Support for Sex and Love Addicts
Sexual disorders have gone by many names in the past; hypersexuality, erotomania, nymphomania, satyriasis and Don Juanism, to name a few. Only after Dr. Patrick Carnes, the leading expert in sexual addiction, published his book Out of the Shadows in 1983 was the idea of addiction linked to these disorders, which shed a whole new light on research and treatment possibilities. The tradition of treating addiction through the use of 12-Step programs has not been lost on the field of sexual addiction, spawning Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA), Sex Compulsives Anonymous (SCA) and Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), all programs dedicated to treating love and sexual addiction. Additionally, 12-Step programs for family members and friends of sex and love addicts are also available, such as S-Anon and COSA.
What Are Sex Addiction and Love Addiction?
Sex addiction can be described as any sex-related compulsive behavior that interferes with everyday life and causes problems in relationships between spouses, partners, family, friends and even problems in the work environment. These compulsive behaviors rule a person’s life, causing them to put the need for sex before everything else. According to the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, 3% to 6% of the population suffers from sexual addiction. Common behaviors can include compulsive masturbation, excessive use of pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism and anonymous sexual encounters. The inability to live without engaging in these compulsory and sometimes dangerous behaviors suggests a sexual addiction problem.
Love addiction is similar to sex addiction in its obsessive and compulsive tendencies, though love addicts usually find themselves in long-term relationships with many extreme highs and lows, simulating the emotions found in short-term relationships. Intense feelings of a partner being “the one,” mistaking intensity for intimacy, confusing sexual attraction with love, romantic delusions and low self-esteem are all symptoms of love addiction. More severe and problematic symptoms include stalking, violent episodes, self-mutilation and even suicide.
Where Did the Anonymous Programs Come From?
The history of most anonymous groups for addiction treatment, regardless of specific addiction, is ingrained in the history of the 12 Steps. The 12-Step program came about through the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in 1935. According to the website for the 12-Step program, the 12 steps originated through the creation of AA by cofounder Bill Wilson. Some of the steps were already being used by the young AA organization, but they were never recorded or written down until Wilson began writing the AA Big Book in 1938. Aside from what was already being used in early AA meetings, some of the ideas for steps came from the Oxford Group, a Christian organization that proved very influential for the founders of AA and the 12-Step program. Many of the ideas from the Oxford Group referenced God, but Wilson did his best to reduce that to a minimum in writing out the initial steps. Wilson realized the potential of spirituality in the process, but thought that some of the Oxford Group practices and ideals were not compatible with what he was trying to accomplish. The 12 Steps are initially the same no matter the addiction group, but each is tailored slightly to reflect the specific addiction. For all the aforementioned sex and love addiction groups, the 12 Steps involve admitting the problem, connecting with a higher power to pray for guidance and help, making amends for whatever wrongs have been done and helping others to get help as well.
The only requirement for sex or love addiction program is the desire to be free of the addiction. No matter the group of choice, interested members are urged to attend meetings, read the literature and seek out a sponsor to help with the recovery process. Each program runs fundamentally like every other anonymous group on the 12 Steps, requiring members to live that creed every day in order to recover. The 12 Steps of all five sex and love addiction programs move toward a spiritual awakening and remind members that spiritual principles and sobriety will help them on their way to recovery. Additionally, a great emphasis is put on fellowship and sponsorship. Fellowship involves connecting through similar experiences with others who have suffered from the same addiction. Sponsorship is for members who have been through the program and want to help guide new members. A sponsor shares his or her own experiences with a new member, provides insight into the program and holds the new member accountable for his or her actions.
Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
Sex Addicts Anonymous focuses on finding freedom from addictive sexual behavior and helping others to do the same, through fellowship and sponsorship. SAA meetings are offered throughout the United States, Canada and twenty-three other countries around the world. Options are also available for telemeetings or electronic meetings via the phone or Internet. Open meetings are offered as well, for people simply interested in SAA and for those who have not yet admitted they have a problem. Website Email Phone: 1-800-477-8191.
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous helps members recover from both sex and love addiction, because oftentimes the two coincide. This 12-Step program offers local meetings on every continent, as well as online and phone meetings. There are numerous opportunities for recovering addicts to get involved in service with SLAA and even submit their own writing to the SLAA journal. Website
Sexual Recovery Anonymous
Sexual Recovery Anonymous is a 12-Step program that works mainly on the level of fellowship—addicts coming together to share their stories and help each other recover. SRA uses the idea of sobriety much like Alcoholics Anonymous, with the belief that complete abstinence from all sexual activities is needed to be free from the compulsive and destructive sexual behaviors. SRA meetings are held in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York and South Dakota. WebsiteEmail
Sex Compulsives Anonymous
The goal of Sex Compulsives Anonymous is to help members do away with compulsive sexual behaviors that endanger lifestyle, physical health, mental health and spiritual health. SCA members are encouraged to build their own “Sexual Recovery Plan” to help them along their journey to recovery. The SCA newsletter features an event calendar to keep members in touch and active; submissions for events can be posted on the SCA website. SCA meetings are held in many states as well as online and over the phone. Website Phone: 1-800-977-HEAL.
Sexaholics Anonymous gears its program to sex addicts who have “lost control,” “no longer have the power of choice” and have taken themselves “out of the whole context of what is right and wrong.” SA believes that healing has to come through spiritual, emotional and physical aspects. Email meetings as well as local meetings are available for members of SA. Website Email Phone: 1-866-424-8777.
