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.
12.10 Can working the steps with this focus help me develop my own healthy sexuality?
12.11 How can I find a sponsor that can help me work the Twelve Steps of SAA with the focus on intimacy avoidance?
12.1 How does intimacy avoidance relate to sexual addiction?
Many members of SAA experience intimacy avoidance as
a facet of their sex addiction.
more information, click here (open in a new tab), link to tile 11.2
12.2 Is intimacy avoidance a disease?
Many of us see the compulsive avoidance of sex and/or
closeness as a part of our addiction.
“Sex addiction is a
disease affecting the mind, body, and spirit. It is progressive, with the
behavior and its consequences usually becoming more severe over time. We
experience it as compulsion, which is an urge that is stronger than our will to
resist, and as obsession, which is a mental preoccupation with sexual behavior
and fantasies.” (Sex Addicts
Anonymous, page 3) “Whether we were acting out or not being
sexual at all, our addiction involved being emotionally unavailable.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 6)
When we stopped avoiding emotional and/or sexual closeness
with others, many of us experienced withdrawal symptoms such as those listed in
the section called “Withdrawal and Relapse” in the book Sex Addicts
Anonymous (see page 66). The good news is that appying
the spiritual principles of the 12 Steps of SAA led us to “an awakening that
allows us to live a new way of life according to spiritual principles.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 20)
12.3 Are intimacy avoidance meetings separate from SAA?
Sexual Avoidance (ISA) meetings are SAA
meetings that have a general focus on recovering from the avoidance of
intimacy, closeness, and/or sex.
12.4 How can I find an SAA meeting that focuses on intimacy?
Meeting contacts and more information are available
on our Find
a Meeting page.
or for audio only call +19292056099,,119161365
-Fridays Fellowship Café (just for fun) 9:00
AM US Eastern
or for audio
only, call +19292056099,,104600326, passcode 123456#
LANGUAGE Thursdays 6 pm US Easternhttps://zoom.us/j/733270887 o para
audio solamente, llama
+19292056099,,733270887 contraseña 123456#
12.5 What SAA literature is
available on the topic of intimacy avoidance?
To read the Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance
Newcomer Information Document, Literature Committee approved November 8, 2020,
click here. (This is a
Google doc. Can we put the Word/PDF
document on another page and link to it here?)
Recordings (link to ISO store
mp3 files) of intimacy and sexual
avoidance-related convention workshops are available in the ISO online store.
Look for titles with words such as intimacy, sexual anorexia, avoidance,
intimate, healthy sexuality, etc.
Articles (link to newsletter page) in the SAA bi-monthly newsletter, The
Outer Circle, that talk about intimacy and sexual avoidance or sexual anorexia
can be found at https://saa-recovery.org/news-events/saa-newsletter/
For questions or support regarding
intimacy and sexual avoidance recovery, contact the ISA Awareness Committee at email@example.com or call them at 724-2HEARTZ
12.6 Do I need to work the Twelve Steps again?
“There is no one correct or
SAA-sanctioned way to complete the Twelve Steps.…The program offers a spiritual solution to our addiction,
without requiring adherence to any specific set of beliefs or practices.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 21)
While many find it helpful
to work the steps with the focus of recovering from intimacy avoidance, others
are content to learn more by attending intimacy-focused meetings and
incorporating intimacy-related exercises into their existing SAA step
work. We determine for ourselves— with
the help of a sponsor or others in the fellowship— what is best for our
recovery under our individual circumstances.
12.7 How is working the Twelve Steps of SAA related to intimacy
avoidance different from working the steps related to sex addiction?
Since there is “no one correct or SAA-sanctioned way to
complete the Twelve Steps,” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 21) there are numerous ways to do step work. In general, traditional SAA step work is
likely to focus on recovering from “acting
out” behaviors such as “promiscuity, infidelity, compulsive masturbation,
prostitution, sexual assault, molestation, and exhibitionism.”
(Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect
of Sex Addiction)
However, some SAA members
may incorporate concepts such as:
Nurturing (part of Step One)
Sensuality (part of Step Two)
Developing trust in self by speaking up and setting/maintaining
Distinguishing between current (adult) feelings and emotions from
the past being triggered in the present (part of Step Four)
Seeing the good qualities in the “character defects” (part of Step
Amends for things NOT done (part of Step Eight, Nine)
For information about
intimacy-focused step work, please contact the Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance Awareness Committee by
12.8 How do I put intimacy avoidant behaviors into my Three Circles?
Here are some tips that have been helpful to some of us
in putting intimacy avoidance and/or sexually anorexic behaviors and symptoms
into our Three Circles tool.
worked Step One first.
A first task that many SAA sponsors typically assign a
new sponsee is beginning to fill out their three circles (see Sex Addicts
16-19, or the Three Circles pamphlet). However, many intimacy and/or sexual
avoidants weren’t even sure what our intimacy-avoidant behaviors were
until after working our
intimacy-focused First Step. Many of us
found the First Step to Intimacy
pamphlet helpful in “spotlighting
… powerlessness and unmanageability of intimacy avoidance or sabotage.” (First Step to Intimacy
– A Guide for Working the First Step on Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance or Sexual
Anorexia) Once we had a better understanding of how our
avoidant behavior manifests, then we could consider our three circles.
remembered that the Three Circles tool is optional, not a requirement.
This tool is optional in SAA. Some of us found the circles to be helpful in
defining our abstinence from compulsive intimacy avoidance, while others were
baffled. Our sponsors helped us decide
what would be most beneficial.
a flexible, open mind and adapted wherever necessary.
glance, some SAA literature (including Three Circles: Defining Sexual Sobriety in SAA) may appear
as though it doesn’t apply to people suffering from sexual anorexia or intimacy
avoidance. However, if read with an open
mind (and perhaps a little creative adaptation), the basic concepts of the
inner, middle, and outer circles can still apply to anorexia. Considering the questions from Sex Addicts
Anonymous pages 15-16 with intimacy avoidance in mind was
helpful for some of us in determining which avoidant behaviors belong in the
inner or middle circles.
In the Inner
Circle, we put any specific intimacy-avoidant or compulsive sexually avoidant
of intimacy or self-respect
-led to demoralization
to self or others (painful, caused suffering)
-was used to
numb discomfort or to avoid responsibility
drug-like state that altered our thinking
us from connecting with those we loved, or pushed them away
from meeting potential partners
or sabotaged any possibility of a healthy sexual experience
avoidant behaviors in the three circles can be very challenging. Because we reset our sobriety day count every
time we engage in inner-circle behavior, we needed clearly defined boundaries
to avoid ambiguity about whether or not if what we did qualified as “inner
circle.” We learned that avoidant behaviors that are specific and more easily
definable, such as viewing porn or mentally escaping into fantasy during sex,
are appropriate for the inner circle.
For example, “Having sex when I don’t want to” or “Having
sex while not being mentally present” are clearer and more definite than
“not wanting to have sex.”
It can be
difficult to quantify avoidant behavior.
For instance, a common symptom of sexual anorexia is “practicing
avoidance of sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.” (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect
of Sex Addiction) If
a person is purposely diverting their attention from all of their sexual thoughts and feelings, or finding themselves
avoiding being sexual with a safe and loving partner, that is likely compulsive
sexual avoidance. However, if a person
doesn’t naturally have many sexual thoughts or feelings, it may be difficult to
determine if the person is avoiding them or if that’s simply normal for
them. Furthermore, the other
extreme ̶ “obsessive sexual thoughts (about having
sex and/or avoiding it)” is a symptom of intimacy avoidance as well. (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect
of Sex Addiction) It
is difficult to measure sexual thoughts and feelings in the first place, let
alone determine what a “suitable amount” of them would be.
