Sexual Compulsives Anonymous is a 12-step support group for people dealing with sexual addiction or sexual compulsivity. It was first established in 1973 and is based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
This support group embraces principles that are similar but not identical to those of AA. One similarity includes coming to accept that you are powerless against the compulsion to act out sexually, but understanding that with help, you can still lead a happy, fulfilling life. Part of the process includes gaining a greater understanding of what sexual compulsivity means and how it manifests itself in your life. You will also learn how a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.
According to Newsweek, as many as 3-5% of Americans struggle with sexual compulsivity, which is approximately 9 million people. In the past, those seeking treatment for sexual addiction were mostly men between the ages of 40 and 50. Today, that is rapidly changing. With so many people having access to pornographic material through the internet—dating sites, sexually factors that may contribute to the development of sexual addiction are becoming hard to avoid.1
What Is Sexual Compulsivity?
In fact, several characteristics of sexually compulsive behavior mirror those of drug or alcohol addiction.Most psychiatrists and therapists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to determine a diagnosis for behavioral health problems or addictions. The latest version of this manual, called the DSM-5, was published in 2013. There was debate about adding sexual compulsivity as a diagnostic category, but in the end, it was agreed that it should not be entered into the manual as a specific disorder. Psychiatric professionals instead view this as one of a cluster of negative behaviors. Despite the lack of a distinct diagnostic category, however, sexual compulsivity is a serious issue that should be addressed. In fact, several characteristics of sexually compulsive behavior mirror those of drug or alcohol addiction, including:2
- Continued participation in the behavior despite negative consequences such as job, family, legal, or behavioral health problems.
- A need to increase the amount of stimulation to achieve the desired results—in other words, tolerance to the substance or behavior.
- Failed attempts to quit or cut back on the behavior.
- Using the substance or behavior to “medicate” or escape from feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, or shame.
Some behaviors seen in people with sexually compulsive disorders include:
- An obsession with sexual thoughts, urges, or behaviors.
- Intense impulses to act on sexual feelings, even when it is inappropriate to do so.
- Paying others to perform sexual behaviors, from phone sex to prostitution.
- Frequently viewing pornography.
- Obsessive masturbation, often with the goal of using sex to cope with negative emotions.
- Tireless efforts to hook up with multiple sexual partners.
Sexual compulsivity can create negative consequences, including: 3
- Failure to maintain a healthy relationship with a spouse or partner due to ongoing cheating or lying about what you have been doing.
- Contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
- Spreading sexually transmitted diseases.
- An obsessive need to masturbate or seek multiple sexual partners disrupts your ability to work or follow through with other obligations.
- As time passes, you seek more and more intense sexual stimulation, view illegal or bizarre forms of pornography to increase arousal level, or seek sexual scenarios that could lead to arrest or public embarrassment.
- Encountering financial problems because of the need for medical attention, the need to retain a lawyer, or poor decisions related to purchasing sexual material or services.
- Contracting life-threatening illnesses such as AIDS or hepatitis.
- Hooking up with an anonymous partner who becomes violent.
Behavioral HealthBehavioral health disorders are illnesses that are precipitated or perpetuated by your conscious decisions and which you are unable to resist the urge to repeat, despite negative consequences. Read More
An obsession—a building block of sexual compulsivity—is an ongoing concern with a specific feeling or desire that you can’t seem to get out of your head. This desire remains even when you recognize that the thoughts are unreasonable and may lead to trouble in your life.
A sexual obsession, then, is when you focus on a specific sexual thought or behavior and feel that you will not have comfort or release until you act on these thoughts. At times, giving into sexual compulsivity does bring a rush of euphoria and pleasure, but it doesn’t last, and you then feel compelled to move on to a more intense, exciting experience. As you up the ante to get the level of excitement you desire, you may find yourself in unsafe situations that put you at risk for arrest, assault, or public humiliation.
There are several risk factors for sexual compulsivity. In some cases, certain chronic illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease may increase the risk for inappropriate sexual behaviors due to its effects on the parts of the brain that control impulsivity. In a few cases, specific medications may also impact your sexual interests and behaviors. In general, though, the following are considered risk factors:2
- Regular alcohol or drug use or abuse (substances can reduce inhibitions and make it easier to more freely act on impulses)
- A history of behavioral health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or anxiety
- A history of sexual or physical abuse
- A family history of poor sexual boundaries (pornography accessible by younger children, children exposed to parental sexual activities, inappropriate sexual discussion with parents or other adults)
Role of 12-Step Groups in Recovery
Staying clean and sober or avoiding relapse into behavioral addictions such as sex or gambling is a monumental feat, often difficult to accomplish on your own. If you complete inpatient behavioral health treatment for sexual compulsivity, a solid support group is the key to staying on track once you return home.
Support groups such as Sexual Compulsives Anonymous can help you avoid the slippery slope of relapse by being there for you when times get rough. You can learn how other members survived triggering situations or share your struggles with obsessive sexual thoughts and learn how others have gotten through it.
It costs nothing to attend a 12-step group and you will not be judged for what you talk about. You will find yourself in a room full of people who have had similar experiences and can gain a far greater understanding of sexual addiction, how to develop a healthy relationship with sex, and live a happy and balanced life.
Most people require a somewhat intensive level of treatment to recover from sexual addiction. If you attend inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment, this works best in conjunction with the support of Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. Group members will give you phone numbers, invite you out for coffee after a meeting, and listen to your story, offering their support and encouragement.
In time, you can choose a sponsor, someone who agrees to mentor you through the recovery process. Having an advocate who has been though what you have, even if your stories aren’t identical, can provide great value as you work to overcome your sexual compulsion.
- Newsweek Online Edition (2011) The Sex Addiction Epidemic.
- Mayo Clinic (2014). Compulsive Sexual Behavior.
- Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (2016). 12 Step Recovery Program.