Would you like to sit in on a Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meeting? Would you like to hear what real addicts sound like talking about sexually addictive behavior?
What follows is a fictionalized account of an average SAA meeting. All the names are fake.
The room is small and comfortable. People are saying hello and chatting casually; there is already a sense of common ground.
The meeting starts with the serenity prayer followed by a reading of the guidelines for the meeting: there will be no “cross talk,” meaning you listen to what people say but you don’t respond or comment.
Next certain readings are read aloud by members who volunteer. These are short sections taken from the SAA literature that describe the program and the 12 steps. “SAA is open to men and women of any religious affiliation or of none….” The readings promise a new way of living “if you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it…” Then it’s time for sharing.
Tom is the leader for tonight, meaning he talks for a somewhat longer time and chooses a topic for that meeting. He is a tall handsome entrepreneur in his 40’s. He had been in the program on and off for over 15 years. Tom recounts his early history of verbal and physical abuse by his mother. As a child he struggled with learning disabilities. His father was a sex addict who kept a separate house for women he was seeing.
Tom has used pornography, gone to prostitutes, and had extramarital affairs. He has been a compulsive seducer. He says of the women he has dated: “I wanted to take them prisoner.”
Tom has been sexually sober for a few years. He describes his current stormy relationship. He knows he is attracted to angry women who remind him of his mother. Tom can flash a dazzling smile but in meetings he is mostly in pain, often tearful when he talks about his struggles.
Tom suggests a topic of relationships.
Joe is a middle-America looking guy in his early 60’s. He has a small mustache, glasses and a paunch. Joe is married with children and he is active in his church. Joe is a professional man who lost his job and retired from his career a few years ago after being caught with pornography at work. His wife has stuck it out even though he has had relapses every so often.
Joe says that when he first got into recovery he felt like: “Quit porn? You gotta be kidding!” Tonight I see Joe avoiding talking about his marriage. He talks about seeing his grandchildren that week, about singing in the church choir, and about how life is basically good. He cannot find anything to complain about in his childhood.
Joe admits, in vague general terms, that he does not have sex with his wife. He wants to dodge this issue. He tries to be a glass-half-full kind of guy but it comes off a little forced. What he does not say out loud is that he is still in love with porn.
Dave is a short and pudgy guy in his 30’s. He has some kind of job but also gets aid for psychological problems. He has been acting out continuously by going to strip clubs multiple times per week. He uses up all his money on strip clubs and he seems to have little if any other life.
Tonight Dave talks about wanting to date one of the strippers he goes to see. He has tried to strike up an acquaintance with her but nothing came of it. He doesn’t see that dating a stripper is part of the same fantasy life as his addiction. He is unable to get abstinent for more than a few days.
Ian is a 30 year-old gay man. He is fit and pleasant looking in a boyish way. Ian was physically and emotionally abused by his mother and step-mother and sexually abused by his father. Ian was a voyeur and an exhibitionist until he got into recovery. He says that had he kept on acting out he would probably be in prison today.
Ian is very bright and is dedicated to his own recovery. He quit college and took a low level job until he can get his life on track.
Ian recently decided to break a long-standing habit of showering at the gym. He did so because he realized he had been using the locker room as a surreptitious way to peek an naked men. Even as he struggles, Ian is articulate and often very funny. He wants to be a psychologist.
Bob is a 70-something retired doctor. He was married to the same woman his whole life and during that time secretly carried on dozens of affairs. When his wife found out and left him he got into the SAA program.
Bob is funny and philosophical. He pays lip service to wanting to recover from his addiction but is mostly focused on getting his wife back. Tonight he announces triumphantly that his wife has agreed to try living together again. He says he is deeply grateful to the program.
Terri is a serious, pretty woman in her 20’s. She recently graduated from university with a degree in chemistry. Her history is one of poor family boundaries, sexualization by her father and molestation by an older girl. Terri in her young life has a history of compulsive masturbation, indiscriminate sex and exhibitionism.
She talks about her relationships with men. She has typically picked younger men she could dominate. She then breaks up with them before they can break up with her. Teri is in good recovery and is looking to start a healthy relationship. She recently took up with a guy who is several years older than she. It feels different, but she is cautious. She says some day she wants to have children and doesn’t want to pass her problems on to them.
The the meeting goes on for an hour and a half. There is a new member, Jeremy, barely 20, who was in residential rehab after he admitted watching child pornography. There is Jerry, who cries when he talks about giving his pregnant wife a sexually transmitted disease resulting in damage to their child. There is Jeff, who is making no headway in his career in internet technology but instead habitually exposes himself in movie theaters.
After the meeting there is “fellowship” (conversation). What becomes clear is that these people are struggling and suffering but they are doing so with a purpose. They read a lot they think a lot and they go to meetings a lot. Mostly what seems to help is that they are together in their struggle. They witness the gradual changes in one another. They are not alone. Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions counseling and on Twitter @SAResource.