Many people struggling with out-of-control sexual behavior find twelve-step programs helpful. There are a number of fellowships that address sex, sexuality, and sexual behavior.
Each fellowship is different, and every meeting within each group is different. This guide is intended to be objective, but there is no substitute for your own experience. If you believe that a twelve-step program might help, we encourage you to explore further through their websites at the blue links below as well as their literature and meetings.
Twelve-step programs typically aim to help members achieve “sobriety,” borrowing the term used by alcoholics. Sexaholics Anonymous and Sexual Recovery Anonymous define “sobriety” for you. The other fellowships define sobriety more individually.
SA’s “White Book” states “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop lusting and become sexually sober.” The White Book describes sobriety as follows:
"Thus, 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. These conclusions were forced upon us in the crucible of our experiences and recovery; we have no other options. But we have found that acceptance of these facts is the key to a happy and joyous freedom we could otherwise never know.
This will and should discourage many inquirers who admit to sexual obsession or compulsion but who simply want to control and enjoy it, much as the alcoholic would like to control and enjoy drinking. Until we had been driven to the point of despair, until we really wanted to stop but could not, we did not give ourselves to this program of recovery. Sexaholics Anonymous is for those who know they have no other option but to stop, and their own enlightened self-interest must tell them this."
In addition, SA has defined “spouse” as “one’s partner in a marriage between a man and a woman.” For this reason, some members of SA are people who describe themselves as “suffering from same-sex attraction.” In addition, SA groups tend to have higher participation among religiously observant people.
According to SRA’s pamphlet, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop compulsive sexual behavior,” and defines “sobriety” as “the release from all compulsive and destructive sexual behaviors.” The pamphlet adds, “We have found through our experience that sobriety includes freedom from masturbation and sex outside a mutually-committed relationship.”
Fellowships with an individualized “bottom line”: The fellowships listed below leave the definition of “sobriety” up to the individual member, in consultation with her or his sponsor – another member of the fellowship who has more experience as a participant. Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) SAA’s “Green Book” (the largest, and most comprehensive, of the books used by the various fellowships) reads, “Membership is open to all who have a desire to stop addictive sexual behavior. There is no other requirement.” The fellowship uses the metaphor of three circles to regulate and define sobriety – an inner circle, a middle circle, and an outer circle. The inner circle consists of “each one of the compulsive sexual behaviors from which we feel it necessary to abstain.” The outer circle consists of behaviors that “bring recovery and are to be encouraged, praised and practiced.” The middle circle holds those behaviors “of which we are uncertain.” Over time, each person may find certain behaviors moving from one circle to another.
SCA’s web site says, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop having compulsive sex,” and, with respect to “sobriety,” it says, “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.” SCA’s guidebook is called the “Little Blue Book". The “sexual recovery plan” is similar to SAA’s three circles – consisting, typically, of three columns – “abstinence,” “high-risk,” and “recovery.” SCA was born when gay men, unhappy with SA, launched their own fellowship. (They tell their history here.) SCA has the highest participation by gay men of the various fellowships, and also has significant female participation.
SLAA says, “The only qualification for SLAA membership is a desire to stop living out a pattern of sex and love addiction.” SLAA defines “sobriety” as “Our willingness to stop acting out in our own personal bottom-line addictive behavior on a daily basis.” SLAA also has a Basic Text. SLAA, alone among the fellowships, tends to focus on problems resulting from patterns of love, and not simply sex. Members often describe themselves as being addicted to people, individually, and serially. SLAA has the largest participation among women of these groups.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) AA membership “is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.” Some AA meetings, however, are “open” meetings (and are identified as such in the meeting schedules). Open meetings are open to anyone who wishes to participate, and many people suffering from a wide range of compulsions, addictions, and out-of-control behaviors have found AA’s open meetings helpful. While there is not always a meeting of an S-fellowship, one can nearly always find an AA meeting.
For partners: S-Anon S-Anon is “a program of recovery for those who have been affected by someone else’s sexual behavior.” It is modeled on Al-Anon, the fellowship for those affected by others’ drinking. S-Anon has a sibling program, S-Ateen, for “young people.”
COSA COSA is “a recovery program for men and women whose lives have been affected by someone else’s compulsive sexual behavior.”
SRA-Anon SRA-Anon describes itself as “a program for spouses, relatives, friends, and significant others – when the sexual behavior of someone you love troubles you.” For more details and a meeting schedule download their flier below.
Al-Anon Al-Anon is a program for “friends and families of problem drinkers,” but, increasingly, people whose friends and/or families engage in addictive, compulsive, or destructive behavior find the support in Al-Anon valuable, and unlike S-Anon and SRA-Anon, there are many meetings to choose among.