12 step groups for those impacted by sex addiction

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 - Sex Addicts Anonymous

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."

SA - Sexaholics Anonymous

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 (Los Angeles) - Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous

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."

SCA - Sexual Compulsives Anonymous

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 - Sexual Recovery Anonymous

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 - Partners of Sex Addicts

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 - Recovering Couples Anonymous

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."


Faith-Based Groups:

The following groups offer a Christian alternative to the programs listed above:

Celebrate Recovery

Celebrate Recovery is a Christian program that includes all addictions.

Pure Desire

Pure Desire is a program that utilizes resources developed by Dr. Ted Roberts.  There are programs for both addicts and partners.

LIFE - Living in Freedom Everyday

LIFE Groups were designed by Dr. Mark Laaser.  Like Pure Desire Groups, LIFE Groups exist for both addicts and their partners.


How much masturbation is too much?

Yes, I said it.  Masturbation.  It’s one of those things most of us rarely talk about publically but most of us have done or continue to do privately.  Exploring our sexuality is a normal part of our development, and masturbation is a typical part of this journey.

If masturbation is so common, why is it so hard to talk about?  If it is a normal part of sexual development, how come we can’t talk about it openly with our friends and family?  There are perhaps as many answers to this question as there are people on earth, but the simple answer is this: Masturbation is typically a solitary behavior.  Many people learn to masturbate when they are at an awkward, insecure phase of development.  Consequently, it becomes a behavior that’s done in secret.  Add to this a family, community, or faith tradition that labels masturbation as bad, and we can come to view masturbation as shameful.  Even our over-sexualized society stigmatizes masturbation.  Ever found yourself laughing uncomfortably when someone brings up the word in conversation?  Are you painfully aware of how many times I’ve written the word “masturbation” so far (9.  But who’s counting)?

Without going into masturbation being good or bad, right or wrong, I wanted to focus on a few warning signs where masturbation might be swinging into unhealthy territory:

  1. You masturbate to the point of self-injury.  There is no magical number of times in a week or amount of time masturbating that is the optimal amount, but if you are masturbating to the point where you are harming yourself, chances are you are doing it compulsively.
  2. You feel the need to masturbate successively.  If you’re simply needing a physiological release, once should suffice.  3, 4, 10 times successively most likely indicates you are using masturbation to medicate emotions or escape.  At the very least, this should be a clue to check in with yourself and see how you’re using masturbation.
  3. It is interfering with your relationships or your work.  Are you single and use masturbation as a way of avoiding intimacy or putting yourself out there romantically?  Are you married or in a committed relationship and find masturbation preferable to engaging your partner for sex?  Have your partners expressed concern about your masturbation habits?  Have your behaviors impacted your ability to function at work?  For some, it can feel far less threatening to turn to masturbation rather than intimacy, connection, coping with work stress, or facing fears of rejection or abandonment.  If used in this way, masturbation can sidetrack relational intimacy.
  4. Masturbation negatively impacts your relationship with yourself.  When you masturbate, are you MORE in touch with your body, your sensations, and your spirituality, or do you feel more numb, lonely, and spiritually disconnected?  If you feel less connected after masturbating, you might want to take a look at what role masturbation is playing for you.
  5. You feel shame about it. Whether the shame is surfacing because of your religious beliefs, societal messages, or family views, shame can be extremely damaging.  Shame frequently leads to even further secrecy and maintaining a double life where you look good on the outside but don’t feel so good on the inside.  It is really important to talk to someone about this shame, since it typically deepens over time.
  6. You have tried to cut down or stop masturbating but you continue anyway. One main criterion that a behavior has become addictive is loss of control over the activity.  If you have made repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop, or if your behaviors have escalated in the amount of time spent, the frequency, or the intensity of the behaviors, it’d be a good idea to talk to a professional who can help.
  7. You have become obsessed or preoccupied with masturbation.  If you have become preoccupied with thoughts about when and how you will be able to masturbate, there’s a good chance it might be a problematic behavior for you.

