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New Cure Programs Are Popping Up, But Should Sex Be Considered an Addiction?

With four competing 12-step programs and numerous new treatments, sexaholics have more options than ever.

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It’s very difficult to get sober from sex addiction by yourself, even with the help of a therapist. Since hypersexuality is a problem of isolation and generally comes weighted with an extra dose of shame, 12-Step meetings—with their emphasis on fellowship and acceptance of newcomers regardless of the state in which one “comes in”—seem especially well-suited to the problem.

If a sex addict is unwilling to try a 12-Step program, group therapy can be a good stand-in, so long as the group is specifically focused on sex addiction. Futhermore, group therapy—which is widely viewed as offering more benefits than one-on-one therapy for people struggling with addiction of any kind—holds a potential advantage, in that groups are typically smaller in size, and members are allowed to express their thoughts and feelings about what their fellow members are sharing (whereas 12-Step meetings forbid such “crosstalk”).

But 12-Step programs are still the gold standard when it comes to sex addiction, although there are a number of differences among them. Of the four major “S” fellowships, only Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) defines just what “sexual sobriety” means. And SA is the most conservative from a Judeo-Christian point of view, teaching that “any form of sex with oneself or with partners other than the spouse is progressively addictive and destructive.” Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA) is SA’s close cousin, except that “committed relationship” is substituted for “spouse.”

Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA) started as a fellowship for gay and bisexual men and is now much broader. One current SCA member, a 45-year-old LA resident whom we’ll call Scott, remembers about 90% of members being gay men at his first meetings in 1996. It was a welcoming community for him at the time, as a recent refugee from Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA): “For me to share [at SLAA meetings] about having gay sex at bathhouses was uncomfortable,” he says. That honesty allowed Scott to begin working the steps—although he ended up having to get chemically sober before his sexual sobriety could kick in.

Not everyone in an “S” fellowship has to stop drinking—or follow any particular formula for changing their sexual behavior, either. The big attraction for many SCA members is that they’re allowed to define their own sexual sobriety. You outline a recovery plan with your sponsor by pinning down your own “bottom-line” behaviors (other fellowships call these “inner circles”)—what you need not to do in order to consider yourself sexually sober. There are “plan meetings” or “plan workshops” for working on your sexual recovery plan in a group setting.

Perhaps the fastest-growing and most broadly based of all is Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), which was founded in 1977 by a handful of men who desired greater anonymity from their sex-addiction program. Similar to SCA, members of SAA define their own sexual sobriety with a sponsor or therapist—and right now the program is booming. Katehakis mentions a daily meeting in Los Angeles that has been around for over a decade. A few years ago, the six to 10 individuals showing up each day doubled to 20, with 80 people attending the Saturday-morning meeting.

SLAA is for those with “a compulsive need for sex, extreme dependency on one or many people, or a chronic preoccupation with romance, intrigue or fantasy.” Members of both SLAA and SAA come up with lists of outer-circle, middle-circle and inner-circle behaviors as part of their sexual recovery plan, with “outer” being healthy activities and “middle” ones serving as warning signs on the road to “inner.” A middle-circle action for one person might be looking at pornography, for instance, or checking out photos of an old ex on Facebook, while that could be all the way to relapse (inner) for someone else.

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