     SA defines sexual sobriety as no sex with one's self or with anyone outside of "one's partner in a marriage between a man and a woman".

     Thus, for a person who is not heterosexually married, the only form of sexual sobriety within the SA fellowship is celibacy (complete sexual abstinence, including from masturbation), even if that person is in a long-term monogamous relationship.  This is far and away the most restrictive definition of sobriety among the four fellowships.

Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)

     According to SAA, the goal of its members "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."

Sex And Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)

     SLAA addresses both "sex and love addiction" which is defined as "any sexual or emotional act, no matter what its initial impulse may be, which leads to loss of control over rate, frequency, or duration of its occurrence or recurrence, resulting in spiritual, mental, physical, emotional, and moral destruction of oneself and others." In SLAA sex and love addiction "may take several forms—including, but not limited to a compulsive need for sex, extreme dependency on one or many people, or a chronic preoccupation with romance, intrigue, or fantasy. An obsessive compulsive pattern, either sexual or emotional, or both, exists in which relationships or sexual activities have become increasingly destructive to career, family and sense of self-respect."

     "Sobriety" in the SLAA program is defined as abstinence from one's self-identified "bottom-line behaviors".

      Note: SLAA is the only fellowship that specifically encourages recovery from sexual anorexia, emotional anorexia and social anorexia, three related areas of self-deprivation that lead to isolation and often accompany patterns of addictive behavior.

Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA)

     SCA states that: "Members are encouraged to develop their own sexual recovery plan, and to define sexual sobriety for themselves. We are not here to repress our God-given sexuality, but to learn how to express it in ways that will not make unreasonable demands on our time and energy, place us in legal jeopardy -- or endanger our mental, physical or spiritual health."

     Although the SCA fellowship originally sought to address issues of sexual compulsion among gay and bisexual men, it is open to all sexual orientations, and there is an increasing number of women and heterosexual men participating.

      This brief summary makes it obvious that Sexaholics Anonymous has a substantially different definition of sexual sobriety than the other three fellowships, all of which allow a person to define his or her own personal definition of what it means to be sexually sober.  This is why many people who prefer SA meetings do not attend any other groups while those who attend SAA, SLAA or SCA often comfortably attend any or all of these three types of groups but do not typically attend SA, especially if they are not married.