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.
For more information on sponsorship and Step Study groups, see 7.4.
7.2 Why work the steps
focused on intimacy avoidance?
to learn how to cultivate connection and relationship before becoming
Once we were sober
from our acting out, many of us were unsure how to handle feeling attracted to
someone. Some of us shut off our sexual
thoughts and feelings in order to abstain from acting out, and could not imagine
a healthier sexual expression. Or, we
had no idea how to get to know someone and build a relationship of trust before
becoming sexual with them.
Working the Steps
focusing on intimacy helped us cultivate a deeper trust and connection with
ourselves, our Higher Power, and others. We cultivated intimacy with ourselves by experiencing our
emotions with curiosity and compassion, and expressing them in ways that
promote unity and understanding. Others
felt safer to share thoughts and feelings with us because we were less
judgmental and more empathetic. We
learned to take time to move through various stages of intimacy when getting to
know someone. This work strengthened the
foundation for us to be able to interact in healthier, more sober ways with
people we found physically attractive.
to heal from emotional, social, and spiritual deprivation
For some of us, acting out sexually was a symptom of our sexual anorexia. We could use our sexuality like a drug, but we were powerless over our inability to allow emotional and spiritual closeness with our sexual partner. Others of us felt “shut down” sexually, or alternated between acting out and “acting in.” (link to Tile #3)
examination, most of us realized we were also anorexic in social, emotional,
and spiritual ways. We may have had
difficulty leaving the house or doing other activities besides work. We deprived ourselves of nurture and care. We may have denied, repressed, suppressed, or
medicated uncomfortable feelings. Even
for those of us who didn’t act out with others sexually, the shame and
isolation of our avoidant lifestyle became so painful that we sought help
through the Twelve Steps of SAA. In
recovery, we focused on getting to know and love ourselves and cultivating a
closer relationship with our Higher Power.
With this healing came the courage to venture out and begin connecting
with others in safe and healthy ways.
to move from shutdown to a healthier sexual expression
A number of us assumed
that staying sexually sober meant abstaining from sex for the rest of our
lives. Though some make that choice and
are happy with it, others of us found that we lacked a sense of joy or
fulfillment when we denied ourselves of sexual pleasure. Yet, we were unsure how to start experiencing
healthier sexuality without acting out.
Our intimacy step work
helped us view ourselves and our past through a new lens, releasing us from
unhealthy thinking and choices that didn’t serve us. We learned how to take better care of
ourselves and treat ourselves with gentleness and respect. Once we started
getting in touch with what was going on inside us, we began to have greater
trust in our intuition and became more aware of how our Higher Power works with
us. We learned how to live in the
present instead of obsessing about the past or worrying about the future. Our capacity to observe uncomfortable
emotions without changing or suppressing them increased. Our self-confidence
grew as we practiced receiving and following guidance from our Higher
Power. We deepened our emotional
connections with others and learned when and how to set appropriate boundaries.
Before long, with the help of our Higher Power, some of us were able to combine
emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy in a way we’d never experienced
Working the steps with the focus of recovery from intimacy avoidance and/or compulsive sexual avoidance (sexual anorexia) made it possible for a number of us to “move from a kind of superficial abstinence into deeper sobriety” (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction).
7.3 Should I work the Twelve Steps traditionally (focusing on acting
out) before working them with the focus of recovery from intimacy avoidance?
There are many ways to work the Twelve Steps of SAA. Some
of us found that it was helpful to work the steps on acting out when working
them for the first time. Then we worked the steps again with the focus of
intimacy avoidance recovery. If we had previous experience with the steps, some
of us incorporated intimacy-related questions or exercises into our traditional
SAA step work. A sponsor or others in recovery helped guide us in those
Most people work the steps with a sponsor or
accountability partner. However,
recovery from intimacy avoidance is still relatively new in this fellowship,
and there are not many SAA sponsors with experience in working the steps with
this focus. Here are some ideas if a
sponsor with experience in intimacy and sexual avoidance (ISA) is difficult to
find in your area.
Some of us asked an SAA sponsor who, though unfamiliar
with avoidance, was willing to help us work the steps with this focus drawing
on their own experience, strength, and hope.
Draft literature is being written to help people in this situation. For more information,
Many of us have
successfully worked with a sponsor from another area of our country or another
part of the world by using electronic means to communicate regularly about step
Others of us worked the steps together with a fellow member, forming a co-sponsorship relationship with a program friend. We shared what we were learning about the spiritual principles of recovery and were accountable to each other as we put those principles into practice in our lives. For more information on co-sponsoring, see page 10 of January-February, 2021 (Volume 15, issue 1) edition of The Outer Circle newsletter.
Step Study Groups
Another option is joining an ISA step study in which members work the Twelve Steps of SAA with the focus of recovery from intimacy avoidance and/or sexual avoidance as a group. Typically, participants are invited to complete assignments and meet weekly with a sharing partner, as well as attend a weekly group video meeting. These groups typically meet for six months. The group approach for working the SAA Twelve Steps has been a creative alternative for some of us, giving us the opportunity to develop trust within a group setting.
Please let the Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance
Awareness Committee know if you would like to be informed when the next ISA
step study begins,
7.5 SAA Resources for intimacy avoidance step work
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 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 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/