01 Dec My Name is ______ and I am a Sex Addict
You may need ear muffs for this post, because there will be frank discussions of a sexual nature. This afternoon, as the final part of my project in multicultural counseling, I attended a meeting of Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). I am not a sex addict, but I wanted to explore the addiction and how it adversely affects the lives of men. Sex is always a difficult (ugh, I almost said hard) subject for me to discuss openly, as I suspect it is for many people. For some reason, there is a stigma in our country around open dialogue about sex. When those discussions do occur, in my experience anyway, they have been limited to intimate partners or a clinician of some sort. And, frankly, most of the time, these conversations seem to occur when some form of difficultly rises up (or, ahem, does not rise up).
Anywho, back to the meeting. For obvious reasons, I cannot write about what was discussed by the participants. Anonymity is the foundation of any 12 Step meeting. But, I can tell you that although there are a few co-ed options, most SAA meetings are separated by sex (biology, not preference). This particular meeting was all men and fairly diverse racially. The meeting was rather large, not that the size of the meeting matters (it is the quality of sharing that is important). Most of the participants were older, unlike the kink meeting I attended last week at The Montrose Center, where the majority who attended were younger. And, there was a much heavier atmosphere in the room today. Addiction is usually a matter of life or death, and sex addiction is no different.
When I walked in the room, I felt a little more at ease than I did in the kink meeting. I have been to many 12 Step meetings and the format is generally the same. But, I did have the concern I would see someone I knew and, admittedly, felt like I was being judged by others in the meeting place who knew where I was headed. I know that is a story I told myself, but it felt real nonetheless. I sat down and the meeting started. The topic was based on a story from the AA 12 Steps and 12 Traditions Book and was about Tradition 2 (“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.”). The story presented related to an ethical dilemma Bill W. (one of the founders of AA) faced in the early stages of the AA program when he was approached by a medical doctor to monetize his program. In short, the meeting was about ethics.
I want you to imagine, if you can, what it would be like to tell a room full of strangers about your sexual behavior. Then, imagine that your sexual behavior was compulsive and interfered greatly with your life. There is already a great deal of shame around sex and any sort of perceived deviance only compounds that shame. Do you masturbate compulsively? Watch pornography regularly? Are you overly promiscuous? Do you engage in unhealthy sexual behavior? When you see an attractive member of the opposite sex, does the thought of having intercourse with them dominate your thinking? Now, tell a group of random strangers about that behavior. You can watch the video below to get a feel for the devastating effect this addiction has on people.
What is sex addiction? The answer is that it varies by individual. In SAA, there is no standard definition of sobriety. The program discusses a set of three concentric circles. The inner circle contains the harmful behaviors from which the addict wants to abstain. The middle circle contains problematic behavior that can lead to acting out with those harmful behaviors. And, the outer circle contains healthy sexual behavior. Each participant, in consultation with a sponsor, decides his or her own definition of sobriety. Speaking from my own perspective, I cannot imagine the amount of constant attention it would take to keep the lines of those concentric circles clean, not fluid. I do enough mental gymnastics where sex is involved and can see where my own machinations about sexual behavior could turn into a full-on Olympic event if I had addictive tendencies here.
I left the meeting with mixed feelings. I saw individuals early in their recovery and in the grips of addiction. This addiction can be devastating. On the other hand, I saw others who were well along the path of recovery leading mostly normal lives. But, as any addict knows, the slope away from sobriety is steep and slippery. A big hand (not of the little President Trump sort) to all of those who have the courage to face their addiction. Namaste.