2. What is intimacy?

Some of us have experienced the avoidance of sex as addictive, in some cases choosing to identify as “sexual anorexics”…afraid of sex because of its association in our minds with our addiction or with past sexual trauma, or because of a fear of intimacy and vulnerability. Trying to control our sexuality in this way is just another symptom of our disease. The solution lies in turning our will and lives over to the care of our Higher Power.

— Sex Addicts Anonymous, p. 72

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2.1. Intimacy is closeness, familiarity, and connection. 

Intimacy involves being vulnerable and revealing the innermost self. For many of us, stopping compulsive sexual behavior is a result of increased intimacy and connection with self, others, and a Higher Power.

2.2. Intimacy and sex are separate things. 

“The truth is that most of us didn’t really experience sex when we were acting out. In our most intense experiences, we tended to be disconnected, lost in a bubble of repetition, fantasy, and obsession. Our disease kept us from being fully present when we were sexual.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 71)

“A person can have friendships or relationships that are intimate but not sexual, and many sex addicts have learned that a person can have sex without being intimate.”  (First Step to Intimacy – A Guide for Working the First Step on Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance or Sexual Anorexia)

2.3. Intimacy requires a relationship.

The word “relationship” refers to being related to or connected with someone, whether romantically or non-sexually.  Intimacy develops gradually. Whether in our families, friendships, or SAA groups, we can cultivate closeness by doing activities together and sharing our thoughts and feelings with each other. Over time, as we see each other in various circumstances, or allow each other to see different parts of ourselves, we may get to know each other more fully. We may cultivate a loving, trusting relationship in which each feels free to be genuine and sincere.  Many of us have found deeper satisfaction and fulfillment in our sexual relationships when they’re emotionally intimate.

2.4. Intimacy with self is important.

For most of us, healthy intimacy with others is built upon a foundation of intimacy with self. Many of us developed a connection with ourselves by cultivating self-knowledge, feeling and expressing our emotions, practicing awareness of our thought patterns, and identifying our needs, and trying to get them met in positive ways. Working the Twelve Steps of SAA with a sponsor and attending SAA meetings supports us in learning to connect with and trust ourselves.

Many of us learn to enjoy moments of solitude instead of fearing them, which has been helpful in connecting with a Higher Power.  We’ve found that nurturing and caring for the body, mind, and spirit is essential to increasing intimacy with  ̶  and love for  ̶  ourselves.  As we established a deeper connection with ourselves, reaching out and connecting with others became easier.  Many of us discovered that a sexual partner is better able to connect physically, emotionally, and spiritually with us if we’re connected with ourselves.

2.5. Intimacy with others takes time and requires emotional safety.

For most of us, recovery from sex addiction includes cultivating genuine intimacy with others. In the safety of SAA meetings or talking with a sponsor or trusted friend in recovery, we metaphorically allow our hearts to be held in nonjudgmental hands.  The intimacy of being known, understood, and supported gives many of us motivation and power to apply the spiritual principles of recovery to our lives — which, for many of us, helped end addictive sexual behavior. For many members, the acceptance and support of SAA groups and individuals has been a positive power outside ourselves, experienced by some as evidence of the God of our understanding working through people in recovery, and by others of us as a power in and of itself. 

Some SAA members cultivate non-sexual connections by spending time with people and doing activities that allow for conversation and finding out more about the other person. Many have found that sober friends in recovery tend to be less judgmental and a little more open and receptive to attempts to connect emotionally and spiritually than some other people in their lives. Arriving early or staying after a meeting for fellowship gave us opportunities to practice skills like actively listening to others, setting and maintaining boundaries, and sharing honestly from the heart.  This created emotional safety and helped us bond more deeply and intimately with others.

Instead of creating a false sense of intimacy by sharing very personal things early in a friendship, or being sexual right away with someone we’ve just met, many recovering sex addicts use guidelines we’ve established with the help of our sponsor or others in recovery to pace ourselves while getting to know someone. For many, having a plan for safely interacting in a dating or committed relationship is part of our Step Nine amends to self and others.  Ultimately, our interactions with others have improved through applying spiritual principles such as accountability, honesty, respect, and kindness  ̶  which we learned through step work. 

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