by Dan Drake, LMFT, LCPP, CCPS-S, CSAT-S
So what’s the deal with all of the different 12-step groups for sex addiction?
There are several different groups based on the original model of Alcoholics Anonymous for those who are dealing with sex addiction or for those who are impacted by their partner’s sexual behavior. Depending on where you are in the world, some of these groups are more active than others. Since I’m writing from LA, though, I thought I’d write about the basic differences between “S” programs in Los Angeles. It can be tough to navigate through all the different options, particularly in a place that has a lot of options. I hope this provides a basic overview of the main sex addiction 12-step groups.
12-step “S” meetings for those with compulsive sexual behaviors:
SAA is perhaps the largest program in Los Angeles. Sexuality is so complex and nuanced for each of us, and the sexual behavior or behaviors that might be problematic for one individual might not be for another. Hence, SAA allows each individual member to define what behavior they are abstaining from. So unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, where taking a drink of alcohol defines “sobriety” in SAA, the nature of the “drink” varies from individual to individual, just as sexuality varies from individual to individual. An advantage of this program is it accounts for the complexity of our sexuality. A drawback is that leaving the definition of abstinence to the individual can lead to unclear understandings of sobriety.
On their website they say, “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.”
Sexaholics Anonymous defines sobriety from compulsive sexual behaviors as abstaining from any sexual behaviors with yourself or anyone else outside of marriage. One of the advantages of this program is that it clearly defines sobriety for each individual. A drawback of this program is that it does not take into consideration the diversity of sexual expression, orientation, or sexuality among those not married.
Taken from the SA website, “For the sexaholic, any form of sex with one’s self or with partners other than the spouse is progressively addictive and destructive. We also see that lust is the driving force behind our sexual acting out, and true sobriety includes progressive victory over lust.”
SLAA is a program that focuses on the relational component of the illness. This could involve multiple relationships, romance, or problematic fantasy about others or relationships as well as compulsive sexual behavior(s). An advantage of this program is that it deals with the relational components of the addiction. A drawback is that it tends to be more disposed towards women in LA.
As they say on their website, “We in S.L.A.A. believe that sex and love addiction is a progressive illness which cannot be cured but which, like many illnesses, can be arrested. It may take several forms – including (but not limited to) a compulsive need for sex, extreme dependency on one person (or many), and/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. Sex and love addiction, if left unchecked, always gets worse.”
I’m not as familiar with this program and the next program. In LA, my understanding is that SCA is more widely attended by those in the LGBTQ community. Whereas SA clearly defines sobriety, and does so between a heterosexual couple, SCA is open to the expression of sexuality between couples – whether gay or straight.
Taken from their website, “Our primary purpose is to stay sexually sober and to help others to achieve sexual sobriety. 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 jeopordy — or endanger our mental, physical, or spiritual health.”
SRA exists in LA, but is a smaller program. As they express it on their website, “Sobriety is the release from all compulsive and destructive sexual behaviors. We have found through our experience that sobriety includes freedom from masturbation and sex outside a mutually committed relationship.”
12-step meetings for partners of sex addicts:
COSA is the partner program for SAA
S-Anon is the partner program for SA.
POSA is an emerging program for partners that is not a 12-step program in its own right. Instead, it sees the impact of sex addiction as a trauma on the individual and the relationship. There are resources and links for partners, as well as resources to start their own POSA groups. As they say, “Posarc helps spouses and partners who are losing their loved one to porn addiction, sex addiction, cybersex, strip clubs, affairs or massage parlors. We regard this as relational trauma and utilize trauma approaches to help you heal.”
12-step meetings for couples:
RCA identifies that there are three entities that need healing from compulsive sexual behaviors – the individual, the partner, and the relationship. RCA is a program that focuses on this third entity to bring relational healing to couples. RCA’s “primary purpose is to stay committed in loving and intimate relationships and to help other couples achieve freedom from addicted and destructive relationships.”
The following groups offer a Christian alternative to the programs listed above:
Celebrate Recovery is a Christian program that includes all addictions.
Pure Desire is a program that utilizes resources developed by Dr. Ted Roberts. There are programs for both addicts and partners.
LIFE Groups were designed by Dr. Mark Laaser. Like Pure Desire Groups, LIFE Groups exist for both addicts and their partners.