Seventy-five meetings will take place this week in Colorado, dealing with sex, love & relationship addiction, sexual co-addiction or survival from sexual abuse. Having started in Denver in 1984, these Colorado meetings often call themselves “S” groups because they deal with “sex-related” behavioral problems. They are applying the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al‑Anon Family Groups to the damaging behaviors around obsessive and compulsive sexuality. Beginning in 1976, the 12-Step movement for sex addiction has gradually spread across borders, interstate as well as internationally.
People often ask why there are so many fellowships and how they differ. The worldwide fellowships originated in widely separated parts of the USA (Boston, Minneapolis, and Southern California). Each had already begun taking shape before learning of the others. As a result, they developed differing customs and beliefs and, most of all, formed separate networks.
They all have a common belief in the 12‑step, 12‑tradition program originated in 1935 by Alcoholics Anonymous. And too, the 60 to 90 minute weekly meetings embrace many common rituals borrowed from AA and Al-Anon. Practices such as reciting the Serenity Prayer, introducing oneself by first name, or reading favorite passages from the AA “Big Book” or Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, to name just a few.
We’ll start with the earliest fellowship (SLAA) and then switch to alphabetical order.
SLAA was founded in Boston in 1976 by several AA members. Their’s has always held a broad paradigm embracing both male and female compulsivity and incorporating relationship and codependency issues. As a result, SLAA has the largest representation of women among all addict groups (42% compared to 15% or less in the others). In 1987, SLAA meetings were established in Colorado and today number ten. Worldwide, they are the largest “S” fellowship with 1,320 meetings or some 13,200 members in all fifty states and twenty-four other nations.
Their basic text is available as an e-book as well as in soft cover. They have a bi-monthly periodical, The Journal, patterned after AA’s Grapevine. Stories shared by members provide those in remote places with “a meeting through the mail.”
Their concept of recovery encourages each woman and man to make a personal list of “bottom‑line” behaviors which are causing havoc in their lives. Being sexually sober means not “acting out” those intriguing or abusing rituals. “Top line” goals are listed which include intimate behaviors which enrich one’s committed relationship or nurture one’s self.
Sex & Love Addicts and Anorexics Anonymous (SLA3) meetings developed among SLAA members struggling with compulsive “acting in”, that is, feeling powerless about their fears and avoidance of sexuality and intimacy. Like other SLAA members, their goal is healthy relationships, but the focus is to stop “acting in”. Out of a fellowship‑wide concern, came an SLAA pamphlet entitled, Anorexia: Sexual, Social, Emotional. There are no longer any meetings dedicated to this issue in Colorado today. Instead, individuals needing support with this issue attend and get support by attending S.L.A.A. or SAA meetings.
In 1978, the year following the creation of SAA, several of the spouses began a weekly support meeting they dubbed “C.O.S.A.” They too were very careful about confidentiality and not until a second group began in 1980 did COSA begin to make its presence known. National networking was carried out entirely by the Minneapolis Twin Cities Intergroup until a National Service Organization materialized in 1993.
Their monthly newsletter, Balance, is mailed to paid subscribers. COSA women and men are not necessarily currently in relationship with a recovering sex addict. Although their annual convention is conducted jointly with SAA, at a local level COSA meetings conduct their own retreats and participate quite independently as a peer of all other “S” meetings.
RCA was started in 1988 in Minneapolis, MN by three couples with recoveries in SAA, COSA, BAA (Bulimics & Anorexics Anonymous), CODA (Codependents Anonymous) and Al‑Anon. Their concept has been to work through the 12 Steps as a couple.
All of the issues inherent in a member’s other 12-step program are relevant and welcome so the twosome can develop greater openness, honesty and trust. RCA has a 150 page “big book”, ten other literature titles, audio‑ tapes from conferences, and a newsletter called Hand In Hand.
SAA originated in Minneapolis, MN in 1977 when a group of ten men began a very clandestine weekly meeting. They had an acute need for confidentiality and cautiously put the word out only among other professionals. At first they had male-only, female-only meetings, but today SAA has mostly mixed meetings and women number about 15%. SAA has always been a safe and supportive place for recovering sex offenders including sponsorship of meetings in many prisons.
The fellowship gradually became more open and 80% publish their locations and times on the internet. A few Colorado meetings, however, do not disclose their meeting location in order to protect the confidentiality of their membership. They offer access through a published phone number and then meet inquirers at a local restaurant before escorting them to the first meeting.
The fellowship developed from its start a concept of each member defining his or her own “boundaries” between sober, healthful sexuality and the old sexually compulsive rituals. Individuals are urged to respect the sobriety definitions of others no matter how much that differs from oneself.