Examples of inner-circle avoidant
behaviors might be:
-Dressing in a way that objectifies self
-Escaping into fantasy while having sex (often
a 3-second rule is helpful)
-Having sex when not wanting to
-Focusing on other’s body parts (longer than 3
-Reading/watching erotic or suggestive
material (i.e. novels, porn)
that motivation matters.
thing we had to keep in mind is that not all intimacy avoidance is
undesirable. Several different factors
may determine whether a particular avoidant behavior is actually part of our
addiction, versus being acceptable – or even healthy. For example, leaving a social event early
could be considered intimacy avoidance if the decision was based on fear of
taking a healthy risk to get to know someone better. However, leaving early could be an act of
healthy self-care if one is feeling physically ill or emotionally unsafe, or if
the atmosphere isn’t conducive to one’s recovery. Often, our inner-circle behaviors were more
about the motivation for certain actions rather than the actions themselves, so
we needed to be very specific.
needed to leave room for circumstances that would cause us to reset our days
unfairly. For example, although going to
bed earlier or later than a partner is a way to avoid opportunities to connect
sexually, putting that in the inner circle doesn’t allow for illness, travel,
or other circumstances which might make sense for partners to go to bed at
different times. So, for some, it made
sense to put that behavior in the middle circle.
For some of
us, our middle circle behaviors included behaviors that weren’t overtly sexual.
intimacy-related inner circle or middle circle behaviors may not be overtly
sexual. Feelings or vague behaviors such
as having a “victim” attitude, not speaking up, or avoiding feelings
were best placed in the middle circle.
Some other examples of ways to avoid connecting with self and others
in bed all day or not leaving the house for days
in the fantasy of novels or TV
adequately care for or groom oneself
baggy, unattractive clothing to decrease the chances of attraction
near-constant background noise to reduce quiet moments of self-reflection
the help of a sponsor or others in recovery to determine what boundaries to
set, and in which of the circles to place behaviors that were contributing to
the unmanageability of our lives.
on the outer circle behaviors.
focusing on not doing the inner circle behaviors, many of us found it more
productive to focus on the positive things in our lives by putting as many things as possible in our list
of outer circle behaviors. It was far
easier to try to do several “yes” activities daily than to not do the “no” activities,
especially when that often meant trying to avoid avoiding something! Some of us put expressions of the opposite of
intimacy avoidant behaviors in the outer circle.
For most of
us, it has been useful to have a written list of outer circle (target)
behaviors and refer to it often. Many of
us went through withdrawal from compulsive intimacy avoidance, often with
similar symptoms to withdrawing from acting out. It was very helpful to have several copies of
our outer circle behaviors list, kept in different places, to serve as
reminders and resources.
“anti-anorexic” outer circle activities needed to be regularly
occurring, while others were occasional.
It was imperative to have self-care items on the list for most of us,
and our sponsors learned to ask questions about our grooming, food and water
intake, and hours of sleep during the beginning of our recovery. Activities such as listening to or making
music, exercise, sports, or practicing yoga, journaling, creative outlets, and
things to do outdoors were often helpful in building the foundation for greater
intimacy with self and others, including our Higher Power. Of course, recovery-related activities such
as meetings, step work, and outreach calls needed to be included in our outer
circle. We were also encouraged by our
sponsors to list potential intimacy-building activities that we weren’t quite
ready for but could work towards, such as interacting with others in a faith
community, sharing a meal with a friend or family member, or doing community
service. Outer circle behaviors that
helped many of us develop elements of healthy sexuality in our lives included
regular self-nurturing exercises, relaxation, and/or mindfulness exercises.
to be flexible and open to change.
