Is a 12 Step Support Group Right for Your Sex Addiction Recovery? Exploring Benefits and Limitations

If you’re dealing with an issue with sexual compulsivity, you may feel like you need support and accountability. However, others also find that these groups aren’t for them. Some struggle with the discussions about God and religion that occur in these spaces. Some of the spaces are more evangelical in nature and unaccepting of non-heterosexual relationships.

At the same time, there are people who find 12 step support groups helpful for several reasons. Many people find that they benefit from having a space where they can talk to people more openly. This reduces the shame that they’re experiencing because they realize they’re not the only ones dealing with this. Others find it helpful to hear how others are navigating through relationship problems, which are very common when dealing with sex addictions.

Reasons to Avoid 12 Step Support Groups for Sex Addiction

Although these groups can be helpful, there are reasons that they may not be for you. Here are some of the most common reasons to reconsider attending a 12 step group.

  1. You have a religious trauma history and LGBTQ+ Unfriendliness. 12 step groups vary on the emphasis that they place on God and religion. Some mention it in passing. However others have more rigid rules and expectations. For example, Celebrate Recovery has been associated with a mentality akin to Conversion Therapy practices. Another well known 12 step organization Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) also has very strict rules for what it identifies as “healthy sexuality,” which can be shaming to people who are LGBTQ+ or kinky or non-monogamous. Others just have an intensely religious focus because of the dynamics of the actual group itself. This can include pushy members who insist that you engage in a particular religious practices. Obviously, these things can be triggering to someone who has a religious trauma history and they should be red flags about sexual boundaries. It’s important to research the background of the group you’re considering so you can see if it feels like it could be a safe fit for you.
  2. Promoting harmful practices and avoidance of taking care of yourself. Some groups will push you to avoid therapy or doing your own personal work. Some of these individuals may have had bad therapy experiences themselves. The sad after effect of this is that they now project this onto you. It’s an important part of good recovery to work on yourself and therapy is one tool to do this. The general advice is just to identify what you need for yourself and recognize that although people are trying to help, they may not understand your personal needs.
  3. Boundary issues and gurus. One of the most common issues that I see is that people find a sponsor who is overbearing and tells people how to live their lives. Sponsorship is a key component of many 12 step support groups. Many people have great sponsors who help them in times of need, who offer serious support and help to navigate through some tough personal times. However, there are people who push their beliefs too heavily onto their sponsees. Many of these people are actually not even meeting their own bottom line boundaries! A good sponsor will encourage you to figure out what is best for you. It doesn’t mean they won’t give you advice. At the same time, they’ll respect your adult decisions without acting as if they have all of the answers.
  4. Overwhelming negativity without the ability to separate yourself from these feelings. Handling the difficult emotions of other people can be very difficult. If you’re not in a grounded space yourself, you may take too much of these feelings on. Recovery can be a traumatic and difficult place for people. This means you could potentially absorb all of those emotions without having the coping skills to release it somewhere else. If you find that these emotions are building up or you notice that you’re wanting to act out more after going to these meetings, it may be important to step and process whether this is the time for you to go to these groups.

Putting Your Sex Addiction Recovery Needs First

Some sources will say that you have to go to 12 Step groups in order to recover and heal. The truth is that there are many paths to healing and they don’t all look the same. I would argue that there are no 2 paths that look the same. You have to do what you need to do for yourself. That can be tough because sometimes people worry that they’re enabling themselves to just engage in old patterns or avoid important things. The answer to this is to get feedback from a variety of people who you trust. You can rely on several resources including other types of support, therapy, community, literature, etc. It’s not a requirement that it’s the 12 Steps.

Be Mindful of Group Dynamics and Boundaries

If you’re participating in any support group, recognize that the individuals in the group will make the group have its own dynamics. Some will feel clickish, others will feel safe, warm and inviting. Some will struggle with boundaries. This is all just part of what happens with groups. If one group doesn’t feel safe, trust that and simply find another.

When 12 Step Groups Aren’t For You, There Are Alternatives

There are groups out there like SMART Recovery that focus on thinking skills more than a standard step study model. There are also groups that are specifically LGBTQ+ focused support groups as well, such as Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA). Although this group may have specific areas that it services, there are more online meetings than ever before.

Recognize the Difference Between the 12 Steps and Therapy

The 12 Steps can be supportive, but they aren’t therapy. This gets confusing because many therapists will advertise that they use the steps. It’s fine if a therapist wants to help you reflect on your own process with the step work that you’re doing. However, therapists aren’t trained in school to use the 12 Steps as a style of therapy and that’s just because they’re not therapy. If you seek out a therapist and the therapist can’t specify what therapeutic approach they’re utilizing other than the 12 Steps, be very weary of working with them. They’re likely lacking the tools to help you.

If you’re in the Dallas area and looking for a therapist to help with sex addiction, please feel free to contact us today.


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