SAA produced a basic text in 2005 called Sex Addicts Anonymous, informally known as the “Green Book.” Their monthly publication, The Outer Circle, contains recovery stories and opinions on various issues as well as announcements. Today there are 1,200 meetings worldwide and sixteen make up the Colorado SAA Intergroup (www.colosaaintergroup.org).
This fellowship began in California in 1978. The meetings carefully patterned everything after Alcoholics Anonymous: coining the name “sexaholics”, adopting a fellowship‑wide definition for sexual sobriety, and like the founders of AA, passionately sharing this journey with others.
In February 1984 an SA meeting was founded in Denver and then moved to Boulder, becoming the state’s first “S” group. In June 1984 SA began semi‑annual, fellowship‑wide gatherings, perhaps the most important contribution to its rapid growth. A big book and a quarterly newsletter (Essay) supported its struggling little groups separated by hundreds of miles.
SA’s goal is “progressive victory over lust” which focuses on eliminating obsessive sexual thoughts. They state that “any form of sex with one’s self or with partners other than the spouse is progressively addictive and destructive”. Fellowship‑defined sobriety is simple for newcomers and provides a singular focus for all participants. Today among their 420 meetings are perhaps a thousand members with two or more years of continuous SA‑defined sobriety as well as a few old‑timers with more than thirty. There are 63 weekly meetings in Colorado, most of which participate in the very active Colorado SA Intergroup (www.coloradosa.org).
In 1982, some spouses of Sexaholics Anonymous members in Los Angeles formed S‑Anon, patterned after Al‑Anon. Local meetings were soon supplemented by semi-annual regional and, eventually, international conferences in cooperation with SA. As literature titles increased, their “written word” resulted in a steady growth of meetings and personal recovery.
Their quarterly newsletter, S‑ANEWS, is mailed to each of their 150 meetings and then reproduced again for local members. S-Anon Recovering Couples groups started in 1987 and now includes two dozen meetings nationally.
SCA was started in New York City in 1982 by several gay men. Taking ideas from other “S” groups plus AA, OA, and Al-Anon, they formulated a sobriety concept called a personal “sexual recovery plan.” Adopting books like Hope & Recovery, and Out Of The Shadows (Carnes, Hazelden 1983), they spread gradually in the gay communities of New York City and Los Angeles.
Their 29-page booklet, SCA—A Program of Recovery, and four other titles contain a rich expression of the recovery process in the language of the gay sub-culture. With 200 weekly meetings worldwide, they have created an extensive website with online meetings which is reaching an international following. They also publish a quarterly newsletter called The SCAnner.
Issues of survival from childhood sexual abuse healing and support
In 1982 several women in Baltimore determined that their AA, Al‑Anon and OA recoveries were insufficient to address their issues from sexual trauma victimization. They defined “incest” to include most every sexual trauma of childhood. They thoughtfully rewrote the AA 12 Steps to reflect the issues of this wounded population.
They began writing and their 54 literature titles are the most extensive offering of any “S” fellowship. In 1989 a merger was worked out with Sex Abuse Anonymous in St. Cloud, Minnesota which brought a needed group of new literature titles. Later that year a second merger with Sexual Abuse Anonymous of Long Beach, California, brought a large number of west coast meetings. Their 372 meetings dot the USA and eleven foreign countries, including one in Boulder, Colorado.
Most SIA meetings are not open to sex offenders so that victims will feel safe. Some designate themselves “women only” or “men only”.
They began meeting in Lakewood in 1992 as a place for those who have committed sex offences to find mutual support to never again offend others. Like the other “S” groups, they work the 12 Steps to “clean up the wreckage of their past,” to feel accountable to the others in the group, and to heal from the sexual and emotional abuse they themselves suffered in childhood. Members with eight and ten years of sexual sobriety are linked with those just entering recovery and possibly just getting started in the criminal justice system. This weekly meeting in greater Denver is unaffiliated with worldwide fellowships and utilizes literature and various recovery tools from the others.
Meetings began in the summer of 1987 in Colorado Springs when three men from AA and Cocaine Anonymous (CA) adopted the AA big book and Out Of The Shadows as a source of help for their sexual compulsivity. The Tuesday night meeting soon extended to Thursdays and Saturdays. In 1989, they reached out to sex addicts behind bars in Canon City. That meeting at Freemont Correctional Facility averages forty and includes a step study every other week. Choosing to remain unaffiliated, these meetings have been very ecumenical with the other “S” groups in this state.
Several mostly-gay meetings pulled away from Sexaholics Anonymous in 1990 in British Columbia, Canada calling themselves Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA). Two years later, they were joined by a dozen defecting SA meetings in New York City. Today there are over fifty meetings, although none yet in Colorado. Their website (www.sexualrecovery.org) and literature plus meetings in various cities nationwide (available to travelers), have proven helpful to many Colorado “S” members