Support for Families and Friends
Like other addiction recovery programs, families, friends and spouses of sex or love addicts can find support as well. Organizations like S-Anon, S-Ateen and COSA were created specifically to help people cope who have a loved one in their life who suffers from sex or love addiction.
S-Anon and S-Ateen
S-Anon is a 12-Step program for families and friends of sex addicts. Through service and interactions with each other, those coping with a friend or family member with sex addiction can find peace and understanding. S-Ateen is a division of S-Anon that focuses specifically on teenagers. Website Email Phone: 1-800-210-8141.
COSA is a group for anyone whose life has been affected by someone else’s compulsive sexual behavior, regardless of whether or not the person is still in the members’ lives. The program focuses on spiritual development and finding peace through the use of the 12 Steps. COSA offers local, online and telephone meetings as well as an annual convention that members can attend. Website Email Phone: 1-866-899-2672.
Does the 12-Step Format Work for Sexual Addiction?
Dr. Patrick Carnes is a pioneer in the field of sexual addiction, having coined the term with his book Out of the Shadows, published in 1983. He founded the Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, a resource for training, and education for addiction professionals. He also founded the Gentle Path Press in 1998 in order to publish important books in the fields of addiction, trauma and brain chemistry. Dr. Carnes is the executive director of the Gentle Path program at Pine Grove Behavioral Center in Mississippi, a center for addiction treatment, and is a well-known speaker, author, counselor and interview subject.
In an interview with Joe Polish from Genuisnetwork.com, Dr. Carnes spoke about the benefits of treating sexual addiction with the 12-Step program. “There was a recipe,” he said. “We studied the people who were successful.” Dr. Carnes mentioned that the people who had successfully recovered from sex addiction were working with a therapist, participating in group therapy and attending programs with 12-Step-centered meetings. In relation to people who did not have a good experience with 12-Step meetings, or said that it didn’t help, Dr. Carnes asked about their experiences only to realize that those people were simply attending meetings, not getting sponsors and not doing service for the program. “It’s really about getting involved in the process,” he concluded.
He also mentioned the fact that addicts who take full advantage of the program have a higher chance of recovery with a lower chance of relapse. “We found that 23% to 24% went through steps one through nine in eighteen months and virtually nobody slipped, if they did the work,” he adds.
Dr. Carnes attributes the success of programs such as SAA, SLAA and others to the safe environment and the ability for addicts to tell their stories to people who understand and have experienced the addiction themselves. As those methods are at the center of all 12-Step programs, the rate of recovery depends on the willingness of addicts to immerse themselves in the program and take the required steps to ensure they are getting the most out of the treatments.
12-Step History. (2012). 12Step.com, http://www.12step.com/history.html.
Carnes, P. (2011). International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, http://www.iitap.com/about-us/dr-patrick-carnes.
Carnes, P. (2011). International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, http://www.gentlepath.com/manufacturers.php?manufacturerid=95.0.
FAQs About Sexual Addiction. (2011). International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, http://www.sexhelp.com/sex-education/what-is-sex-addiction-faqs.
Find a Meeting. Sexual Recovery Anonymous World Wide Services, Inc., http://sexualrecovery.org/find_a_meeting.html.
Gentle Path Press. (2011). International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, http://www.gentlepath.com/pages.php?pageid=6.
Interview with Dr. Patrick Carnes. (January 24, 2010). Interviewed by Joe Polish, http://www.iitap.com/component/content/article?id=133&tmpl=component&task=preview.
Love Addiction. Jim Hall Love and Relationship Solutions, http://www.loveaddictionhelp.com/love_addiction__the_addiction_to_love_relationships.
Meetings. International Service Association of SAA, Inc., http://saa-recovery.org/Meetings/.
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. The Augustine Fellowship, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Fellowship-Wide Services, Inc., http://www.slaafws.org/.
Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. Sexual Compulsives Anonymous International Service Organization, http://www.sca-recovery.org/.
Sexual Recovery Anonymous. Sexual Recovery Anonymous World Wide Services, Inc., http://sexualrecovery.org/pamphlets/pdf/SRA_Main_Final.pdf.
Spirituality. International Service Association of SAA, Inc., http://saa-recovery.org/OurProgram/Spirituality/.
Sponsorship. International Service Association of SAA, Inc., http://saa-recovery.org/OurProgram/Sponsorship/.
The Twelve Steps. International Service Association of SAA, Inc., http://saa-recovery.org/OurProgram/TheTwelveSteps/.
What is COSA? International Service Organization of COSA, Inc., http://www.cosa-recovery.org/whatis.html.
What is S-Anon? S-Anon International Family Groups, http://www.sanon.org/whatissanon.html.
What is S-Ateen? S-Anon International Family Groups, http://www.sanon.org/sateen/whatissateen.html.
What is a Sexaholic and What is Sexual Sobriety? Sexaholics Anonymous, Inc., http://www.sa.org/sexaholic.php.
What is Sexaholics Anonymous? Sexaholics Anonymous, Inc., http://www.sa.org/index.php.
What is a 12-Step Program? (2012). 12Step.com, http://www.12step.com/articles/12-step-lifestyle/what-12-step-program.