These 7 signs are by no means exhaustive, but my hope is to provide a few indicators where masturbation might have moved into an unhealthy place for you.  So now what?  If you identified with one or more of these warning signs, I would encourage you to reflect on your use of masturbation and what it means to you.  If you have a safe person who you can trust, talk to them about it.  If you feel like you might be masturbating compulsively, or even addicted, it’s really important to talk to a professional who can help.  Addictive behaviors don’t get better on their own, so talk to someone who has been professionally trained to deal with sex addiction or compulsive sexual behaviors.  I am available to answer any questions and/or to help link you to someone who might be able to help you.

And for any of you who were wondering how many times I used the word “masturbation” in this article?  Wait for it . . . .  34.  And not ashamed of it!


Computer filters / Accountability Software

I'm often asked about good computer filters, so I thought I'd write a bit here to help you get started with some basic information.  For parents, these programs can be very helpful to limit your child's access to certain sites on the internet.  For sex addicts or those who struggle with pornography, setting up filters and accountability software is a vital component of successful recovery.

There are two basic types of programs - Internet filters and accountability programs.  So what is the difference between filters and accountability programs?  Simply put, internet filters block or limit access to internet sites while accountability programs provide a record of what the user has accessed to a designated third party.  These programs can vary a great deal in the amount of content filtered on the internet or the amount of information reported to an accountability partner.  For example, some mobile accountability programs have the capability to monitor the user's location via GPS, emails, texts, internet use, etc.  Typically, accountability programs will email a summary of what the individual has looked at to an accountability partner or parent, including previously flagged types or levels of information accessed (e.g., pornography).  Similarly, filters can be programmed to block certain types of content while allowing other content to be accessed.

Most accountability software and filters work well on PCs and Macs.  These programs have also been adapted for phones and tablets.  Programs can be downloaded as applications for iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, and Android-based devices.  Unfortunately, there are no great programs for Blackberry devices, but I will list a few that I have tried.


Internet Filters:

K-9 - this is a free program that works on Macs, PCs, and i-devices (iPhones, iPads, iPods)

netnany - A low cost program that works for PCs, Macs, and Android devices

bsecure - Another low cost program that works on PCs and i-devices

Cyberpatrol - Another program that works on PCs

OpenDNS - This program filters the home router, so all connected devices are filtered. Free and paid versions available

Accountability Programs:

x3watch - This has a free version and a paid version, and works on Macs, PCs, i-devices, and Android devices.  x3 watch also has a basic filter

Combination of Internet Filter and Accountability:

While many of the programs above do provide accountability reports, the following programs not only work well as filters but also have excellent features for accountability to others:

Covenant Eyes - A moderately priced program that has excellent accountability features and adds filters for PCs, Macs, i-devices, and Android devices

Safe Eyes - A low-cost program that filters and provides accountability for PCs, Macs, and i-devices

Mobicip - An inexpensive program that works on PCs, i-devices, Android devices, and systems that operate on Linux

Programs for Blackberry:

Again, I haven't found any great programs for Blackberry yet, but these programs do work on most Blackberry devices:

Mobile-spy - A moderately priced program that provides accountability on email, text, phone, GPS, video, and other data.  This program does not work with every device

Stealth Genie - A similar program to the one above that works for more devices

I hope this helps give you a basic overview of some of the internet filters and accountability programs out there and how they can help you keep your kids safe or help you manage compulsive sexual behavior.  Please let me know if you have any questions or if you have other programs you have tried that have not been included.  I would be happy to add more good programs to the list.


Clergy Sexual Misconduct

I recently finished Clergy Sexual Misconduct: A Systems approach to prevention, intervention, and oversite. It's an important book for a painfully debilitating issue in the church.

I really recommend the book.  If you want to know more about it, here's a review I wrote on Amazon:

Clergy Sexual Misconduct is a must-read for professionals, clergy, church members, or anyone interested in this topic. Thoburn, Baker, and Dal Maso have brought together a group of experts in the field to contribute to the book. The result is a powerful compilation of chapters from psychotherapists, attorneys, counselors, pastors, and educators. The book addresses the scope of the problem, prevention, treatment, legal considerations, restoration of individuals, families, and congregations impacted by the sexual misconduct of church leaders.

