Comparing the Different 12-Step Meetings for Sexual Addiction
12-step support groups are extremely helpful to people who are trying to overcome an unhealthy dependence on substances (such as alcohol or drugs) or behaviors such as problematic gambling or sex addiction. They give people who have similar problems a way to share their experience, strength and hope with each other. The actual "twelve steps" are principles for living. The original 12-step group is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Some people misunderstand 12-step groups, so I wrote an article titled "12-Step Groups: Twelve Objections and Twelve Responses" which may be helpful to read to get more information about how they work.
When it comes to 12-step groups for sexual addiction, people are surprised to learn that there are five of them:
- Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)
- Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA)
- Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
- Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA)
Some parts of the country have some or all of these different "fellowships" while other places have fewer choices, if any. There are also online and telephone meetings available.
Since my counseling practice is located in Atlanta, I am including a link to a listing of all of the Atlanta 12-step meetings for sex addiction.
In Alcoholics Anoymous there is only one way to be sober: stop drinking! However, "sexual sobriety" is different, because the goal isn't to stop having sex. Each of the 12-step groups for sex addiction defines sobriety a little differently. This is helpful to know when deciding which group to attend.
Here is how each fellowship defines sexual sobriety (any official language of each group is italicized):
The goal of SAA "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."
SLAA focuses on 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." SLAA defines sobriety as abstinence from one's self-identified "bottom-line" behaviors.
"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."
(Note: SCA originally existed primarily for gay and bisexual men. However, it welcomes all sexual orientations, and an increasing number of women and heterosexual men attend.)
SA is different than all of the other groups:
- SA defines the problem as addiction to "lust" rather than addiction to sex.
- SA is the only fellowship that specifically defines sobriety in terms of specific behavior. According to SA "any form of sex with one’s self or with partners other than the spouse is progressively addictive and destructive......."
- SA goes even further by narrowing this definition to "marriage between a man and a woman". This means that anyone not in a heterosexual marriage must be celibate, i.e. completely abstain from all sexual behavior, including masturbation.
I have had many clients attend SA and benefit from it. However, I have also known people who were not married to either leave SA or lie about their sexual behavior. SA gives only two choices (sex with a heterosexual spouse or celibacy). I beleive this is excessive, unnecessary, discriminatory and confuses sexual practices with sexual addiction. For practical purposes I do not generally recommend SA to anyone who is not in a heterosexual marriage, and I oppose its stance on ethical grounds even though I continue to list it as a resource because of the value it serves for some people.
SRA was formed by SA members who broke away from the SA because of its sobriety definition. SRA defines sexual sobriety as "the release from all compulsive and destrructive sexual behavors. We have found through our experience that sobriety includes freedom from masturbation and sex outside a committed relationship." So SRA also defines sobriety in terms of specific practices, although it is not as restrictive as SA.
Now that you have know how each 12-step group defines sexual sobriety, you can make up your own mind which to attend or recommend. I support any decision my clients make, and will do all I can to help them achieve their goals. For more information about my services simply click any of the tabs at the top of the page, and feel free to contact me directly if I can be of service to you.