creating our three circles, we reminded ourselves that they aren’t carved in
stone. “As our recovery progresses,
and we gain new understanding about ourselves and our addiction, we are free to
add or delete behaviors, or move them from one circle to another, in order to
reflect new growth and insights. We have found, however, that changing our
Three Circles should not be done on a whim, but only after careful
consideration and prayer, and with guidance from our sponsor and our
groups.” (Sex Addicts
Anonymous, page 16)
12.9 What do I do about my
sobriety day count?
wondered what to do with their sobriety day count if they’ve been abstinent
from acting-out behaviors for a time, but now they’re adding avoidant behaviors
to their circles. Of course, this is
something each person needs to work out with their sponsor; there are no
“clear-cut” answers. Some of us
felt we didn’t necessarily have to change our sobriety day count just because
we adjusted our circles. Many of those
who have attempted to count days separately for two different things (acting
out and intimacy avoidance) found it to be extra work and rather
confusing. Whatever we decided, we
realized that counting days is only a tool to help us maintain abstinence and
spiritual growth — it is not a requirement.
12.10 Can working the steps with
this focus help me develop
my own healthy sexuality?
would be a great place to link to new SAA literature: Developing Our Own
Healthy Sexuality in SAA
“Some of the questions
we asked ourselves to determine if we were moving closer to a healthier
(a) Am I present? Is my
mind in the moment?
(b) Do I have integrity?
Can I be trusted?
(c) Am I flexible? Am I
willing to explore new aspects of my sexuality? Am I enhancing my life by
embracing my creativity?
(d) Am I emotionally
(e) If I have a partner,
is there a balance of control and mutual respect? Am I open to my partner’s
(f) Am I nurturing? Am I
meeting my needs and my partner’s?
If the answer to these
questions was yes, we knew we were on our way.”
“Most of us have sought
to practice spiritual principles in our relationships. “The Steps are an
expression of spiritual principles that can be practiced in all aspects of
life. Honesty, willingness, courage, humility, forgiveness, responsibility,
gratitude, and faith are just some of the names we give to the spiritual
principles that gradually come to guide us in our lives” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 60-61).
example, applying the principle of honesty included making sure our partners
are capable of giving us informed consent, sharing our genuine thoughts and
feelings with our partner, waiting on physical intimacy until we are sure of
our partner’s and our motives, and exploring whether we have shared values.
● Applying the
principle of openness sometimes involved listening respectfully to our partner
and being open to seeing the world from their perspective.
● For some of us,
applying the principle of willingness meant committing to a future together
through troubles and difficult choices. We showed a willingness to communicate
respectfully, even in conflicts. We also learned to be willing to let go when
our desire was not shared.
Those of us who are
single benefitted from cultivating a genuine connection with ourselves
emotionally, spiritually, and physically. By looking to our Higher Power, our
sponsor, and our group to guide us, we became comfortable with our own
sexuality. We celebrated our sexuality as an expression of our humanity.”
(Developing Our Own Healthy Sexuality in SAA)
Those of us in recovery from intimacy and sexual
avoidance are discovering that in order to have true intimacy with another
person, we must first develop intimacy (closeness and connection) with
ourselves and with our Higher Power.
Then we will be better prepared to connect with friends and family, as
well as with a significant other in a romantic relationship.
12.11 How can I find a sponsor
that can help me work the Twelve Steps of SAA with the focus on intimacy
Most people work the steps with a sponsor or
accountability partner. However, since
intimacy and sexual avoidance-focused recovery work is still a fairly new focus
in this fellowship, there are not many SAA sponsors with experience in working
the steps with this focus. One option is
to ask an SAA sponsor who, though unfamiliar with avoidance, is willing to help
a sponsee work the steps with this focus using their own experience, strength,
Another idea is to work the steps together with an accountability
partner, forming a co-sponsorship relationship with a program friend. For more information on co-sponsoring, see page
10 of January-February, 2021 (Volume 15, issue 1) edition of The Outer Circle
newsletter. https://saa-recovery.org/wp-content/uploads/NewsLetter2021-01.pdf Link to TOC article