12. FAQ

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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12.1    How does intimacy avoidance relate to sexual addiction?

12.2   Is intimacy avoidance a disease? 

12.3   Are intimacy avoidance meetings separate from SAA?

12.4   How can I find an SAA meeting that focuses on intimacy?

12.5   What SAA literature is available on the topic of intimacy avoidance?

12.6    Do I need to work the Twelve Steps again?

12.7    How is working the Twelve Steps of SAA on intimacy avoidance different from working the steps on sex addiction?

12.8    How do I put intimacy avoidant behaviors into my Three Circles?

12.9    What do I do about my sobriety day count?

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. 

For 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?

Intimacy and 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.

LIST OF ISA MEETINGS – PHONE AND ZOOM  [TR1] 4.4 links here

Day, Time, Meeting Title visible.  Everything else is dropdown.

Women’s

Women’s Conquering Fear of Intimacy – for women only

PHONE: 712-770-4160, passcode 599840#

-Mondays 1 pm (1300) US Eastern

-Thursdays 1 pm (1300) US Eastern

ZOOM:

-Tuesdays 8 pm (2000) US Eastern — https://zoom.us/j/160415633, passcode 123456, or call +19292056099,,160415633# for audio only

-Saturdays 8:00 am (0800) US Eastern — https://us02web.zoom.us/j/414438823?pwd=Qk1LS21mTStOL2FlVnZvOGdtS1Vqdz09

or call +19292056099,,414438823# for audio only

________________________________________________

Men’s Intimacy Avoidance meetings – for men only

PHONE: 712-770-4160, passcode 599840#

-Mondays 11:30 am US Eastern

-Fridays 9 pm (2100) US Eastern

_______________________________________________

Singles’ Intimacy Avoidance meetings – mixed gender

ZOOM: Visit https://saatalk.info/us/meetings/meeting?xmeeting[id]=147 and send an email to the meeting contact for login information, or text a request to 607-345-2761. Please identify yourself.

-Mondays at 9 pm (2100) US Eastern

_______________________________________________

Intimacy in Partnership (topics about relationships  ̶  anyone can attend)

PHONE: 712-770-4160, passcode 599840#

Tuesdays 9:00 AM US Eastern

________________________________________________

Mixed Gender Closed ISA Meetings (sex addicts/avoidants only)

PHONE: 712-770-4160, passcode 599840#

-Tuesdays 12:00 noon US Eastern

– Fridays 12:00 noon US Eastern

ZOOM:

Intimacy Avoidance & Sexual Anorexia (UK based)

Wednesdays 1900 GMT (UK)

Members may join via https://zoom.us/j/85319065466  

Meeting I.D: 853-1906-5466, Passcode 123456

_______________________________________________

Mixed Gender Open ISA Meetings (anyone can attend)

PHONE: 712-770-4160, passcode 599840#

-Wednesdays 9:00 AM Eastern 

-Saturday 6:00 PM US Eastern

ZOOM:

-Wednesdays 7:00 PM (1900) US Eastern https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89834830963?pwd=TTJzMUpzdFpsclNOOGFldEZJM2ZMQT09

 or phone (audio only):+19292056099,,89834830963# passcode 123456#

 –Thursdays 9:00AM US Eastern https://us02web.zoom.us/j/119161365?pwd=Zzlud3YrcUdWTlJTVzF1RXM4bktxdz09

 or for audio only call +19292056099,,119161365 passcode 123456#

 -Fridays Fellowship Café (just for fun) 9:00 AM US Eastern

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/104600326?pwd=N1E5TUkxN3VWNEN0NmhHUWlzemI5QT09

or for audio only, call +19292056099,,104600326, passcode 123456#

– SPANISH LANGUAGE Thursdays 6 pm US Eastern https://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?)

Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction

First Step to Intimacy – A Guide for Working the First Step on Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance or Sexual Anorexia

Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA basic text, sometimes referred to as the “green book”)

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 avoidance@saa-recovery.org or call them at 724-2HEARTZ (724-243-2789)

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 boundaries
  • 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 Six)
  • 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 emailing avoidance@saa-recovery.org.

For more information, link to # 7.1

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.

  • We 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 Anonymous, pages 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. 

  • We 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.

  • We kept a flexible, open mind and adapted wherever necessary.

At first 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 behavior that:

-we desired to stop

-was devoid of intimacy or self-respect

-led to demoralization

-was abusive to self or others (painful, caused suffering)

-was used to numb discomfort or to avoid responsibility

-created a drug-like state that altered our thinking

-prevented us from connecting with those we loved, or pushed them away

-kept us from meeting potential partners

-prevented or sabotaged any possibility of a healthy sexual experience

Listing 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 seconds)

-Reading/watching erotic or suggestive material (i.e. novels, porn) 

  • We realized that motivation matters.

Another 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.

We also 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.

Many 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 are:

-remaining in bed all day or not leaving the house for days

-being lost in the fantasy of novels or TV

-failure to adequately care for or groom oneself

-wearing baggy, unattractive clothing to decrease the chances of attraction 

-having near-constant background noise to reduce quiet moments of self-reflection

We needed 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. 

  • We focused on the outer circle behaviors.

Rather than 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.

Some “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.

  • We learned to be flexible and open to change.

When 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?

People have 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?

This 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 sexuality were:

(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 vulnerable?

(e) If I have a partner, is there a balance of control and mutual respect? Am I open to my partner’s feelings?

(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).

●      For 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 avoidance?

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, and hope. 

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

There is a Literature Committee-approved guide for working the First Step on Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance or Sexual Anorexia (see First Step to Intimacy – A Guide for Working the First Step on Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance or Sexual Anorexia).  For information on draft literature and tips on ISA-focused step work, please contact the ISA Awareness Committee at avoidance@saa-recovery.org.

For more ideas about sponsorship, see 7.4  link to # 7.4


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