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Which Sex Addiction Program Do You Belong In?

The range of 12-step sex addiction recovery groups can be dizzying. A 20-year veteran of all five fellowships gives his verdict.

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The many faces of recovery Art: Danny Jock

By Morty Finklestein

03/25/13

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AA is for drunks, NA for junkies, GA for gamblers and OA for over-eaters. So far so clear. You have reached your bottom, you don't know where to go, and the answer is as simple as two letters in the phone book.

If you seek help for a sexual addiction, however, you will be faced with five independent programs to sort through: Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Recovery Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. Why so many and what are the differences?

The history of recovery from sexual addiction is a bit murky, especially as to which of the fellowships was the first to come into existence. It seems that almost all of the groups came into being in the 1970s—perhaps in reaction to the sexual revolution. The only obvious splinter group is SRA, which broke off from SA in the early 1990s because SA would not budge from its anti-homosexual, anti-sinning-out-of-wedlock stance. 

For many in all facets of recovery, treatment is the beginning of their sobriety. For me, it was the end.

Twenty years ago I spent a month in rehab for drugs and alcohol, followed by a year-long attendance at a full-time county outpatient program. At 26 years old, my indoctrination into 12-step life was quick and easy. Within the first 90 days of sobriety I was convinced that besides my heroin, cocaine, LSD, and alcohol addictions, I also had a dangerous, out-of-control problem with pornography, masturbation, commercial sex, fetishism and BDSM. After I shared one night in my regular meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous about a $1,500 phone-sex bill, a fellow approached me and brought me to Sexaholics Anonymous.

Since then I've sought help in all five fellowships for the sexually addicted. I attended an outpatient group therapy program—Sexual Addiction Training and Treatment Institute (SATTI)—for over two years, and went inpatient for a 31 day stay at KeyStone Center Extended Care Unit, also known as The Residential Center for Healing from Sexual Compulsivity and Trauma. The following impressions are based on personal experience:

Sexaholics Anonymous is by far the most rigid, fundamentalist and conservative of all the fellowships. Most of its members, like its founder Roy K., are religious. In New York most attendees are from the Orthodox Jewish community, along with Episcopalian or Roman Catholic clergymen. Serious problems such as pedophilia or incessant patronage of prostitutes are the main concern. "Deviant" behaviors such as sodomy, onanism, sadomasochism and a penchant for gang bangs are also addressed. Sexual sobriety is defined not only as freedom from all "inappropriate" behaviors but also "progressive victory over lust." The only acceptable expression of the sexual impulse is through vanilla heterosexual carnal relations with one's legally recognized spouse—man and wife, ideally in the missionary position, as sanctioned by the Holy Bible. Homosexual members are welcome—so long as they commit to a life of celibacy.

If SA is too draconian for your tastes, Sexual Recovery Anonymous may be for you. When I first came around in 1993, it was there, in the then-newly founded fellowship, that I put together a solid year of sexual sobriety, attending meetings regularly, working with a sponsor, going out to coffee, doing step-work and being of service. I accepted total abstinence—including six Tantric months without an orgasm, at which point I started dating again. For the following six months I approached sex with a new sunny outlook, enjoying a monogamous relationship, before I felt something was missing. I returned to the underworld for more research.

SRA is the progressive offshoot of SA. Many of the members still subscribe to conventional ideals of marriage, family, and the establishment without being dogmatic. The mix is far more diverse, with a strong presence of women, African Americans, Asians and members of the LGBT community. (There are, however, a number of businessmen awkwardly getting in touch with their feelings, who cannot wrap their heads around the concept that the transvestites and transsexuals they act out with are fully dimensional people.) There's a discernible abundance of musicians, for some reason. The work of Patrick Carnes is held in the highest regard; he's considered the indisputable authority on sex addiction. Inner children run amok, talk of mom and dad, incest, trauma and sundry therapy buzzwords abound. Higher Powers are usually framed on the Buddhist, New Age, Yoga trip, in conspicuous contrast to SA's decidedly Judeo-Christian emphasis. Sometimes folks will sing their shares.

Sex Addicts Anonymous is serious and renowned for its Green Book. A distinguishing feature of SAA is the central importance of its "Three Circles" concept, which every member is encouraged to use as a tool to maintain sobriety. The Inner Circle contains all bottom-line behaviors that characterize your sexual addiction, including masturbation, prostitution, cruising, infidelity, leather bars, autoerotic asphyxia, glory holes, stalking, exhibitionism, child pornography, rape and so forth. The Middle Circle contains all those behaviors considered a grey area, to be monitored with the help of a sponsor. Obvious examples here include fantasy, objectification, euphoric recall, ritualization, preoccupation and any non-pornographic provocative images. The word "intrigue" has special meaning here—defined as lusting, flirting or taking a sexual interest in someone. The Outer Circle is where you would place all your top-line behaviors, those activities that cement your sobriety and affirm a healthy, happy life.

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