Thoburn and Baker move beyond a simple paradigm of addressing the problem after it arises. Instead, they provide a comprehensive systemic paradigm rooted in reconciliation, which addresses intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental factors. Addressing these factors with prevention, clergy personal formation in seminary, as well as treatment and oversight for those clergy who have engaged in sexual misconduct, this book serves as an invaluable guide for anyone invested in preventing and minimizing the damage done by a church leader's sexual misconduct.

My copy of this book is is underlined and dog-eared. I highly recommend it, and plan on keeping it handy as a reference. So whether you have never read any material on sexual misconduct in the church or whether this is your area of expertise, this book is a vitally important resource.


A Guided Imagery for the Journey

Here is a guided meditation adapted from The Betrayal Bond (Carnes, 1997, pp. 213-215):

Close your eyes and make yourself comfortable.  Make sure nothing physical distracts you.  If you are upset about anything, picture a box around it and set it aside.  Tune in now to your own bodily rhythms - your breathing and your heart beating.  Know that each beat of your heart and each breath you take is sacred.

Imagine a safe place.  A place that has no demands.  A place that always gives peace.  Look around the safe place.  Notice colors, sounds and textures.  what is it that makes this place so good for you?

You become aware of another presence in the safe place.  You look to see who it is.  It is a healer, a wise person who has come to support you in the safe place.  Greet your healer.  Your healer invites you to do an inventory of your life.  Your healer then asks you to face the north and joins you at your side.

North is the direction of the winter winds.  It is the direction of challenge, endurance and courage.  Your healer asks for what challenge do you need to be strong?  What do you need courage to face?  Tell your healer what that is.  Your healer then asks you to face the east.

East is the direction of the rising sun.  It is the direction of beginnings.  Your healer asks what do you need to start in your life?  When is it time to begin?  Tell your healer what you must begin.  Your healer then asks you to face the south.

South is the direction of the summer sun.  It is the direction of nurturing, vitality and growth.  Your healer asks what do you have going on in your life that needs your attention, your nurturing, your cultivation?  What do you need to grow or heal?  Tell your healer what you must have now in order to grow.  Your healer then asks you to face the west.

West is the direction of the setting sun.  It is the direction of endings.  Your healer asks what do you need to bring to a close?  To whom do you need to say goodbye?  Tell your healer what you have not been willing to end and that you know it is time now to end it.  Your healer then asks you to gaze upward at the sky.

The sky is the direction of openness and possibility.  It is the direction of creativity.  Your healer asks you to picture yourself against the sky doing something that uses talents you currently do not use.  Tell your healer about your unused talents.  Your healer then asks you to gaze downward toward the earth.

The earth is the direction of gravity.  It is the direction of stability.  Your healer asks what is it that you need to remain stable?  Tell your healer what you need to remain grounded.  Sit down with your healer.  Your healer has a special message for you about your direction in life.  What does your healer tell you?

As you talk, you become aware of another presence in the safe place.  As you look to see who it is, you see that it is a child about five years old.  As the child approaches, you realize the child is you at the age of five.  Welcome the child.  Ask the child how things are going.  What concerns and fears does the child have?  Allow the child to climb into your lap.  Reassure the child.  Even though the child has maybe suffered neglect, or harm, or abandonment, or even abuse, you are now here to protect the child.  Hold the child close and comfort the child.  As you hold the child in your arms, the healer now has something to tell you about the child.  What does the healer say?

As you and the healer talk, the child becomes restless.  The child gets up and asks if you and the healer would like to play.  You and the healer agree.  You take one hand and the healer takes the other and you leave the safe place.  You walk out into a spectacular green meadow.  At one end of the meadow is a playground with all kinds of play equipment: water slides, merry-go-rounds, jungle gyms, and swings.  Picture yourself playing.  Notice that you can have intense feelings and still play.

You realize it is time to leave.  Tell the child and the healer you have to go.  The child responds, "We know.  But first we have a gift for you."  The child runs and gets the gift and hands it to you.  If it is wrapped, unwrap it.  What is the gift?  What does it look like?  What does it mean?  Thank the child and the healer.  And when you are ready, open your eyes.